Back to previous post: The Yankee Internationale

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: What perpetual copyright means to me

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

February 23, 2006

Opting out of education
Posted by Teresa at 05:17 PM *

The Arizona Senate’s Committee on Higher Education has voted to let university and community-college students opt out of required reading assignments they consider personally offensive or pornographic.

This is of course a stunningly stupid thing for them to do. The reason they’ve done it is even dumber:

The legislation stems from complaints by Christina Trefzger, who attended community colleges and Arizona State University. She said some required reading assigned by instructors is morally unacceptable to some.

“A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education,” she told members of the Senate Committee on Higher Education on Wednesday.

One specific complaint was aimed at “The Ice Storm,” a novel dealing with adults and children experimenting with sex, drugs and suicide.

Oh, come on, now. “Unacceptable to some”? I wouldn’t swallow that one in a casual discussion in a Usenet newsgroup—which, come to think of it, was where I first became acquainted with the Argument from Some People, as in “Some people might find that offensive.”

I guess the Committee on Higher Education hasn’t done any time on Usenet. If they had, they might know how to reply:

  1. “Some people”? How many people are we talking about? Who are they? Name names. Give numbers.
  2. How does Christina Trefzger happen to know these people? Did they all spontaneously decide to unburden their souls to her? How’s this ombudsman gig of hers supposed to work?
  3. Has Ms. Trefzger read the book in question? Would she be willing to be tested on the details?
  4. How unacceptable do these supposed students find their classroom assignments? Could we please have more detail? “Unacceptable” is a word that can be used to describe curdled Hollandaise sauce, chronic tardiness, SUV accident rates, and genocide. It doesn’t tell us what’s actually going on in these classes.
  5. How many is “a lot of students”?
  6. I notice that Ms. Trefzger says the reading assignments offend students’ “personal or religious beliefs.” Do all the students object to the same material on the same grounds? If not, how do their objections and reactions differ? Please be specific.
  7. What is the actual mechanism of harm when, as Ms. Trefzger asserts, students are forced to choose between their beliefs and their reading assignments? Do the students belong to denominations that forbid them to read naughty books, no matter what the circumstances, so that their homework leaves them in a state of sin? Have their spiritual practices hitherto kept them from knowing about the existence of sex, drugs, or suicide? What, exactly, is the problem?
  8. How racy are the reading assignments likely to be in Eng. Lit. courses taught at dusty little Central Arizona community colleges? (Hint: a book which PW and Amazon characterize as “Exhaustive detailing of early 1970s popular/consumer culture in suburban New England provides the context for this archetypal tale of the American nuclear family in decline,” and describe in terms like “ponderous sense of alienation,” “the text,” “more encyclopedic than evocative,” and “a bit stale,” is unlikely to be as exciting as Ms. Trefzger’s hearers will have been imgining.)
  9. Is the word “pornographic” even vaguely appropriate in this context? This is a novel by a former Pushcart Prize winner, published in hardcover by a respectable house, and marketed to the general public. I sincerely doubt there’s more than a few pages of onscreen shagging in it, much less pornography. Here’s the test: can Ms. Trefzger and her as-yet-unidentified buddies name one single person who bought and read The Ice Storm as an aid to personal sexual gratification? Have they tried using it that way themselves? Did it work?
  10. Are Ms. Trefzger and these allegedly discomfited students aware that most novels which deal with sex, drugs, and suicide are meant to be in some measure disturbing? Are they further aware that eliciting that reaction is a recognized function of literature? And have any of them noticed that the author doesn’t approve of the milieu he’s writing about?
I can’t believe the Arizona state government is giving this much power to Christina Trefzger on nothing more than her assertion that some people were upset by having to read a novel about wealthy, bored Connecticut WASPs experimenting with sex and drugs back in 1973.

This has nothing to do with literature or morality. It’s a simple power play: “We can force you to do something stupid by threatening to get upset and accuse you of condoning immorality.” High school lit teachers get hit with this kind of crap all the time.

Personally, I loathe being threatened with indeterminate problems that’ll supposedly cause dreadful yet indescribable harms that can only be addressed by doing whatever the person doing the threatening wants.

If the Arizona Legislature goes through with this idiotic law, I hope they specify how a student goes about getting excused from completing a particular reading assignment. It shouldn’t be quiet or private. Students should have to explain in front of their classmates the harm they think the assignment will do them. A list of students, excused assignments, and accompanying explanations should be posted on the door of the English office.

Why? Partly it’s because I want to see image-conscious undergrads telling their peers that they can’t cope with passing mentions of naughty activity. But more than that, I want them to have to object to something specific about the book, and explain why they, personally, can’t cope with it. If they want an out, they could get it. What they wouldn’t get is carte blanche to harass teachers for reasons that wouldn’t stand the light of day.

Addendum: Via John Price writing in Pharyngula, the text of the proposed law, and the Senate fact sheet on it.

Comments on Opting out of education:
#1 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 05:34 PM:

I found lots of school assignments to be personally offensive, as they all infringed upon my right to sleep.

Seriously now, it's marvelous that there are people who want to opt of something before they know what it is. Not very clear on the whole concept of "education", are they>

#2 ::: Mary R ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 05:48 PM:

I decided a while ago that I was only willing to be concerned about works that someone found personally offensive and could explain why. I do not care what you think someone else may find offensive. I also do not discuss the quality of a film or book with someone who has not seen or read the work in question, or if I haven't seen/read it myself.

That said, there is an argument to be made that at least one section of a required class have a "non-controversial" syllabus. If sex and swearing bother you, there are large pastures of literature in English that you may study.

As to the non-required courses, students are free to not read a required text. Professors are free to grade them accordingly.

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 05:49 PM:

This is just plain nuts. Some people apparently define education as 'learning stuff that doesn't make me feel uncomfortable'.

Can we apply this to the teaching of other subjects? Southern whites upset about histories that mention the Klan can demand that those histories be replaced by works that don't? Comparative politics students who don't want to learn that other countries have systems that are just as democratic as the US but don't work in the same way (and I've had some) can demand books that take their feelings into account? Political theory students can demand that they not be taught Marx or, say, Nozick?

Where does this line get drawn?

#4 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 05:54 PM:
"A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education"
Sure; that's the nature of public education, and public life. Isn't avoiding this kind of dilemma one of the services offered by private schools?
#5 ::: Peter ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 05:55 PM:

Is this really about literature? Or could this possibly be an anti-evolution law disguised as an anti-pornography law? Maybe I'm being overly suspicious, but if you get a few fundamentalist students to take courses on biology and demand alternative materials any time the professor mentions evolution, I suspect this will really be disruptive. And even in Arizona, being anti-pornography is probably a much more popular stance than being anti-evolution. I wonder what group originally wrote this bill.

#6 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:00 PM:

'They' used to say that California is filled with silly people with silly notions, but ever since Dubya took over, the real weirdness has been coming from the red states.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:05 PM:

Scraps: Sure, by some of them. Others think it's better to develop an immune system.

#8 ::: anthony ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:13 PM:

what peeves me about this, is the assumption recording is the same as permitting. I like ice storm, i think its a great novel. I also think that it is one of the more sexually conserative texts ive read. It condemns behaviour in a way neo-cons would seem to like

#9 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:19 PM:

That said, there is an argument to be made that at least one section of a required class have a "non-controversial" syllabus.

How would this work, precisely? At most schools, there are more people in any given section than would be offended by any given work, and it's not fair to those other students to force an inferior education on them.

I teach Introduction to Psychology every fall. Should one of our sections avoid discussing evolutionary psychology and gender identity formation? And do you honestly want to work with the therapist who's always picked the "safe" section?

As to the non-required courses, students are free to not read a required text. Professors are free to grade them accordingly.

You said it. Frankly, I'd say the same applies to the required courses. Probably 90% of the value of college is in challenging your assumptions. The choice to get the education is a choice to deal with that.

#10 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:30 PM:

We are talking about college here, right? In college, students are supposedly learning higher-order critical thinking and communication skills. I've always told my students (and my own children) "You don't have to like it: you just have to have a coherent opinion about it and express it well." Honestly, it's easier to express a negative opinion than a positive one, when it comes to literature.

Although when it came to the third time my kid was required to read The Lord of the Flies, she did try to get out of it, and I supported her. It's a nasty little piece of work in the first place, and requiring students to read it three times in the space of three years is a bit much. But that was eight, ninth, and tenth grades, not college.

#11 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:31 PM:

My reaction is "if they don't want to learn, why are they in school?"

I thought part of being a college student was experimenting with ideas that are not accepted by your parents, at least when they aren't around to frown at you.

#12 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:32 PM:

Are there situations in which a student can justifiably refuse to read a required text?

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:43 PM:

Teresa's point-by-point post reminds us that it's ALL about definitions...

#14 ::: sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:49 PM:

Education is challenging, that's the way it works for crying out loud.

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination."

#15 ::: John from Tucson ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 06:57 PM:

I was going to suggest that if you knew more about the denizens of our beloved state Legislature, this would come as no surprise. But, sadly, this tells you all you need to know about them. Sigh.

#16 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 07:27 PM:
Probably 90% of the value of college is in challenging your assumptions. The choice to get the education is a choice to deal with that.
I agree. But most people (I think) aren't going to college to get an education. They're going to get a piece of paper; a piece of paper that is practically required by society to advance very far in most careers. Which is to say, I suspect most college students don't view it as a choice but as a life requirement.
#17 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 07:32 PM:

Lucy - Your daughter must have found that maddening. I was forced to read Washington Square twice in High School, and again in college - Lord how I hate that book, although I do see how people could like it or find it valuable.

When I got serious about finishing my undergrad degree, I took a class (a six-credit class, too!) that had a mammoth reading list, pretty much a novel a week. And, at a Catholic university, nobody complained about any of the themes, at least that I was aware of. But, this was also in NYC. (Quite a few did complain about the workload - to which the prof said, "Tough noogies! This is a required class.")

What I mind about the idiocy in Arizona is not so much that some students may be able to duck reading things that challenge their world-view, but that by objecting, they may very well deny others the opportunity to grow.

Maybe we can find some students in Arizona who would be willing to violently object to the pablum that the (presumably conservative Christian) students comprising "some people" want everybody to read.

#18 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Lucy - Sorry, I just realized that I assumed that the kid in question was a girl while you indicated no such thing. My bad.

#19 ::: Kylee Peterson ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 07:40 PM:

Larry, I think pronouns are okay grounds for assigning other sex-specific referents. :)

#20 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 07:52 PM:

Is this really about literature? Or could this possibly be an anti-evolution law disguised as an anti-pornography law?

It's an anti-education law, designed to be extensible to any curriculum or concept that someone doesn't want presented. Naughty literature, evolution, cosmology, socialist thought (or any particular stripe of political or economic thought that varies with a Received Wisdom), and sooner or later physics (to avoid a Godwinian Moment, I will observe that all sorts of people, in all sorts of places, who can't parse relativity decide that it must, for that reason, be incorrect; they'd apply the same thing to differential calculus if they could get through the front door on it).

Opposition to what we broadly consider "higher education" isn't remotely new. In America, it's always existed, but wasn't very potent when only the sons of the aristocracy attended college, and there acquired mainly a "classical" education. It expanded slowly, with a partial bye for physicians and lawyers, since people generally wanted their doctors to know something about the craft, and law was considered what we'd now call a skilled trade, but things didn't really hit the impeller until the turn of the (last) century, when large numbers of European immigrants arrived, many with university educations, and far more with the idea that a university education was a positive good, regardless of class. They started getting their kids into college, and colleges started expanding. The nativists (as well as the immigrants-turned-nativists*) lit into this with their typical psychomotor fury, and it has not subsided. The present Horowitzian subsidized fraud-o-rama draws much of its support from this direction. A development is the root idea that education is supposed to indoctrinate** with Exact Truth, rather than stimulate the self-directed desire to learn, and therefore if any idea other than Exact Truth is being presented, in whatever context, the students are being "indoctrinated" with it.

*Yes, I know this is in a sense redundant, but we are talking about what Lazarus Long might have called "the heritage peasantry."

**The nicest word I could plausibly use.

#21 ::: Kat Feete ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:02 PM:

Well, as someone who majored in English, I'd like to nominate the following works for censorship -- excuse me, opting out:

1) The Great Gatsby. I was raised by commie pinko hippies. As such it is morally unacceptable for me to read about boring whiny rich people.

2) Paradise Lost, because Adam and Eve have sex in Eden, thus requiring a lot of teenagers to discuss sex in front of their professors. This isn't just morally unacceptable, it's unspeakably mortifying, especially when they turn out to know more about it than you do. On the same grounds we should eliminate Shakespeare, Marlowe, and anything at all written in the Restoration, particularly the poetry.

3) James Joyce. Turning my brain into tapioca veeery sloooowly over the course of umpteen million pages is definitely morally unacceptable.

4) Any author of whom I announced, upon closing the book, "Well, he was getting paid by the word." Dumas and Thackeray are prime offenders.

5) Thomas Hardy, because he made me cry and then refused to make it All Better in the end.

6) John Dunne, because really, people, only an academian could love this man, he's a misogynistic creep, and sometimes "unappreciated" happens for a reason, OK? I'm lookin' at you, Professor "Compare the Poetry of Dunne and Shakespeare", and I only said it nicer than that at the time because I needed to pass the exam.

7) Walt Whitman. BOR-ing.

8) Any large, unwieldy, and dull-looking book assigned to me at the same time that I have a Chem exam coming up.


Now, some of you down there in Arizona may be saying that this isn't what you had in mind. Well, guess what? These are MY "personal or religious beliefs". I strongly believe, as a college student, that I shouldn't have to read anything I don't want to or can't understand, especially when it's inconvenient to me to do so. This is a belief shared by many college students, one that I think you'll find passes the litmus test which currently defines religion (i.e., "belief held in the utter absence of facts to support it.") It's right up there with the belief that professors are obligated to give you a good grade no matter how late the paper was and the belief that grading for grammar is an insult to your creativity.

Up until now, of course, students have been forced to either abandon their beliefs or be martyred for them (aka "flunk out"). As a former student, I want to thank you for giving them this chance to be true to the faith and only read things they want to. I am sure none of them will ever dream of abusing the enormous latitude you have shown them merely to blow off the night's studying and get drunk on cheap beer instead.

Cheers, Arizona Senate Committee! See you in the bar!

#22 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:04 PM:

It's bad enough when these sorts of "rules" are made for kids in public school. These rules now apply to COLLEGE STUDENTS! This is completely insane.

#23 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:16 PM:

This seems like just another shot in the ongoing right-wing battle to remove "threatening" content from higher education. ("Threatening" being any content that might dislodge the power of fundamentalist indoctrination on the minds of future voters.) Reference many posts by Michael Berube, and this one in particular. (Patrick linked to it, last month.)

It's disheartening to see these campaigns succeed in tricking a confused student into shooting herself in the foot -- and Dobson-intimidated legislators seizing on the confusion.

#24 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:23 PM:

Just this morning, my wife and I were talking about the fact that the middle east used to be a center of education and culture, and wondering who was due up for a Dark Ages next.

Still, Kat has a point. I could have gotten out of reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, the most appropriately titled book that I've ever had to write a meaningless essay on. What's the fall of western civilization, compared to that?

#25 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:25 PM:

yeah, and once I started reading Catcher in the Rye, I was wishing my old man HAD signed the permission to opt out slip. I was a sophmore in high school.

A parent made quite the flap because she had the time to count the dirty words in it and didn't want her kids reading 'that crude trash.' The solution was to send out a permission slip, the alternate book was Huckleberry Finn which I'd read two or three times and written a paper on.

My Conservative (as in John Birch) father asked me what this was all about, shook his head and said, "if a book could corrupt you, I didn't raise you right. And you're already read all of Mr. Twain's works twice at least."

I thought it sucked. Holden Caulfield is a self-centered whiner and it was much easier to write an essay about someone I loathed.

Sigh.

#26 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:34 PM:

Larry, Lucy wrote "I supported her", which indicates gender.

Short as it is, I struggled mightily with getting through Lord Jim, there was just something that went against my grain, but found Heart of Darkness (not on the reading list) fascinating. Perhaps it was the reverse with many boys, some certainly chafed at Emma, though it sent me off to read the rest of Austen. Don Brown was one of those teachers who could change your life. I think everyone had troubles with The Tree of Man, so that formed a kind of bond across the whole class.

We also did Lord of the Flies, and it was confronting, but good to discuss & think about. It was also closer to my personal sf reading than most of the books on the syllabus. It impressed me enough that I read The Inheritors (name?) later on my own time.

But it puzzles me how, unless you are moving around a lot, one book could get repeated in consecutive years. A school surely wouldn't have an English Department so stupid as to do that? In a benignly-neglected Australian public school we were moved through from straightforward & exciting Shakespeare to more complex ones, and similarly with non-Shakespeare books. I don't remember ever having to study one work twice in the six years (late 60s - early 70s).

#27 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:37 PM:

Richard: Up here in Sodom-on-the-Rideau, err, Ottawa, CORE texts are not easy to opt out of, and as I am in religion, it is in fact IMPOSSIBLE to opt out of a text or movie on religious grounds, but.

Nobody was required to stay and watch Dead Man Walking for Death and Dying. Which is good, as I would have dropped or failed the class rather than watch it. That movie offends my very personal but utterly non-negotiable belief that I will not watch depictions of brutal violence.

I trooped into office hours, explained I was opting out, and agreed to read several articles by Sister Prejean and take the alternative essay question. No problem.

I believe similar offers are made over other movies, and I think once or twice with texts. Witch Craze/Inquisition stuff is sort of a known issue.

Usually if something is considered to be a potential problem, either it's optional, or it is addressed in the first class, well before drop date, or it's offered with an alternate. The alternate may be more boring, more work, or both.

The English department requires you to read Leonard Cohen for the Modern Can Lit course. You do NOT have to read Beautiful Losers; Favourite Game is acceptable. It's not as good a book, but hey.

IOW, I don't actually understand why this policy is NECESSARY. You can't just, you know, drop half a course's reading and walk away whistling, but in my experience, if there's a real issue, you go see the prof.

#28 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:41 PM:

Oh, my. There are many offensive books. I know. I read them.

Why doesn't she just say: "The book is terminally boring. Real people aren't like that. My professor has his head in the sand. I think he owns stock in the publishing company, or the author's his cousin. A second rate book doesn't further my education. The poor prof. is living in the dim and distant past. I should have enrolled in WSU and gotten a 'world class' education (go cougs!)." Then just read the book.

#29 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 08:42 PM:

There seems to be something mildly odd here having to do with the nature of electives.

When I was in University there was no required course. Required courses for a major, yes, but no courses that I had to take no matter what.

If I elect to take a given subject, some baggage comes along with it, even if I don't like it. My personal view is that nobody should be able to get a degree in English without having studied Paradise Lost and Lycidas, at a bare minimum; my undergraduate university required either one seventeenth-century course (Milton; or C17 lyric) or one eighteenth-century course (Augustans plus Johnson), which was a rather wider latitude. But you couldn't major in English without an exposure to some subset of those books.

By the same token, I dislike Charlotte Bronte to a high degree, but I had to take both Jane Eyre and Villette in a course on the Victorian Novel, and I agree that it's ridiculaous to study the Victorian Novel (or anything later) without exosure to at least Jane Eyre.

If you strongly object to something that's central to your major, maybe you should have a different major. If it's not central to your major, then you should be able to avoid it in a moderately well-structured curriculum. (If you can't, due, say, to some crazed faculty member's forcing his own idée fixe onto the curriculum (everyone has to read the Confessio Amantis!) maybe you want to reconsider the match between your college/university and what you want to take; another one may have a set of course requirements more suited to the subject.)

If your college requires shared reading for everyone regardless of major, well, I'd argue that that's what a good primary and secondary education is about. Tertiary education is about specialization (although not to the degree of a post-graduate course). Look for another school.

In none of these cases should problems the legislation seems to envisage come up. The reader with a tender conscience which will be affected by anything racier than Vanity Fair can avoid having to read Ulysses by giving the English department a wide berth and majoring in European History or Classics.

#30 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:00 PM:

James: Well, we had to take a course offered by the Philosophy department that was half formal logic and half ethics.

That material is non-optional and University wide. Including some disturbing stuff, but it was sensibly and sensitively handled. (We do NOT show the Stanford Experiement movie at the end of a class just before a two week break. It is SUPPOSED to disturb people; plan for them to be disturbed.)

You know, really, I basically agree with you, however stubborn I am sounding. But I do think that if it's not tempered by some willingness on the part of faculty to be sensibly flexible when someone comes in three quarters of the way through a text and says 'look, this is vile, I can't finish it', that's a recipe for disaster too.

Also, while this may not be an issue in English departments, where 90 percent of the core texts can be picked up at Chapters, you don't always know what the texts are until the bookshop calls to tell you what they can actually GET this term. What do you do when the texts change after the drop date, and suddenly you're doing, for another example now burnt forever into my memory, recently-released stuff on Waco that the PROF hasn't read yet?

#31 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:01 PM:

Sodom-on-the-Rideau, err, Ottawa

Are we talking of Canada's Ottawa, Marna? Can't be.

#32 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:05 PM:

Serge: yes, and why not? People only think we're boring because we know how to keep it out of the news :)

#33 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:31 PM:

everyone has to read the Confessio Amantis!

Everyone SHOULD read the Confessio Amantis.

#34 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:45 PM:

One of my college instructors came up with a clever solution to a student's objection to Catcher in the Rye. The student told him her parents had said she wasn't allowed to read the book because it had bad stuff in it. He didn't argue with her, he just went ahead and assigned another book...Sula. Of course, her parents had never heard of that one, so they were fine with it.

#35 ::: sublime ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:45 PM:

I'm moving there! I find everything that is required reading offensive! I'll graduate fasters har har!

#36 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:49 PM:

Or could this possibly be an anti-evolution law disguised as an anti-pornography law?

Perhaps not in intent (although there have been some notable victories against anti-evolution of late) but I bet that will be a major application if it goes through.

#37 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:52 PM:

I don't really get why they think reading the book is the same as subscribing to its values, but whatever. If it's a compulsory course, I'd be inclined to let them out of it *sometimes*, on the condition that they made a class presentation or essay of equal or greater workload to whatever they were avoiding, on the subject of why they didn't want to read this book.

It should require research. In some cases it might require them to be familiar with the body of criticism surrounding the work, and be very difficult to do without reading the book. That would be too bad, but their own choice. Above all, it should require them to learn something.

In year eight, and then at another school, in year nine, I opted out of dissection on conscience grounds. I think there's a place for dissection, but I question its educational value at that context and at that level of study, and I think it's wasteful of animal life.

Instead, in year eight I did a research project on human anatomy, and in year nine I used a computerised simulation of a dissection. My year eight school wasn't really prepared, and the vague project they gave me actually involved more work than an afternoon's dissecting. But you know what? That was fine. Ideally it'd be equal, but I don't mind doing a bit more work if it's that important to me. (If it was a *lot* more work, that'd be something else.)

Unfortunately, this doesn't make things any easier on the teachers, and as Teresa said, harassing the teachers is what they're doing. It might make it more unattractive, though. And it doesn't change the fact that doing this at a tertiary level is *ludicrous*, so stupid I can't believe it.

#38 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 09:56 PM:

Marna: My father designed an informal logic course which was widely subscribed in first year, but Trent had no mandatory across-the-board courses. I think that the one at U of O is a hangover from the days of the Oblates, in a much changed form.

I have some sympathy with people who want to skip relatively minor modern (or, for that matter, non-modern) works (which The Ice Storm would qualify as -- certainly more minor thean the Confessio Amantis (if you dispute this, check back in five hundred years to see if anyone's heard of it)) no matter what their moral or squick factor is, on the simple basis that undergraduate course hours are too short to waste on minor works when there are so many major ones to read and discuss. After all, in the time you were reading The Ice Storm, you might have been reading part of The Ambassadors or Tristram Shandy or The Cantos or Dance to the Music of Time or ...

#39 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 10:06 PM:

*spits nails* I'm so angry I can't think of anything interesting to say. Honestly, this is the kind of thing I'd expect of our Lege. (Then again, we have the Gablers, about whom grrr.)

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 10:20 PM:

I think there's a place for dissection, but I question its educational value at that context and at that level of study, and I think it's wasteful of animal life

Having dissected several critters that were thoroughly pickled in formaldehyde (or whatever preservative), I can say that they're much closer to plastic than to anything alive. It was, however, interesting to learn that earthworms have bristles, and that gills are, even well-pickled, remarkably intricate structures (that was a crayfish). (This was eighth grade. I would have been much happier if there hadn't been an option which included a pithed live frog, which someone else took and did badly.)

#41 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 10:23 PM:

Okay, so Christina Trefzger believes that some of the material may be offensive to some, which is to say, her.

I am offended by trigonometry. Not only does it make no sense to me, but having to study trigonometry caused me significant stress and embarassment. (I'm also offended by physics and chemistry, but that may have been because my teachers were rotten.) But as far as math goes--I think I should have been permitted to opt out of trig.

#42 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 10:28 PM:

Vassilissa, it's not that they think their kids will subscribe to the book's values, but that their kids should never see some words or know about some actions.

Since I'm mostly self-taught, I was able to avoid all those standard boring books, which left plenty of time to read science fiction.

#43 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 10:40 PM:

Marilee: aha! Anyone who is offended by Mademoiselle de Maupin must instead read Monstrous Regiment. Don't like Manon Lescaut? Here, try Lords and Ladies. Does Notre-Dame de Paris get on your nerves? Great! Write me ten pages on Hogfather.

I feel so much better now.

#44 ::: Kieran ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 10:56 PM:

I wrote about this the other day. I'm here at the University of Arizona, and have been wondering what it would be like to teach in an environment where this law was in effect. I mean, it's prime facie insane, so it will be interesting to see if it passes.

#45 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 11:22 PM:

James: it is the position of the University of Ottawa that they can't EXACTLY stop us graduating as moral midgets who don't know egregious bullshit when we hear it, but nobody's going to say they didn't TRY.

They phrase it more suitably in the official documents, but that's basically it. Ergo, one semster Logic, one semester Ethics, and none of it is wifty stuff. Basic, yes, wifty, no.

We must also take Essay Writing plus two other English (or French) Lit courses.

(Which is why I can tell you: that DH Lawrence you haven't read yet, don't. Thank goodness I read fast.

Also, thank goodness the prof considered "Sons and Lovers Sucks Through A Hose and This is Why" a perfectly suitable essay topic :)

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2006, 11:36 PM:

I went to a college where they figured everyone needed a basic education in liberal arts, including the science and engineering students, to the tune of about 98 hours (quarter system) of classes from a cafeteria-type list. (There was no matching requirement in science and engineering classes for the liberal arts students.) I ended up with classes in lots of areas that weren't immediately relevant to computer science, but they helped keep me from going *sproing* some quarters. (Latin does have its uses.) Along the way I ended up hitting all of the named subjects in the trivium and quadrivium ....

I also never skipped the required reading, even when I thought it was boring.

#47 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 12:00 AM:

These people want the ability to self-edit their curriculum without risk of negative consequences. Wimps. In my day (she says, invoking the O tempora, O mores clause), when we had objections to a text, we simply didn't read it, and we took our chances with the Cliff Notes afterward.

(I still haven't read Middlemarch . . . I got to page 50 one day in my senior year of college, looked at the remaining 450 pages of closely-set and very small type, and said to myself, "Life is too short to spend any more of it on this.")

#48 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 12:23 AM:

Deborah, I'm with you. Middlemarch is really tedious, I started it and never got very far.... (but then I never made it all the way through Dune and I consider myself a well-read sf fan. Same reason, I can only go so far before I start getting the story or I just give the heck up).

#49 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 12:31 AM:

John from Tucson writes: "I was going to suggest that if you knew more about the denizens of our beloved state Legislature, this would come as no surprise."

John, in another life, long ago, Teresa was a page in the Arizona House of Representatives. There is nothing you can tell her about that body that will surprise her.

#50 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 12:49 AM:

I regret that my own literature teachers at University were not so accommodating as yours, Marna. On different occasions I explained to two of them that the texts being taught were, to my mind, not adequate accounts of humanity, for specific given reason. I was confronted, not with rebuttal, but with inchoate and ill-concealed rage. This seemed to be not so much an expression of artistic or scholarly difference as a reaction to the thought that a person of my standing should challenge the authority of the text, and, it seems to me, the teachers' own authority.

I will not say that was made clear to me that an attack on those texts would be treated as mere ignorance and would receive a comprehensively failing grade, no matter how the attack were constituted. I am extrapolating that from the initial, verbal, informal reaction, and quite possibly wrongly, but I was so pusillanimous as to leave the experiment untried.

I did try the experiment recently with a secondary-school literature teacher. I said that to my mind Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" fitted neatly into the paradigm of the Western art novel (picayune anti-hero, overwhelmed by human evil, driven willy-nilly by ineluctable forces to mere failure rather than actual catastrophe) and was therefore a genre text. (I admit to using the term "genre" mischievously.) I was confronted with exactly the same sort of simple rage. How dare I say such things?

Teresa's idea that students should only be allowed to opt out of studying a given text upon stating, in public, their specific objections to it, and would then be assigned a text acceptable to them, this text being of equal standing, seems to me to be a good course. It involves administrative difficulties, of course. But I cannot for the life of me see how it benefits students to force them to read texts whose very basis they actively resist and find fundamentally repugnant.

I found Hardy and Joyce and Salinger (to choose three) violently opposed to everything I believe about human beings. I despise them and all their works for their small-souled mealy-minded pettily vindictive provincial maunderings, their refusal to stop picking at wounds that should have healed long since, and in any reasonable human being, would have. I hate their smallness, their niddling, their twittering, their coddling of injuries to themselves.

All right, all right, this reaction is or may be unreasonable. But see what has been wrought by an education that enforced reading of texts I abhorred. Does anyone really think that was what was intended?

#51 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:03 AM:

a book which PW and Amazon characterize as “Exhaustive detailing of early 1970s popular/consumer culture in suburban New England provides the context for this archetypal tale of the American nuclear family in decline,” and describe in terms like “ponderous sense of alienation,” “the text,” “more encyclopedic than evocative,” and “a bit stale,”

...not to mention "Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation." (--snarkmeister Dale Peck)


Does this law apply to graduate schools, too? If so, I'm going out there and getting a quick M.D. Man, all that uptight Western medical stuff offends my New Age beliefs. Maybe I can get a law degree too--I shouldn't have to read all that tiresome stuff that just reinforces the power of the wealthy over the working class.

#52 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:42 AM:

We also did Lord of the Flies, and it was confronting, but good to discuss & think about.

Which is funny, because I also did that at school, loathed it, and learned the following things:

1. If you want to write an allegorical novel, for heaven's sake don't set it on Earth in the 20th Century and employ a really contrived plot device to get a party of little boys away from adult civilisation into a behavioural crucible. Just put it on an actual other planet.

2. When you're fourteen, amusing but unintentional homoerotic double meanings just jump out and whap you in the face.

#53 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 05:14 AM:
After all, in the time you were reading The Ice Storm, you might have been reading part of The Ambassadors or Tristram Shandy or The Cantos or Dance to the Music of Time
An infinitesimally small part of Dance to the Music of Time. Which is more than enough.

(Anyone want this pig bladder?)

#54 ::: deadmuse ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 05:48 AM:

A Senate committee voted Wednesday to let university and community-college students opt out of required reading assignments they consider personally offensive...

How does this decision prevent the possibility that a student can opt out of learning about every religion not their own if they take a survey of religions course?

“A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education...”

When they extend this brand of 'academic immunity' from religious beliefs to personal beliefs, there's nothing left that someone won't find conveniently offensive.

Having done my M.A. in religion at Arizona State University and having TA'd survey courses in religion, I guess I should be thankful I got my education and got out before Ms. Trefzger arrived with her Newspeak Crusade.

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 06:11 AM:

So, THAT's what was really going on in Ottawa, Marna? And I had always heard that Ottawa people went across the River for a good time in the Incredible Hull... I was fooled. (What did Charles de Lint say about that in Moonheart? It's been a long time since I read it.)

#56 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 06:15 AM:

Dave Luckett: All right, all right, this reaction is or may be unreasonable. But see what has been wrought by an education that enforced reading of texts I abhorred.

Not that it's any of my business, of course, but maybe you are picking at wounds that should have healed long since, and in any reasonable human being, would have? Also: coddling of injuries to yourself?

#57 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 06:43 AM:

Very perceptive, Michael. I suppose you're right, though I doubt, in all good conscience, that I regard the events I described as "injuries" or "wounds". I regarded, and still regard, the texts concerned as being unworthy of the attention or adulation that they have received, and I would defend the right of any person to reject them with contumely and still - and this is the point - regard themselves as being educated and cultured; and equally, I would reject the idea that any particular text or class of texts should be forced on anyone as being good for the latter in any sense.

#58 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 07:05 AM:

When my mother was just starting out as a teacher of first graders in Camden, at one point one of them told her: "You're mean." (pause and scowl as best a six year old can) "You make us do hard things."

To which my mom thought: "Well, yeah. That's the point."

In a rational universe, there would be a visible difference in maturity between first graders and college frosh.

#59 ::: Kieran ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:02 AM:

When correctly viewed
Everything is rude
I could tell you things about Peter Pan
Or the Wizard of Oz --
There's a dirty old man.

#60 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:11 AM:

So, how will they know it's offensive to them if they haven't read it? Taking someone else's word is letting yourself be led around like a sheep.

#61 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:28 AM:

Dave Luckett: Very perceptive, Michael.

Oh, well, you know. I have a degree in Literature. :)

#62 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:29 AM:

Dave Luckett:

I have observed that attacks on works of fiction are better-accepted (and in my mind, classier) when they keep the author's intent and carry-through in their crosshairs.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar-style class on Spenser and Milton. Very small class, very intimate with the text, several hours a day in discussion and reading-aloud and following stray archaisms into the depths of the OED -- taught by Charles McCann, who founded the school (TESC) thirty-some years previous. Possibly the best academic experience of my life; at least one of the best.

One student turned in his first paper, whose thesis came to "Spenser was a misogynistic, backward bawsterd." Great, except Spenser wasn't, for his time. Particularly as compared to Milton, whom we hadn't even gotten to yet. The student dropped the class. What was weird to me wasn't his harsh-eyed modern stance -- it was that he had chosen this class, which was not required particularly for anything, without knowing about the basic prejudices and assumptions of the Elizabethan era or being willing to deal with the text within its context.

You may or may not have ever made a similar error; but I'm pretty sure from that incident that professors deal with a lot of "this is all bunk"-style glibness that hasn't been sufficiently considered or contextualized, and probably get real angry with it. Perhaps you fell victim to stylistic profiling.

#63 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:31 AM:

I'm in the odd position of deliberately assigning texts I know will be offensive (Thomas Carlyle's 'Occasional Discourse on the N[egro] Question', a chapter of Mein Kampf) because I think it's impportant that students at an HBCU understand racist ideology from the side of the racist (i.e., that it isn't enough to dismiss racist thought, however shallow it actually is).

One of my colleagues disagrees, precisely because the material is offensive. However, he also believes I have the right to teach the material I find suitable because, even though he doesn't agree with my approach, he understands why I think it important (and he knows that I've been broadening the canon of political thought for the students rather than insisting that political theory began with the Greeks and exists only in the West). That, I think, is a more sensible attitude than 'It's offensive, keep it away!' The goal is to have students finish knowing more about the world than they did when they began. How they interpret this knowledge is beyond my (or any instructor's) ability to control.

#64 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:02 AM:

Okay, first of all, this isn't like K-12, where students are captives legally required to attend school with no options. Higher-education is voluntary, not mandatory. So as James said, if they can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Find a different school, choose a different course. Sheesh.

Second, yeah, intentionally or otherwise this thing is so broad it will be used as a blanket to outlaw anything (abortion, history, philosophy, evolution, etc.) and to get lazy kids out of assignments.

Oh, what a great day for our educational system.


Epacris:
regarding the multiple texts thing, it's not always the English Department, per se, and it can happen at least three different ways:

Some schools allow teachers to self-select from several texts (choose two from column A and one from column B), so there is sometimes overlap because three freshman teachers taught _Huck Finn_, but one did _Lord of the Flies_ instead, and then in sophomore year three do _Separate Peace_ while one opts for _Lord of the Flies_, and there are five or ten kids (usually not the whole class) who unluckily get the two teachers who picked the same text.

If a school is tracking (splitting by ability levels)they sometimes assign a book to different levels in different years. So someone who is dropped a level, or fights to get re-classed at a higher ability may end up re-reading a book because of that.

When eigth grade is a middle-school with a separate building from the high school, there sometimes isn't effective communication of what's taught, or sometimes, they just fight over books. ("We don't like _Lord of the Flies_ it's too advanced for middle school. We're going to start doing _Animal Farm_ instead, so you need to do _Lord of the Flies_.") In either case, the high school and middle school may duplicate texts, at least over the short term (for two or three years middle schoolers that got _LOTF_ get it again in high school, and never see _Animal Farm_).

Of course, sometimes, yes, it's sheer organizational idiocy. As when my wife was in school, and they tried teaching a new spelling system for the first graders. It didn't work, but "Hey, not their fault, ours. None of 'em can spell, but pass 'em forward anyway." Then, the next year they had another new spelling system to try, but "since the last system didn't work for first graders -- too young -- we'll try it on second graders this time". They did this every year, from first through eighth grade. My wife never got taught a consistent spelling system and to this day can't spell worth beans.

#65 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:04 AM:

Not only have I never heard of a God-given right to never be offended by anything, I'm pretty sure there's nothing like that in our Constitution.

The line between Christina Trefzeger and someone who throws a bomb or kills someone in a riot over an editorial cartoon is very fine indeed.

#66 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:09 AM:

Oh yeah, one other thing,

Fragano has it right. One of the jobs of education is to open discussion and broaden perspective. One of the ways teachers (and authors)do this is by posing alternate (and sometimes offensive or seemingly-offensive)points of view.

I like the idea from Teresa and others of requiring the students to justify their opt-out, and I think one of the steps should be for the teacher to state the (or _a_) purpose of the text (i.e. drugs are bad, not glamorous, and ruin every aspect of your life) and them force the student to come up with at least an outline of how to present this idea in a story or novel _without_ being offensive.

#67 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:11 AM:

Don't colleges have long, boring committee meetings precisely to discuss what books are chosen to teach in classes, months before the actual classes? And aren't some of those discussions over how "objectionable" some of the possible choices might be? So there's already a mechanism in place for considering objections to a text.

What the Senate action does is take out the middleman between the government and the students. Effectively, it removes any authority the college/university might have in deciding, oh, how to run a college or university.

So the inmates/students end up running the institution. Anyone remember the university takeovers of the Vietnam era?

#68 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:13 AM:

I've read a lot of books I hated. Some were required, some weren't. None of them did me any harm (I don't regard not having fun, or being enraged, or even feeling queasy for an afternoon, as harm). Some of them gave me valuable ammunition for later use.

A person who objects to a book she hasn't read and fears spending time in the company of ideas she disagrees with is not an educated person. She may or may not be edcuable, but this proposal does not tilt the odds in her favor.

I'm speaking of adults here. There are books that could terrify or wound children, to no good end. But college students should be able to cope with boredom, controversy and even an occasional mention of where babies come from.

Besides, think what a useful skill they gain. Life affords many more opportunities for the use of "This idea sucks, and here's why" than for the date of the invention of the cotton gin.

Perhaps one useful approach might be to expose students earlier and more often to the concept that some "great writers" loathe the work of other "great writers" and aren't afraid to say so. Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses" comes to mind. Sample comment:

"[The rules governing literary art] require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the Deerslayer tale."

#69 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:15 AM:

Bruce: The answer to your question is 'Yes and No'. For some courses, because they are sectioned, there has to be agreement on common textbooks. For other courses, it is up to the instructor (within the limits of the course description) to select the texts.

For the lower-div American government course I teach, I work with a committee-chosen text (actually, I have a choice of three texts). For the upper division and graduate courses, I pick the texts and any supplemental readings. I get entire forests' worth of catalogues from academic publishers urging me to pick their books.

#70 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:38 AM:

Marna:
My memories of the U of O background come from a friend of the family (now retired) who taught Sociology there from the sixties through to a few years ago. The ethos of "they can't EXACTLY stop us graduating as moral midgets who don't know egregious bullshit when we hear it" seems to be a direct descendent of the overall view of the role of the institution which had hung on from the days when the school was run by the Oblates (until 1965) -- there were ongoing direct influences for decades after the changeover, and I used to hear them described feelingly (and not approvingly).

I think that there's a tie-in in the Arizona legislation to the changes in attitudes which I've seen covered elsewhere from other points of view -- it seems that more and more parents are refusing to let go when their children go off to university (and frequently the students go along with it). It's a progressive infantilization of the student population in which they're less and less treated as independent adults. The parents become a royal pain in the arse for the university administrations, and the children refuse to grow up. After all, adults are supposed to be able to look after themselves; it's children who need protection from inappropriate influences.

Plus there's the attitude which also seems to be on the increase that it costs a lot to attend and if you're paying that much, you should be able to demand good treatment -- good grades and course content that you like, regardless of your own abilities and tastes.

#71 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:43 AM:

Kat--

"John Donne"

Mock him if you like. He's tough enough to take it.

But for heaven's sake, spell his name correctly!!

(If you do that, it's still good publicity.)

#72 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 10:01 AM:

Good God. Are students also standing up in history classes to object? "Please, sir, don't teach us about Henry the VIII. He divorced some wives and executed others, and I personally find that highly objectionable."

#73 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 10:03 AM:

(Err -- Henry VIII, that is. I had the old Herman and the Hermits song running through my head when I wrote that. Blasted song.)

#74 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 10:36 AM:

One specific complaint was aimed at “The Ice Storm,” a novel dealing with adults and children experimenting with sex, drugs and suicide.

Experimenting with suicide. That makes the book sound much more interesting than it probably is.

#75 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 10:45 AM:

Indeed, Aconite, and I'm sorry I missed it before you pointed it out. "I tried suicide. It was rubbish." Sounds like something Marvin would say.

#76 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 10:57 AM:

Shrug. In 1965 I "opted out" of a reading assignment in my junior English class. I told the teacher (who was also a friend) that I was not going to read "Cyrano de Bergerac", and that he could give me an F if he wanted to. He asked me why.

I said "It will make me cry and I just don't feel like crying right now." And so I was excused from Cyrano. Of course, I read 90 or 100 books on my own outside of class that year, so it's not as if the lack of Cyrano was going to make me an illiterate slut or anything.

Skipping any given work of literature is just *not* the end of the world. Really.

#77 ::: suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:15 AM:

Huh. And I just read Transmetropolitan for a college class.

At the point at which you are dumbing down and pasteurizing your curriculum based on the notion (heavily marketed by the neocons) that people are intellectually or morally fragile, you've gotten out of the education business entirely.


#78 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:25 AM:

If you go to Diane Duane's site, you'll find her post about a recent appearance on Irish TV. I especially like the photo, with the caption identifying her as 'Diane Dwayne'...

Off topic, I know, I know... I could have come up with some lame way of justifying this comment being in this thread, like how offended I am by people who can't be bothered to spell things right and can we have a law that'll ensure I won't have to suffer thru such offenses again? But that WOULD be a lame justification and so I won't inflict it upon my fellow MakingLighters.

#79 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:26 AM:

Epacris, the way the kids had to read that book so many times was this: the district had made it required reading for all ninthh graders. Emma's eighth grade teacher was insane and had the kids read any old book she wanted them to. I forget how it ended up in the hands of the tenth graders.

It was worse for the kid who transferred in from a private school where he was required to read the book at yet a different grade.

#80 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:27 AM:

This thread has dredged up a memory from my own undergraduate days: I was taking Theory and Literature of 20th Century Music (required for music majors), and the professor (Malcolm Brown, IIRC) was discussing the transition from late German Romanticism to Serialism. He played a short movement from something fairly innocuous -- Erwartung or something -- and continued his lecture. A girl in the class suddenly and rudely interrupted him: "Excuse me . . . excuse me!"

"Yes?"

"That music you played. It wasn't very pretty." And she folded her arms and looked around the class, quite pleased with herself.

Dr. Brown stared at her for what seemed like minutes. "Pretty? Pretty? He bounded across the room, and in two giant steps launched himself up the piano bench and on to the top of the piano. He perched on the piano like an eagle and screeched, "Music is not supposed to be pretty!"

About half the class sat there in shock, and the rest of us burst out in spontaneous applause while Dr. Brown awkwardly climbed down off the piano to continue his lecture as though nothing extraordinary had just occurred.

And that is how you instill passion in students. Except in Arizona.

#81 ::: Melanie ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:37 AM:

TexAnne - Lord yes, a course based on Pratchett would be wonderful. But then all of that emphasis on magic and wizards would be objectionable; not to mention DEATH. But I would love to hear the reaction to Small Gods.

#82 ::: Nathaniel ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:42 AM:

I used to think that reading anything was good; that reading could not harm me, that it could only disturb me or make me think in ways I didn't like.

Until I picked up that cursed tomb by Abdul Alhazred.. now I feel my skin changing texture.. my eyes can't stand the light.. the angles! The angles are all wrong! Yeargh!

#83 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:57 AM:

Gaaah. How old do people have to be before they're allowed to think for themselves?

It's bad enough in cases like this: a school board in Southern California withdrew 23 books from the school library (via LISNews.orgbecause the trustees didn't think the books promoted their "Character Counts" agenda. In addition to usual suspects like Harry Potter were "Disney's Christmas Storybook," "Welcome to the USA California" (a non-fiction book, part of a series about the states), and the Clifford the Big Red Dog series. One of the trustees said she wasn't familiar with the books she pulled, including the Clifford books. "I approved books that I'm familiar with the content."

"Trustee Marlene Olivarez, a teacher who retired from the district two years ago, said the latest 'Harry Potter' installment was rejected because it is fantasy.

"'We want books to be things that children would be able to relate to in real life,' she said."

The trustees "said children can read the books on their own," but if they're not in the school library it will be harder for them to do so. Personally, I'm hoping some of them will read some of the books they've pulled and, once they are familiar with their content, put them back. Starting with Clifford.

#84 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 12:35 PM:

Ok -- can someone please explain to me why High School English classes bless their students with:

_Great Expectations_ or damn near anything by Dickens? I have never found a novel by him that didn't conjure the Eight Deadly Words before I could reach the end of the first chapter.

(I -did- manage to slog through _A Tale of Two Cities_, but I didn't enjoy the exercise. If it hadn't been required I'd never have finished it.)

_A Separate Peace_ -- I have managed to blot this one from memory, the most I can recall is that I hated it.

The only novel I enjoyed in English class was _Silas Marner_. Thank heavens my English teachers allowed me to earn extra credit for books read outside of school. I remember my freshman English teacher's reaction when I brought in _Hawai'i_ and _The Source_:

"You read both of these this month?!"

"Actually, I read both of them this week..."

(All right, I was a Michener junkie in High School, I didn't find SF until my senior year.)

#85 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 12:52 PM:

Frankly, high-school and college ae NOT the place to go to acquire a love of Literature or of any other art. It's more likely to have the opposite effect. About the only Grand Author that I managed to get into was playwright Moliere, and it's really hard to go wrong with him.

As for art, I bet you that showing kids the dream sequence at the end of An American in Paris would make them reconsider their opinion that Art is boriiiiing...

#86 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:00 PM:

Are there situations in which a student can justifiably refuse to read a required text?

I'm trying to think of one that I'd allow. The only ones I can think of are the graphic violence exceptions—I can see exempting students who are sensitive to or offended by depictions of very graphic violence from having to watch or read them, especially if those students are refugees or otherwise post-traumatic.

My feeling is that if your religious convictions cannot withstand your exposure to depictions of sex, drugs, unsanctioned music, or dancing, then those convictions couldn't have been very strong in the first place. And if your diety doesn't want you to be exposed to whatever's verboten at all, then your diety will arrange things so that you needn't be exposed to them, perhaps by encasing you in a magical protective bubble or inspiring you to devote yourself to a cloistered order rather than attending college.

If your diety hasn't arranged for the bubble or the order, maybe you're meant to face and withstand temptation and things you believe are wrong, as Jesus is said to have done.

#87 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:01 PM:

M.E. Henaghen: Of course, sometimes, yes, it's sheer organizational idiocy. As when my wife was in school, and they tried teaching a new spelling system for the first graders. It didn't work, but "Hey, not their fault, ours. None of 'em can spell, but pass 'em forward anyway." Then, the next year they had another new spelling system to try, but "since the last system didn't work for first graders -- too young -- we'll try it on second graders this time". They did this every year, from first through eighth grade. My wife never got taught a consistent spelling system and to this day can't spell worth beans.

My husband managed to hit the vanguard of the New Math movement--several times. His family was rather peripatetic, and he kept bouncing between school systems that did New Math and those that didn't. Result: he never really got either the new or the old system.

#88 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:04 PM:

M.E. Henaghen - What on Earth is a spelling system? To the best of my knowledge, the only way to learn to spell English is by practice, pattern matching and luck. Any attempt to systemize English spelling would have more exceptions than rules by an order of magnitude.

German, on the other hand, has a fairly regular orthography - it's the danged nouns that do funny things, like having not two, but three genders and failing to agree on how to be plural or made into compound words. And the pronouns are no picnic, either.

#89 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:10 PM:

In a previous existence as a graduate art history instructor teaching an intro course for non-majors, I found it prudent to make the following sort of announcement on the first class day (not verbatim, alas): "This is an art history class. It's all about images and their context. There will be pictures of naked people. You will be required to write about them. There will be sculptures of naked people. You will be required to stand right next to these sculptures. There will be religious art. At least some of this religious art is guaranteed to have been made in the service of a religion to which you do not subscribe. If any of this is a serious problem for you, then please find some other elective to take."

After that, no problems.

#90 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:37 PM:

I'm actually going to take a widely divergent approach to this than everyone else posting here. Personally, I am amazed that something like this could happen. I am currently attending a very small, sectarian college in New York because of my personal religious beliefs. I have very little choice of subjects, and am forced to take most classes that I want as independent studies, with professors that have not mastered the material, simply because otherwise I am exposed to material that is verboten on religious grounds.

This is a personal choice, and one that I was particularly loathe to make, but given the lack of options in terms of core curriculum in the vast majority of universities in this country, the only way for me to pursue advanced courses in economics or mathematics is to teach myself. Of course, I could take classes at a secular university, but the costs of doing so are prohibitive. I do not believe that I do less work then the majority of college students in the country - in fact, including my religious studies in college, I am doing school work for more than 12 hours a day.

While some posters have claimed that the laws will be abused to allow people to avoid work, I do not know of any moral imperative to force others to be educated - in fact, the doctrine I understood as having the most merit is frequently called "live and let live." If I find content that I will be exposed to objectionable on religious grounds, I am forced to choose significantly more expensive, out of state options like the one I am currently employing.

Does it seem fair that people who honestly want a rigorous education devoid of any sexual or otherwise offensive content should be told to look elsewhere? I may not be "a lot of students." My beliefs may not fulfill the criteria of "unacceptable" that you feel is justified. But in the end, what it means is that a set of principles I hold force me to get what is, frankly, a less comprehensive education compared to what the majority of Americans enjoy. If that’s not a good enough reason, I guess my petty narrow-mindedness has trumped the country’s ability to provide me with an education. Congratulations, you seem to have won.

#91 ::: ComicGeekGirl ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:40 PM:

As I sit in a public library next to a community college in the state of Arizona...

...this is not surprising, not at all.

There seems to be a small, but vocal group in this state who subscribe to a particularly rigid and unconvincing form of Christianity. (I say unconvincing because it seems that anything will damage the belief system).

I had a parent fill out a "Request for Reconsideration" form for the animated Animal Farm video because it was "misleading".

The same parent came in and asked for a book "Like Lord of the Rings without all the magic and evil."

I have fielded many a complaint about Harry Potter.

For a while, I recieved a bevy of complaints about Eisner's A Contract with God because people were expecting a book of "religious instruction", and not graphic format stories about the Jewish ghetto in Brooklyn. The graphic novel collection is a frequent target of complaints.

One man let his 10 year old watch End of Escaflowne and wanted us to remove all anime and manga from the library shelves as a result. Even better was the 10 year old who checked out Election and who's mother complained to the city council.

So, not surprising at all.

#92 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:43 PM:

It's a perfectly fine idea, as long as the student's transcript gets an (alt) notation next to each alternative class. Then employers can offer them an (alt) salary commeasurate with their skills...

#93 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 01:59 PM:

David Manheim: I'm not sure I understand your point. You have chosen to get a substandard education because of your principles? OK, that's your call. The problem arises when you say, "I do not know of any moral imperative to force others to be educated." That's pretty much what the rest of us are saying. If you don't want to learn new things, don't go to college. You've accepted a substandard education, but that doesn't mean that I should be forced to teach you in a substandard way. Your freedom of religion should not trump my freedom of expression. You've chosen your path; don't interfere with mine.

If I've misinterpreted your views, please acccept my apologies.

#94 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:05 PM:

Yes, you misunderstood my position; because of the fact that others feel it is morally wrond to censor college education, I cannot attend colleges that my tax dollars support. I think this is a bit ridiculous, as it should be my choice which classes to attend, but if this is not the case, I should at least be able to choose not to cover things I find offensive, without penalty to my grade, and loss of my scholarship, which is a typical scenario resulting from refusal to take core courses.

#95 ::: DJ ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:09 PM:

Why even go to college? Or open the newspaper?

By this reasoning, under no circumstances should a kid ever have to open the Bible. Ever.

#96 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:15 PM:

the only way for me to pursue advanced courses in economics or mathematics is to teach myself

Now, I know that economics contains a lot of offensive ideas. But what is there about the study of mathematics that could possibly offend anyone's religious principles?

#97 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:26 PM:

David--

You can attend them. No one at the colleges is saying that you cannot. You, however, choose not to attend them unless you can attend and break their rules. And that's a little different.

#98 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:29 PM:

Meanwhile, the same crew of people who would prefer not to be exposed to Dangerous Thoughts has been bringing their agenda to bear on the American textbook industry. Were I not scheduled to be laid off from my editorial position in about 10 days, I assure you I would have been irretreivably burnt out by, oh, October.

I have removed classic kids' books from "official" reading lists because they include magic, or talking animals, or children who tell lies, or men with earrings. I have had to remove any intimations that the American capitalist system does not provide a full life for all Americans in a civics text. I have been instructed not to use the words imagine, pretend, or create in describing what teachers may require of their students--because imagining is like meditation, which is like prayer, only not to God; and because pretending is like lying, which is bad; and because creating is something that only God can do, not humans.

The aim of such people seems to be that no child shall read anything but accounts of unquestioning patriotism and bland tales of moral instruction. I have gritted my teeth through all of this. I am supremely glad I won't have to do so for much longer. I don't know what I'll be doing next, but it sure as hell won't be textbooks.

#99 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:35 PM:

One problem with this-or-that offending a person on religious grounds that must be accomodated is that it can reach pretty far. (I don't know what Richard's religious background is, so please, do not take this as a personal attack.)

Unless I'm mistaken, there are some religions, or at least their real-world enforcement, that object to girls being taught in schools. Or it's OK for girls to get an education, but girls should not display any skin. Or girls can show skin, but that skin can't be black.

If a young man holding either of those beliefs winds up in a classroom where there are black girls wearing a mini-skirts, does he have any ground for asking that his beliefs be respected?

#100 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:40 PM:

John from Tucson, in my youth I served as a page in the Arizona House of Representatives. It was an illuminating introduction to Politics as She Is Spoke.

Kieran, I saw your piece. That was good. And by the way, there's nothing strange about a Flake being from Snowflake. The town name has nothing to do with precipitation. It was settled by the Snows and the Flakes.

#101 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:42 PM:

David Manheim - If you're religous principles require you to avoid exposure to great swaths of material, you should expect your faith to have consequences. Freedom of religion does not mean that you have freedom from consequences, and that you should expect more than a reasonable accomodation that doesn't interfere with everyone else's reality.

Not being able to take an exam because it's a holy day - that's OK. Not being able to complete a curriculum because it contains things you need to hide from - once it gets beyond content peripheral to the course and into the main subject matter - sorry, it's your problem.

It really sounds as if you're looking for a custom college education, with all of the material pre-censored to fit your world view - this would make me ask two things:
1 - Doesn't your denomination have a school that would fit your needs?
2 - What are you doing reading this blog? Lots of stuff gets discussed here that might make you uncomfortable.

It's like TV. If foul language offends you, turn on your V-chip, don't subscribe to HBO, and don't gripe because nobody makes a sugar-coated version of The Sopranos. And don't expect me to give up The Family Guy, or literature courses whose readings contain foul language because it offends some people, somewhere.

#102 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:45 PM:

Bleh. Your. Not You're. I hate it when I do that.

#103 ::: DJ ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:46 PM:

David Manheim said: "If I find content that I will be exposed to objectionable on religious grounds, I am forced to choose significantly more expensive, out of state options like the one I am currently employing."

Your principles are your principles. Live with them and make your choices accordingly.

and he said: "Does it seem fair that people who honestly want a rigorous education devoid of any sexual or otherwise offensive content should be told to look elsewhere?"

Yes. Absolutely fair. "...any sexual or otherwise offensive content" is an amazingly broad category of material. Definitely, look elsewhere. In fact it's only fair.

and he said: "But in the end, what it means is that a set of principles I hold force me to get what is, frankly, a less comprehensive education compared to what the majority of Americans enjoy."

Again, these are your principles. 'Live and let live' works both ways. Don't disable, distort and castrate our institutions of learning in order to make them fit your narrow band of acceptable material.

One more thing: Would you wish restrictions like this to be available to everyone, particularly those with vastly different religious or moral convictions than you?? How about if a radical fundamentalist female muslim came to your school and was allowed to essentially ignore any material that offended her sensibilities - or the sensibilities of her family - in any of your courses? Wouldn't you ask why she's even there? The point is, how could such rules be constrained to fit your more "reasonable" religious objections but not hers? They can't. And you would be disingenuous to claim otherwise.

So, she and you are both forced to find alternative ways of receiving an education in a way that to you find morally acceptable. So be it. I applaud your conviction.

But there is no way to call it appropriate to actually alter the content of a course curriculum based on the myriad personal opinions of the students who voluntarily enroll! How valuable do you suppose an education would be from your university in the real world if this kind of a law were to be played out to its natural end results?

"Oh, you graduated from 'Tiptoe-Around-Every-Concept' University in Arizona? The one with no books?... Next!"

#104 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:57 PM:

Laura: I think he's saying that if he enrolled in a university where he could take the classes he wants, he would also be required to take that university's core curriculum classes like literature and the various social science electives my first engineering curriculum required.

#105 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 02:58 PM:

Melanie: in an interview, Pratchett has actually said that almost nobody has written to him to object to Small Gods.

The number of people who have written him to tell him his depiction of Elves/the sidhe/etc. in Lords and Ladies was wrong-headed and offensive, however...

David Manheim: If your beliefs are that rigid that you feel that is what is required of you, then, while I disagree that any faith should be so strict as to disallow any book, I commend your dedication to your own morals, and your ability to press through and find a way to accomplish your goals.

But, you will note, you did research, took independant studies, found a college that was more likely to accommodate you, and generally, as you said, did *more* work. *You* put in the effort to get what you wanted. You did not lie back and demand that other make the effort for you. You didn't enter a class and only then complain that it included books that might bother you.

I believe that alternate education should be available. I also believe it should be at minimum equal effort, and ideally slightly harder to achieve. A true test of convictions, not a quick out.

I also do not think that public universities should be forced to adopt a rule that can be warped to allow students who are lazy to graduate without completing the course work just so you have an easier time receiving your education. While I agree that "I do not know of any moral imperative to force others to be educated", I also believe that there is no moral imperative that lazy students be allowed to graduate. It infringes badly on their right to learn a practical lesson by actually flunking out.

#106 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 03:07 PM:

David: Hm. I don't think I misunderstood you after all. You believe that I should let you dictate how I run my classroom. Then you complain because people like me object to that idea, so we force you to get a substandard education. I frankly don't have a problem with that. If you don't want to learn what I have to teach, stay out of my classroom and don't bother the rest of us. We'll leave you and your boundaries alone, if you'll leave us and our intellectual freedom alone.

#107 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 03:11 PM:

David Manheim:

If that’s not a good enough reason, I guess my petty narrow-mindedness has trumped the country’s ability to provide me with an education.

It would appear to me that your narrow-mindedness, to use your words, has trumped your own ability to provide yourself with an education. Perhaps you thought you were being wittily ironic, but from the little information you provide about yourself, the term "narrow-minded" appears to be apt.

Your demand that college must educate you while shielding you from ever encountering whatever you may consider objectionable is like demanding that a surgeon operate on you without coming within arms reach, like demanding that an artist paint your portrait in the pitch dark without ever seeing you. If you demand someone fulfill your goal while setting conditions which make it near to impossible for them, it is your problem if they reject those conditions as unworkable.

If you have managed to find a college that offers to shield you against all dissenting viewpoints, you certainly should not be surprised that their selection of courses and knowledge is limited. I would be very skeptical of the quality of the courses which they do offer.

#108 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 03:13 PM:

The aim of such people seems to be that no child shall read anything but accounts of unquestioning patriotism and bland tales of moral instruction.

Ah, so you've seen the aBeka reading books!

For one year in junior high, I opted to home school rather than go to the local school (private and misionary-run, for what it's worth, as it was in another country), mostly for social reasons. The books I used made it the most useless year of schooling I've ever received. All the science textbooks detailed nothing but dates of inventions and names of scientists without any explanation of the scientific principles, the English class forced me to memorize and rewrite punctuation-perfect various poems (which would have been less objectionable if they hadn't, for example, taken an Emily Dickinson poem and edited it for standard punctuation and perfect rhyme, then forced me to repeat that version), and all our reading was bland patriotic pablum in which plucky young protagonists saved the American flag from the British troops or what not by doing what their parents had told them and remembering inspirational Bible verses. I got a far more nuanced and thought-provoking education when I went back to the missionary-run private Christian school.

Moment of nostalgia aside, yes, I've seen exactly that sort of curriculum, and it was a hideous thing I will never voluntarily enforce on my own hypothetical future children. If the public schools go this direction, well, I was thinking of home-schooling with a real curriculum anyway. If the public universities go this direction, private universities it is. My parents taught me that one of the most important parts of growing up was learning how to handle information I didn't like and think about it. I hope I can pass that much on to my own children, no matter what the public education system tries to turn into.

#109 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 03:49 PM:

I went to a college where they figured everyone needed a basic education in liberal arts, including the science and engineering students, to the tune of about 98 hours (quarter system) of classes from a cafeteria-type list.

Northeast Missouri State University (-> Truman State) was similar. It could still be similar; I hope so. However, it cut both ways. There was a general science component as well, though it often came down to "Physics for Poets." Nevertheless, the weight was definitely on the humanities and social science side...and I am profoundly grateful for that. I entered as a science nerd who, although having enjoyed literature since an early age, wanted to focus on science classwork. I left as a science nerd who had been greatly changed by his/her exposure to sociology, anthropology, linguistics, etc.

Now, to support Ms. Trefzger's point, all of this also catalyzed the destruction of my fundamentalist Christian faith. But after the fact, I'm grateful. Obviously, it wasn't real faith; it was just how I'd been brought up. The fact that American fundamentalists don't value genuine faith that is developed independently in the face of challenge seems to be a tacit admission that they wouldn't like the outcome of the process.

#110 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 03:55 PM:

OG said:

Laura: I think he's saying that if he enrolled in a university where he could take the classes he wants, he would also be required to take that university's core curriculum classes like literature and the various social science electives my first engineering curriculum required.

That's true. It also sounds like he's saying that the religious school he attends has no good courses in mathematics or economics. I can't think of any religious reason not to teach advanced mathematics.

#111 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:21 PM:

Laura:

I can't think of any religious reason not to teach advanced mathematics.

Nor can I, which suggests the issue is finding qualified mathematicians who can pass the creed requirements.

#112 ::: Cryptic Ned ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:25 PM:

One student turned in his first paper, whose thesis came to "Spenser was a misogynistic, backward bawsterd." Great, except Spenser wasn't, for his time. Particularly as compared to Milton, whom we hadn't even gotten to yet. The student dropped the class. What was weird to me wasn't his harsh-eyed modern stance -- it was that he had chosen this class, which was not required particularly for anything, without knowing about the basic prejudices and assumptions of the Elizabethan era or being willing to deal with the text within its context.

I don't understand why he took the class either, but I sort of sympathize with him.

To fulfill my college's history requirement, I took a class in Law and Society of Medieval Europe, which sounded like the most interesting class available. I wasn't required to take Intro To Every Historical Figure 101 because of AP scores, but still had to take something, so I thought this would be interesting.

I did all the reading, contributed to class discussion as much as anyone else, and on the series of short essays about justice which comprised most of the grades in the class I consistently got A's. By the time the final came, I had a B+ average, and the final consisted of scribbling in blue books. I knew all the background for the final, and thought I had done as well as anybody else, synthesizing the information into an essay just like those in high school, but on my report card I got a C.

This was the first and only time I actually contacted a professor to ask whether she made a mistake with my grade, and she responded with "I looked at your final again, and it got a D+. This brings you to a C for the semester."

I tried to figure out how that happened, and I just figured that there was some sort of protocol I never learned for how to write about history in academia. It continues to be a mystery. Maybe the class should have been limited to history majors.

#113 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:36 PM:

“A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education,”

My personal and religious beliefs include the absolute neccessity of understanding views opposing my own, a high esteem for intellectual enquiry, and a firm belief that the truth which will set us free must be sought everywhere, even in books that I disagree with. (I honed these views when I had to read The Yearling in sixth grade, because I had read both the books available for the course and The Hobbit groun was full.)

This law offends my personal and religious beliefs. Therefore, I refuse to read it, or be required to master its contents. Can I have an alternative law, please? Maybe I could reread the Constitution instead, which doesn't offend me.

And I must be the only person here who was turned on to literature by high school English classes. Shakespeare, Hardy, Dickens (Bleak House, to be precise), Arthur Miller, TS Eliot and John Donne all occupy my shelves because my English teachers made me read them. Mr Killian, Mrs Courtois, Mrs Lightfoot, thank you for ignoring our gripes and making us read those things.

#114 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:38 PM:

For groun read group.

#115 ::: lou ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:42 PM:

I think every Arizona legislator, Miz Christie whatshername and David on this board should all be required to read "Reading Lolita in Tehran." It would show them how much they have in common with the ayatollahs in Iran. You know, telling a professor what literature she should be requiring the class to read, or rather telling her what lit they should not be reading.
The prime example, in case you haven't read it, Kat, is the Great Gatsby. Her passage about what makes great literature versus literature written to follow certain preconceived notions should be hammered to the door of congress, school boards and state legislatures who want to dictate college courses everywhere.

#116 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:44 PM:

abi - It wasn't high school that turned me on to literature, it was two college classes. The one I mentioned above, and one that I took in engineering school, of all places. Colloquium on 20th Century Thought it was called. There were two ways to get an A. The first was to listen, abosorb and regurgitate (good for up to an A-, it was engineering school, after all) or to actually think, which could get you the full A.

I don't understand what the prof who taught this class was doing at this particular school, but I'm glad he was.

#117 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 04:54 PM:

abi: I also loved Dickens, and various other things I was "forced" to read. I thought Tale of Two Cities was a fantastic novel. I think there were some books I didn't like in high school but I no longer remember them. (My problem was mostly that I'd already read what they assigned, and had to ask if I could read something different and do a report on it.)

Everybody's got certain books or authors which leave them cold; I think it is a great mistake to always view those as failings of the author or as personal failings. For example, I just can not get through Jane Austen. I have tried earnestly a number of times, but I stall out even on her lighter works like Emma. Given the people I know who love her and think she is the wittiest writer ever - Kipling among them - I see this as a personal incompatibility, not as proof that she is hateful and wicked or that I am an idiot.

Dave:
You see Joyce as "small-souled mealy-minded ... provincial"? Are we reading the same James Joyce? Ah well, see preceding paragraph.

#118 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 05:09 PM:

I would call Emma one of Austen's more serious works - certainly it's the one that most resembles a "serious" piece of literature. Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion are lighter.

It took me a long time to learn how to appreciate Austen. All of her subtle irony used to go right over my head.

#119 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 05:29 PM:

David Manheim: "Does it seem fair that people who honestly want a rigorous education devoid of any sexual or otherwise offensive content should be told to look elsewhere?"

If that education includes studying art and literature, it isn't reasonable to ask that depictions of nude humans, and books that mention sex, be excluded.

What's your objection? Surely you're aware that such things happen, and I'll hazard a guess that you know mechanics of the process. Since you're religious, you must be aware of at least part of the range of social consequences. And if you're contemplating a career in the clergy or priesthood or whatever title your religious hierarchy uses, you're undoubtedly going to hear about such things from your parishioners. What's so terrible about a few mild mentions of sexuality that it's forced you to take a second-rate education?

"I may not be 'a lot of students.' My beliefs may not fulfill the criteria of 'unacceptable' that you feel is justified."

Pay attention. This comment thread has made no attempt to define what is or is not justified or acceptable in those circumstances.

"But in the end, what it means is that a set of principles I hold force me to get what is, frankly, a less comprehensive education compared to what the majority of Americans enjoy. If that’s not a good enough reason, I guess my petty narrow-mindedness has trumped the country’s ability to provide me with an education."

That's your language, not ours. If you're looking for martyrdom, you won't find it here.

I won't claim that there's any unanimity of opinion in this discussion, but if there is an overall sense to it, it's uneasiness over the possibility that narrow-minded religionists may succeed in hampering the ability of mainstream students to get a non-cotton-candy education.

Does your sympathy not extend to them? It should. Someone who's trying to get a decent education in arts and literature out of a Central Arizona community college already has a hard row to hoe.

"Congratulations, you seem to have won."

No. We haven't won. We don't even have an agenda. And you haven't gloriously lost. As your God is undoubtedly aware, you're just patting yourself on the back.

#120 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 06:15 PM:

David Manheim again: "Yes, you misunderstood my position; because of the fact that others feel it is morally wrong to censor college education, I cannot attend colleges that my tax dollars support."

Oh, then it's not a matter of principle? You just feel you aren't getting your money's worth? Forgive me. I mistook the nature of your objections.

We all pay taxes. We the people, through our elected representatives, legal system, and civil service, have laid this burden on ourselves so that our government can have operating funds to pursue various good works. One of the greatest of these is public education. Our school system accommodates students who have extremely variable backgrounds, abilities, needs, talents, and ambitions. We all support it. The existence of the school system is a tremendous benefit to the entire country. To act like it's a vendor that has somehow failed to serve your marketing niche is to completely miss the point.

"I think this is a bit ridiculous, as it should be my choice which classes to attend, but if this is not the case, I should at least be able to choose not to cover things I find offensive, without penalty to my grade, and loss of my scholarship, which is a typical scenario resulting from refusal to take core courses."

You think ... you should be able to refuse to take core classes ... and still be given a scholarship?

Whatever for? Your inherent glorious wonderfulness? Your beaux yeux? Your [insert suggestion here]? That's rather a wonderful belief you have going.

Are you familiar with Kant's little suggestion about acting only according to maxims you'd be willing to see become universal laws? Because I can tell you what a university degree would be worth, if your beliefs about how the system should work for you were became general practice for everyone.

#121 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 06:25 PM:

Andrew: I find the view that only God can create blasphemous, not to mention offensive. That's really informing textbooks? For schools and innocent kids?

#122 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 06:38 PM:

Jo, to "blasphemous" and "offensive" I'd add "heretical."

This is all such bad theology!

#123 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 07:39 PM:

Does it seem fair that people who honestly want a rigorous education devoid of any sexual or otherwise offensive content should be told to look elsewhere?

David, if you want to close your mind to a fairly large segment of human experience how can you have a rigorous education? It's like having a cake and eating it, except that you want the benefits of nutrition without even eating.

If it's a fact that the best teachers want to reference this offensive sexual stuff, and the less-good teachers don't, that should clue you in that the sex stuff may actually be important for a rigorous education.

#124 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 07:47 PM:

And I must be the only person here who was turned on to literature by high school English classes.

Well, I was already turned on to some literature, but my high school junior English class really broadened my horizons. We did Lord of the Flies, and I ended up selecting Player Piano from the options list. And just to stick another thumb in Ms. Trefzger's eye, it was a Christian school. Thank you, Mr. Van Zanten!

#125 ::: jrocheste ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:06 PM:

I'm late to this party -- but to answer the very, very first commentator, who said:

That said, there is an argument to be made that at least one section of a required class have a "non-controversial" syllabus. If sex and swearing bother you, there are large pastures of literature in English that you may study.

I teach in one of those large pastures -- the Renaissance - and just for fun I thought I'd list off all the potentially offensive material in the generally accepted canon of English and European Lit, pre-1650.

Here's what I came up with, with apologies for length:

The Iliad (war, violence, paganism, starts with a rape)
The Odyssey (violence, paganism, drugs and witchcraft)
The Aeneid (sex, violence, suicide, paganism, necromancy and visits to the underworld, Imperialist)
Ovid's Metamorphoses (sex, violence, paganism, witchcraft, sex with trees, gods, showers of gold, you name it)
Ovid's Art of Love, The (don't even need to explain this one)
The entire extant canon of Classical Greek drama, tragic and comic (rape, incest, murder, cannibalism, fratricide, matricide, infanticide, buggery, prostitutes, phalloi and profanity)
The Sapphic Fragments (don't need to explain)
The Odes of Horace (sex, wine, beautiful boys, carpe diem)
All of Roman Comedy (sex, swindling and theft, buggery, prostitution)
All of Roman Tragedy (violence, murder, incest, necromancy)
The Confessions of Augustine (sex)
Beowulf (violence, dismemberment)
Mort D'Arthur (adultery, violence, torture, witchcraft)
The Divine Comedy (violence, torture, blatantly sectarian placing of people in Hell and Heaven)
The Decameron (sex, violence)
Roman de la Rose (extended sexual allegory)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (adultery, sexually suggestive scenes, violence, paganism)
The Canterbury Tales (sex, violence, anti-religious commentary)
Troilus and Criseyde (war, violence, pimping, nonmarital sex)
Confessio Amatis (lust, violence, transformation, based on Metamorphoses)
The York and Wakefield Cycle plays (violence, sex, domestic violence, infanticide)
Mankind (violence, irreligious commentary, scatological imagery)
Pantagruel and Gargantua (sex, lechery, gluttony, sloth, scatology)
The Prince(political machination, targeted violence and terrorism, murder as an art)
The Faerie Queene(sex, violence, rape, cross-dressed women, anti-catholic satire, imperialist, anti-Irish, advocates genocide)
The Arcadia (sex, violence, rape, cross-dressed men)
Hero and Leander (explicitly sexual material)
Venus and Adonis (explicitly sexual material)
Most Sonnet Sequences (sexually explicit language, sexist, homosexual imagery)
The extant corpus of English Renaissance Drama, comic, tragic and tragicomic (war, imperialism, anti-democratic politics; violence, mutilation, dismemberment, torture, suicide and murder (mass, sexual, fratricide, matricide, patricide, regicide, infanticide, petty treason, human sacrifice, genocide); sex, adultery, prostitution, rape, gang rape, necrophilia, pedophilia, homosexuality, lesbianism, buggery, incest, cross-dressing; obscenity, anti-Purtain satire, anti-Catholic satire; witchcraft, white and black magic, devil-worship, open atheism; theft, swindling, glorification of anti-social behavior)
Donne's Songs and Sonnets (sexual imagery)
The poetry of Campion, Herrick, Carew, Lovelace, Suckling, Marvell {sexually explicit material)
Hobbes' Leviathan (politically offensive; anti-democratic)

#126 ::: jrocheste ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:11 PM:

Oh, and in case no-one believes the above post, I have had several students complain about the sexual content in my lectures -- and you don't even want to talk about the boy actor.

Just because it's old doesn't mean it's not obscene. In the best possible way, of course.

#127 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:37 PM:

Abi: I was turned on to literature in high school, by the library. I devoured books -- we had a three a time limit, and I'd read 6-9 a week. I got really interested in what we now call 'postcolonial literature' and also in modern poetry, science fiction, and history. If that library hadn't been there, and hadn't contained a wide variety of books my life would have been objectively poorer.

I also struck my first blow against censorship in high school. I was on the library committee and persuaded the librarian to read a novel she wanted to exclude before banning it; I argued that even though it contained strong language (misspelled at that) it was a serious piece of literature and she should look beyond a few 'bad words' at the story itself. She bought my argument, read the book, and while uncomfortable with the language, put the book on the shelves.

#128 ::: Anders ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 08:47 PM:

I'm a vegan, but that doesn't mean that I don't read books with characters who eat meat. Trying to avoid ever taking offense can't result in anything but a narrow life and a complacent mind.

#129 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:27 PM:

My grandmother, who was a wise Welshwoman, had a saying that covers this whole thing. "Everyone puts their finger where it hurts."

I am offended by depictions of human beings as useless, ineffectual ninnies, pawns in the grip of fate and their own vile inadequacies. I am also offended by what I perceive as the relentless tirade of (recent) Western literature against the West itself. The other David is perhaps offended by - this is a guess - graphic sexual content, extreme violence, sportive pharmaceuticals, you name it.

We both know that these things exist. I could, if I cared to, give a fairly close description of their mechanics. However, I (and I suspect the other David) would consider the exercise demeaning, and unworthy of the attention of a self-respecting person. Others may differ, and they have the right to differ. For I am not proposing that the works of (for example) Thomas Hardy should be burned, much as I revile them. I am proposing that I should not be forced to read them, which implies that nobody should be forced to read texts which they find offensive on similar conscientious grounds.

Of course teachers should have the right to teach what they wish, from whatever texts they wish. But whence comes this idea that simply because they wish to teach it, students are required, and where necessary must be forced, to learn it? For it is this, not academic freedom, not freedom of discourse, and still less freedom of speech, that you are defending when you prescribe specific literature courses and demand that students take them as a condition of receiving an education in the arts or sciences.

Does this not descend from some notion of canon, the idea that there is a body of texts that every person must read before they can be considered educated? Discuss, giving examples and justifying.

#130 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 09:52 PM:

David Manheim, have you been wondered why you're getting "a less comprehensive education compared to what the majority of Americans enjoy"?

It's because you've decided, of your own free will, to avoid getting an education.

This is the world's smallest violin playing "My Heart Bleeds For You."

#131 ::: jrocheste ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 10:16 PM:

I am proposing that I should not be forced to read them, which implies that nobody should be forced to read texts which they find offensive on similar conscientious grounds.

Of course you should not be forced to read texts you find offensive, and should you be attacked by a gang of English professors who break into your house, duct-tape you to a chair and read _Tess_ aloud to you, I will be the first to rise to your defense.

Should you sign up for a course in the Victorian Novel, however, you take your chances. There will be things on the course that you do not love: there will be things on the course that you find dull. But you will emerge knowing something about the period and genre, which is the purpose of taking an English course.

And yes, they made me take things I hated too. Some of them I even hated when the course was over.

#132 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 10:27 PM:

A somewhat different take:

I was a Special Ed student as a kid, because "back in my day" kids with physical limitations didn't go to "normal school."

When I was mainstreamed, I hated it. I was torn from my safe, sheltered world that made allowances for me. I had to deal with things that shocked, upset and disillusioned me. Some learning experiences were downright painful.

And I began to learn and grow in ways I couldn't have if I hadn't been forced into "the real world." I now have a fuller life than my friends who couldn't make the transition as completely.

If you limit your education to fit your current boundaries, you're handicapping yourself.

#133 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:15 PM:

jrocheste: Thank you for that list (8:06pm) of potentially offensive content in the Western canon.

Does it even need to be said that a very similar list of "offensive content" could be drawn up for the Bible?

#134 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:17 PM:

Dave Luckett - Y'know what - there is a canon of literature that you should have read at least a chunk of to understand your own culture. It doesn't mean that you have to read all of it, or that you have to enjoy it, but you should read it because it teaches something about where you (or someone else) comes from.

But we've had this discussion before. I suspect that having it again won't be worthwhile.

#135 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:30 PM:

David: simply because otherwise I am exposed to material that is verboten on religious grounds.

Why? What is your religion so fearful of that they will not let you look at it? Seems to me you're talking about a cult whose practices can't stand impartial examination; if you choose to castrate your brain and follow them, why should you get the right to call yourself educated? Do you think you can acquire a technical competence in a real-world discipline like economics without any exposure to the real world? If so, I don't pity you; I consider you as dangerous as the stereotypical mad scientist plotting some bizarre stunt to force everyone to be "good" -- because you could wind up with the piece of paper that claims you know what you're doing without any understanding of the world to which your theories will be applied.

NB: you may, if you wish, disregard the above as the rant of an agnostic, probably damned by the definitions you subject yourself to. However, you have also had your rationalizations handed back to you, suitably sliced and diced, by at least two serious theists. Their faith does not require ignorance; why does yours?

#136 ::: jrocheste ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2006, 11:46 PM:

What is your religion so fearful of that they will not let you look at it? Seems to me you're talking about a cult whose practices can't stand impartial examination; if you choose to castrate your brain and follow them, why should you get the right to call yourself educated?

I think Mr. Manheim is at an Orthodox school.

I was curious about what kind of college would be as restrictive as the one he describes, so I did a little googling and poking about for small sectarian universities in New York State. I found a blog by a David Manheim, a student at Lander College for Men, which is a very conservative Orthodox school. May not be the same guy, but I'm betting.

So no, Mr. Manheim isn't a wingnut of the type we're all envisioning, and his frustration at being restricted to a sectarian school makes a little more sense. He can't leave the context he's in without becoming, at least in his eyes and from his practice, less Jewish. And he wouldn't be there at all if faith and identity weren't central to his sense of who he is. So he's stuck.

I have a good deal more respect for someone in this situation than for a classic fundie wingnut, not the least because of a deep respect for the traditions of Jewish education. It's hard to find a religious tradition more intellectually rigorous -- maybe the Jesuits, but only just.

Still, I've gotta say that only a Orthodox boy would seriously think that 'sexual or otherwise offensive content' could be simply exised from a general undergrad education.

#137 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 12:13 AM:

But whence comes this idea that simply because they wish to teach it, students are required, and where necessary must be forced, to learn it?

There are names, signatures, on my diplomas, besides mine. The names of the institutions that awarded those diplomas are prominently displayed front and centre. When I got those pieces of paper, the other names on them belonged to people who just bet their reputations that I'd learned what they had to teach.

University is optional. Even core curriculum is optional; but you don't get the paper if you don't take and pass the core. You want a BFA? You're gonna have to look at pictures of nekkid people somewhere down the line; even music majors have to demonstrate a passing acquaintance with non-musical arts, and for some reason, nekkit people are just all over the landscape, all through the ages. You cannot fling a cat without it clawing down a canvas covered with lasciviously romping nymphs. A BA in English? Reading works considered by the majority of reputable scholars in the field, living and dead, to be seminal is how you pick up the trade, and it's a bit too much to ask that it all be "good stuff", for highly personal definitions of "good stuff".

Harking back to Lila's comment, where she so kindly linked Mark Twain's wonderful critique of JFC's body of work, it's not without cause that both writers are considered required reading for anyone aspiring to a degree in American Lit. Great artists, great writers, aren't 'great' because their works are the epitome of perfection, but because their work changes the world.

So yeah, call Hardy or Dickens all the hard names you like. But before you can have anything of substance to say about their output, you have to read it, closely, exactly as Twain did with Cooper. You have to bite the coin to know its metal.

Reading Joyce was, I'll bet, every bit as maddening as you say; I've not managed it yet, nor do I aspire to any mantle of scholarship that includes reading Joyce as a prerequisite. But in my time I've read plenty of stuff that was flat-out work to get through. No one 'forced' me to, though, and I'm clueless where outside coercion comes into it when the goal is mastery of a body of work. It's just the stuff you do, if you're to take your own self seriously, nevermind fooling the board of governors.

(unrelated: I've seen John D's name spelt both "Dunne" and "Donne". The current fashion may be now for "Donne", but that doesn't invalidate the other construction.)

#138 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 12:14 AM:

Larry: So what is that canon? What consensus can you obtain for it? By what principle is it compiled? What authority exists for it?

What I am is a human being. Where I come from is there. "Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto" but I get to choose, dammit. I therefore deny your canon sight unseen, or anyone's, and further deny anyone's right to enforce a canon on me, whether by duct tape or by required study credits; and that is the nub of this argument.

#139 ::: jrocheste ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 12:27 AM:

I therefore deny your canon sight unseen, or anyone's, and further deny anyone's right to enforce a canon on me, whether by duct tape or by required study credits; and that is the nub of this argument.

And you may read whatever books you like in the privacy of your own home. But if you take a course designed to give you an overview of an area, you're going to have to read the assigned reading, should you want to pass.

And you may revise, deny, reject or otherwise refute the concept of the canon and the mystique of canon-formation. But you've got to know the stuff to reject it, otherwise you're ignorant, not revisionary.

#140 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:20 AM:

Dave Luckett: What would constitute adequate evidence + reasoning to convince you? That is, can you truly imagine yourself saying "oh, I see" and changing your mind in any significant (let alone fundamental) way about this? Or would you always find some reason to reject the answers given? You've already placed yourself in an adversarial stance to works that a lot of us think say something well worth hearing in ways, and I suspect that few of us here think we're going to do a better job of explaing than, well, the folks you're spitting on and dissing for their worldviews.

If you can explain - preferably with examples from your history in which you've had a serious, profound change of judgment on the basis of things said in exchanges like this - what sort of thing would convince you, that's one thing. Otherwise it sounds like the kind of challenge that lets the challenger (intentionally or otherwise) continue to play upmanship games by dismissing all efforts at response as inadequate. But there's a burden on the challenger, too, to convince us that you have a frame of reference in which significant change is plausible.

#141 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:40 AM:

jrocheste: And if I don't take such a course? What if the last thing I want to study is D H Lawrence, but "Sons and Lovers" is on the introductory lit unit which is in turn a required credit before I'll be permitted to proceed to, say, Chaucer (or Dryden, or Austen, or Tolkien)? Or that it's on the required reading list for the sort of "Culture 101" course which is compulsory in many institutions.

For that's the point, not what I read at home. To what extent may text be prescribed, when students are not proposing to study literature, or any particular body or school of literature, or some different one altogether?

Whether I have "to know the stuff to reject it" depends on the precise meaning of "know" in this context. It's true that one should not reject a text knowing nothing about it. But how much do I need to know? Must I read the text in detail, to the point where I could write scholarly essays on it? Or is it enough to have read part of it, skimmed through most, and to read a selection of criticism? Could some even lesser standard be applied? To what extent do I have to be bored, infuriated or revolted by a text before I can say that I reject it? Could that not happen on page three?

Perhaps some might say that however bored, infuriated or revolted I may be, the text is nonetheless good for me, and I should bear with it. I would ask in reply what precise good this might be, and what evidence exists for that assertion. I say, on the contrary, that enforced reading of rejected or strongly resisted text is futile or worse, and that there is far more evidence for that statement.

#142 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:49 AM:

comicgeekgirl wrote:
The same parent came in and asked for a book "Like Lord of the Rings without all the magic and evil."

...actually, Beowulf comes to mind. Perhaps only because they've both had games based on them designed by Reiner Knizia with art by John Howe.

#143 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:58 AM:

Bruce Baugh: Tell you what. I'll give such an example of an "oh, I see" moment - fortunately I have one to hand - if you'll give an example of where I have spat on or dissed anyone for their worldviews - excluding those authors whom I mentioned, all of whom are safely long dead, and hardly likely to take offence. I have just carefully reread the whole of this thread, and I cannot find such an example. Perhaps you can.

#144 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:06 AM:

a propo 'The Confessions of Augustine (sex)', sex is not the reason why The Confessions of Augustine would be offensive to most of the people likely to be offended by it, as the sex in the book is presented negatively, the people likely to take offense at The Confessions of Augustine will do so because of 'Catholicism' or maybe 'Popery'.

#145 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:06 AM:

Dave, maybe you can explain how the following should be construe as anything but dissing:

"I found Hardy and Joyce and Salinger (to choose three) violently opposed to everything I believe about human beings. I despise them and all their works for their small-souled mealy-minded pettily vindictive provincial maunderings, their refusal to stop picking at wounds that should have healed long since, and in any reasonable human being, would have. I hate their smallness, their niddling, their twittering, their coddling of injuries to themselves." link

"We both know that these things exist. I could, if I cared to, give a fairly close description of their mechanics. However, I (and I suspect the other David) would consider the exercise demeaning, and unworthy of the attention of a self-respecting person. Others may differ, and they have the right to differ. For I am not proposing that the works of (for example) Thomas Hardy should be burned, much as I revile them. I am proposing that I should not be forced to read them, which implies that nobody should be forced to read texts which they find offensive on similar conscientious grounds." link

If someone said that of you, would you not feel dissed?

#146 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:21 AM:

I actually did go to an undergraduate college with no course requirements (Hampshire College in Massachusetts, for those seeking a Dickens-free education). It wasn't easy, and I wouldn't recommend any of their classes for the narrow-minded. There are options available for those who find any particular aspect of a normal college education offensive. But if you find all of them offensive, your problems are on your own head.

And once you choose to attend my college and walk into my classroom, it's reasonable that I expect you to do the work I assign--and that I evaluate your work accordingly if you don't.

#147 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:24 AM:

Compare, for instance, what I'd consider a neutral and un-insulting way of making basically the same point, not that I hold it myself:

"I think these authors are so focused on one aspect of human experience that they've lost sight of all the rest, much of it much more important, interesting, and worthy of study. To the extent that the failure of small souls needs to be studied, this isn't the way I'd recommend for it, and I don't find it useful. For that matter, the lives of the authors don't suggest to me that they were in a position to see deeply into anyone else's soul, or at least any soul I want to look more at."

One can disagree strongly with that, and I would, without there being any bile in it.

#148 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:41 AM:

Bruce: Oh, I see. You object to my being rude about (not to) deceased authors, not anyone actually present. Well, all right. To the extent that there is offence to be taken vicariously and post mortem, I take your point and apologise.

So, you deserve a serious response. First, as I promised, an example. I am probably guilty of the largest climbdown ever made on this blog, on the subject of gay marriage. I changed my worldview and judgement of a serious issue on the evidence presented here, as I call on others present to witness, and I meant it. I advocated those rights to a doubting friend just the other day.

Now, as to the debate at hand, may we agree on terms?

I am arguing against the compulsory prescription of specific fiction texts to students who, for conscientious reasons, do not desire to study that particular work, author, school or body of writing, and who do not desire to enrol in classes that require such reading, but whose choices have been in some way restricted. What would convince me that this practice was justified?

Difficult. If it could be shown that there was a substantial net benefit to be gained from such compulsion, I would accept it as justified. But the benefit would have to be net - that is, it would have to take into account the negative effects of compulsion, too. It would have to be substantial, because in a free society, compulsion should not lightly be resorted to. And the evidence for this benefit would have to be firm, not merely selective or anecdotal.

How's that?

#149 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 05:05 AM:

Dave, I'm about to hit the hay, but...

Oh, right! I remember the gay marriage thread, now that I'm reminded of it! For some reason I had that associated with...um, someone else, I'm not sure. Not you, anyway. Thanks, seriously, for the reminder.

Now, one tricky thing for me at least when talking about literary canon, and I'll have to get your answer on this after I sleep.

I think I can mount a good defense of the idea of a literary canon, and its utility, and its desirability as a tool of teaching. But I also think that there are a lot of ghastly choices made about what to actually teach. I don't, really, think that a lot of those bad choices have anything to do with canonicity at all - I think they come from a lot of good impulses applied unwisely, and sometimes from less good impulses, too.

I'm this way about a lot of things. I can go on at length about the merits of the US Constitution, but I think at least one of its original provisions was actively evil, several more unwise in ways that should have been recognized then, and some unwise in the light of later experience. I don't feel obligated to defend every piece of it even though I think it's overall an excellent idea.

I suspect, though I'm not trying to speak for everyone, that others on "my" side feel much the same. So please, as you read any arguments here about why canon is a good idea, don't rush to tar us with the brush of the worst crap you can lay your hands on. Odds are we agree about that, and odds are even better that it's not actually relevant at all to what we're trying to say.

Now I go rest.

#150 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:13 AM:

Dave Luckett:

So what is that canon? What consensus can you obtain for it? By what principle is it compiled? What authority exists for it?
Should I take it that you know enough about canon formation to know that that's a series of trick questions?
What I am is a human being. Where I come from is there. "Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto" but I get to choose, dammit. I therefore deny your canon sight unseen, or anyone's, and further deny anyone's right to enforce a canon on me, whether by duct tape or by required study credits; and that is the nub of this argument.
I agree with you wholeheartedly, right up to the point where you bring credits into it.

What you're asserting is your right to do solitary reading. That can be valuable. Lots of smart people have done it. But if you refuse to accept anyone else's choice of material, then you aren't pursuing a course of study, and you aren't studying with other scholars, so what you're doing isn't part of the academic system.

If your university requires a certain balance of classes in certain areas in order to get a degree, and Eng.Lit. studies are involved, then you will be subject to someone else's idea of curriculum. The canon will be present in some form. That's just the way it is.

#151 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:35 AM:

Dave Luckett:

"I am arguing against the compulsory prescription of specific fiction texts to students who, for conscientious reasons, do not desire to study that particular work, author, school or body of writing, and who do not desire to enrol in classes that require such reading, but whose choices have been in some way restricted."

"Compulsory"? WTF? Press gangs are forcing people to go to college? They missed me. I'm a high school dropout. The only times I've been to universities have been to do research, to lecture, or to speak.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with marching to the beat of your own drummer. Choose your own reading. Have your own preferences. Study what you will, and the devil take the hindmost. It's what I did. I'm all for it.

But as Teresa points out, that's not what participating in academia is about. Going to college means subjecting yourself to a curriculum. That curriculum may be flexible and wide-ranging or it may be blinkered and narrow, but one thing for sure is that you didn't set it and you don't get to set it aside according to your whims. That's one of the things a college degree tells the world: that for some period of your life you subjected yourself to this particular kind of discipline.

Talking as if the debate is over college instructors "compelling" students to study certain texts is morally nuts. Nobody's "compelled" to enroll in a university. But if you do, by god, you do the coursework or you don't get the credit. Demanding credit when you don't want to do the work is the very essence of whining for a free lunch.

#152 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:47 AM:

And by the way, although the point may already have been made upthread (it's been a busy week and I'm a little behind on the never-ending firehose of Making Light discussion threads), this entire performance by the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature is yet more evidence for my contention that today's so-called "conservatives," far from being remotely conservative, are in fact whiny crybabies of the worst sort, ready and willing to sell out the most fundamental conservative values of self-discipline, courage, public probity, and vigilance the moment one of them feels the tiniest twinge of anxiety. Can you imagine what Theodore Roosevelt, Bob Taft, or Dwight D. Eisenhower would have told a child of theirs who demanded to be allowed to veto a college reading assignment? These modern "conservatives" aren't conservatives, they're hippie layabouts who want the rest of us to do the work they're too lazy to be bothered with. And you can extend that principle to just about every area of society their influence pollutes.

#153 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:50 AM:

No one taking any course of study is required to read anything at all. You merely take your chances with your grades--and often you aren't taking any real risks.

In college I had a course called "Literary depictions of same-sex desire in the renaissance," (which some would consider offensive, surely, but we were a pretty self-selecting bunch--it wasn't a core class or anything). But that's not the point. It was my last semester, I had senioritis, and due to other more rigorous classes intervening, I did perhaps 10% of my required reading for the semester, and squeaked by with an A- or B+. I got a B+ for my French literature before 1850 course, and I could barely manage to read before-1850 French.

In high school my grades were quite similar whether I read the books or only pretended to read them.

Most of my classes only required me, honestly speaking, to listen to the lectures and read two or three of the main texts, of my own choosing. Perhaps I was just tremendously lucky--but I still feel, if you don't want to read the book, just fake it like everybody else.

[I know I am a lazy student and I do deeply regret it...]

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:51 AM:

Patrick, do you think that high-school & college do such a great job in making kids even want to consider taking a look at Literature? It's more likely to turn them off. See my comment up-thread about Moliere being the only one I managed to get into in spite of the environment.

#155 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 10:14 AM:

Serge, although I disagree with your assessment of the value of the literary canon usually assigned in the public schools, I have to say that the uniformly depressing tone of the canon I was assigned is a horrible idea (given the usual emotional trials adolescents are likely to be undergoing) and in fact, gives a skewed notion of what literature is like.

I was very pleased to see "Travels With Charley" on the optional reading list for my daughter's 11th grade lit class, as it's the only Steinbeck I've ever read that didn't make me want to die.

"Life-affirming" should not be a shibboleth for admission to the canon, but if I were writing curriculum I'd try to make at least, oh, 25 percent of the assigned works be ones that might make at least some readers (a) glad to be alive and/or (b) glad they read the book.

As all good writers know, you have to give the reader a breathing space now and then.

#156 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 10:14 AM:

Serge:

"Patrick, do you think that high-school & college do such a great job in making kids even want to consider taking a look at Literature? It's more likely to turn them off."

Please tell me what I have written that would remotely suggest I think that "high-school & college do such a great job in making kids even want to consider taking a look at Literature".

Seriously. I just said, six inches up the screen from here, that I chose to learn on my own, not inside academia. How do you get from this to me thinking that high school and college do a great job? Of course I never said any such stupid thing. What I said was that if you volunteer for college, you damn well better expect to read someone else's choice of what you're going to read. Just as, if you join the Marines, you'd better expect to do some pushups. Are you reading a word I've said?

#157 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 10:35 AM:

I actually did, Patrick. Really. Honest. And I totally agree that one should expect, getting into college, to have to do what someone else says you should do. I've been there and I've done that, thank you. Also, I never said that you thought high-school & college do a great job at making people want to read. True, the way I wrote it might have given that impression, but what can I say? I don't earn my living wielding my plume, although I can wield a mean programming mouse & keyboard. My apologies.

#158 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 11:19 AM:
So no, Mr. Manheim isn't a wingnut of the type we're all envisioning, and his frustration at being restricted to a sectarian school makes a little more sense. He can't leave the context he's in without becoming, at least in his eyes and from his practice, less Jewish. And he wouldn't be there at all if faith and identity weren't central to his sense of who he is. So he's stuck.

I don't see that it makes any difference. Most Orthodox Jews don't feel the need to so restrict themselves. All the ones I have known (such as my cousins) have gone to non-sectarian schools, where they seem perfectly capable of maintaining their faith and identity. There are of course also a lot of Orthodox Jews at Yeshiva University, which is a religious school. Here is the list of their undergraduate courses for men (since it is an Orthodox school, men and women are in separate colleges). It looks pretty standard to me.

#159 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 11:25 AM:

So no, Mr. Manheim isn't a wingnut of the type we're all envisioning, and his frustration at being restricted to a sectarian school makes a little more sense. He can't leave the context he's in without becoming, at least in his eyes and from his practice, less Jewish. And he wouldn't be there at all if faith and identity weren't central to his sense of who he is. So he's stuck.

I have a good deal more respect for someone in this situation than for a classic fundie wingnut, not the least because of a deep respect for the traditions of Jewish education. It's hard to find a religious tradition more intellectually rigorous -- maybe the Jesuits, but only just.

Still, I've gotta say that only a Orthodox boy would seriously think that 'sexual or otherwise offensive content' could be simply exised from a general undergrad education.

Wait a minute - what's in the Western Canon that's raunchier than the TANAKH? It's *filled* with sex and violence, often together. You can't sling a cat at the sacred scrolls without clawing up some nudity, masturbation, adultery, fornication, rape (single and gang), polygamy, prostitution, and incest of an astonishing variety (including with rape, q.v. Absalom & his half-sister.)

Not to mention the discussions of menstruation, miscarriage, infertility, nocturnal emission, castration, and sexual turn-ons like foot-fetishism ("by the strap of her sandal" Holofernes was caught) and the addition of substance abuse (Lot & his daughters), Oedipal revenge (Absalom again), child abandonment (Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael) and this is just off the top of my head, from memory, not cracking a page.

Oh, and the Song of Songs, of course!

--Does this somehow all not count, or is there a bowlderized Talmudic study program for Orthodox students who don't want to have to think about sex?

Also, since what was "really Jewish" was fiercely fought over in antiquity, starting (or getting steam at least) when Alexander of Macedon tromped in and brought with him all those Greek statues and plays and myths and gymnasiums and philosophers to complicate the pure worship of Om and believers' lifestyles - and heresy accusations and furious purism followed as might be expected - it's hard to see why young David is any different from a Protestant or Catholic wingnut who wants to ignore the Renaissance and the Middle Ages and the late Roman era's actual history and the existence of nudes in Western religious art all the way up to the early modern era, and the flexible attitude (or at least openness to difference) towards stories of pagan gods and magic and people living alternative lifestyles that made the Iliad, the Odyssey, Morte d'Arthur and Orlando Furioso such runaway, tie-in inspiring, bestsellers throughout Western Christian history, and compel the elimination of all things offensive from contemporary society, neo-Roundhead style.

#160 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 11:29 AM:

Addendum: forgot bestiality.

#161 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 11:36 AM:

This may be one of the best Making Light threads I've ever read. Thank you, all. Anything I might want to say has already been said.

I want to share one college memory, unforgettable even though it occurred nearly forty years ago. It has no relevance at all to this thread, so feel free to skip it.

While in undergraduate school, I took a course in Shakespeare. I was a literature major (double major, in Eng lit and philosophy) and this course was required for the major. It was also notorious, the most difficult course in the department, taught by a noted, much feared professor. During the two-semester course, we read all of Shakespeare's plays and the Sonnets. On the final, we were expected to be able to identify ANY LINE in any play: we had to know which play the line was from, which Act, which scene, by whom said, and we had to be able to write cogently upon the line's significance to the play. No -- it was not an open book exam.

Every semester, at least one student would approach the dept. chair to complain about the exam. It was simply too hard, the complaint went. The depeartment chair, needless to say, was not sympathetic. (And yes, copies of the old exams were available, and were circulated every semester, and they were no help at all. McFarland rarely repeated himself and he had a lot of material to choose from...) Many students fumed that the exam wasn't fair -- it was easier for those of us with good memories, for example. Well, yes. But no one had to take it, unless she or he was majoring in English, and no one HAD to major in English. It was an entirely free choice.

I am still, after 40 years, proud to say I aced the course and on the final I missed ONE question. (The line I missed was, "We are all frail." Measure for Measure, Act 2, Scene 4: said by nasty Angelo in the course of his attempted seduction of Isabella.) There were courses I have forgotten completely, but not this one.

#162 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 12:41 PM:

Jo, and Teresa: In the service of full disclosure, we were never given an explanation for why create had become a dirty word. Such explanations are rarely forthcoming from those on high. However, after long enough in the business, we on the editorial team felt like we could fill in the blanks on our own. We may have gotten it wrong, but we're pretty sure we haven't.

#163 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 12:48 PM:

Lori Coulson and Serge:
Yes, high school and college literature, taken as a collective is usually a bad bunch. Part of this is due to outside concerns (Like state guidelines that _these_ are the approved writers, and therefore the majority of works selected come out of these groups). However the main two or three reasons why what is given is given has been strewn piece-meal all over this thread. 1: taste and awareness; and 2: cultural unconscious.

Most high school and college students just do not read, and a majority of those that do are reading best sellers or special interest. The majority of students -- even if they might like Dickens(yes some do), or Steinbeck, or Shakespeare, or Austen (ad nauseum) -- are not going to run out and pick it up because, well, "That's that 'Classic Literature' it's long and dull, and no one likes it." So high schools and colleges try (or at least good ones do) to present students with a broad range of literature to cover a wide range of tastes so that for each book, hopefully, the one or two kids who will really like -- WHOEVER -- realize they like them and may read more. However, since -- as has been said right on this thread -- tastes are not catholic and even two people who like these three authors may have a difference of opinion over that fourth one there, the end result is a lot of books get hated by a lot of kids.

But, that's okay. Because there are ideas and quotes and expressions that inform our culture every day in ways we aren't aware of that are brought to light -- and in some cases spring from -- these sources of literature. So in addition to presenting a narrative of some historical period (Dickens: industrial age and French revolution, for instance) that parallells their history class and may be marginally more interesting or drive a point home better, the classics also help students obtain a wider understanding of their culture.


Larry: Yes, spelling is a matter of practice, pattern matching, and luck. But practicing what, and matching what patterns? There are several semi-reliable spelling systems for English which eventually get internalized: Phonetics (Which Pratchett plays merry hell with in Lancre.), pronounciation breakdowns (a double consonant after a vowel makes the vowel short, which is how you know the round bouncy toy is spelled "ball" not "bal", and single consonants get doubled when you add a suffix, thus "focus" becomes "focussed") and yes, there are even systems and rules for the many exceptions in our merry bastardized borrowing language like the old "I before E except after C or in words that say A, like neighbor and weigh". Yes part of it is luck and pattern recognition, but generally we get a foundation to see what the common patterns are early on ...

David:

Because of the fact that others feel it is morally wrond to censor college education, I cannot attend colleges that my tax dollars support.

As others before me have said, you CAN attend those colleges, but you CHOOSE not to. Of course, it is highly improbable that you would ever have attended _all_ of them anyway, so you wouldn't have gotten most of your tax dollars back on that investment, anyway.

Also, it's not like it's just your tax dollars. Should everyone who pays taxes be allowed to determine the curriculum?
* So the flat-earthers outlaw globes and geography
* The christian fundamentalists outlaw books on evolution, and anything portraying islam or judaism in a positive light
* The jews outlaw Shakespeare because he was an anti-semitist
* The feminists outlaw all the other "dead white males" and forbid teaching US History prior to suffrage
* the atheists get rid of any books pertaining to any God, Goddess, or gods

Gets a little ridiculous, doesn't it?

it should be my choice which classes to attend,

It is. I've been to half-a-dozen schools in the northeast, so I suppose I can't speak to all colleges, but generally even their "core load" tends to be "one-survey of literature" course which leaves you four to six options.

but if this is not the case, I should at least be able to choose not to cover things I find offensive, without penalty to my grade,

Well, maybe, if the prof adds in a book that wasn't publicized. But if you choose a course where the course catalog says that these are the texts you will be reading, you really can't claim you didn't know before hand. Now, if you talk to the prof before signing up, that might be different, I don't know.

and loss of my scholarship, which is a typical scenario resulting from refusal to take core courses.

Well, as Teresa said, the scholarship is essentially a contract. If you can't fulfuill the terms, you should lose it in so far as that's what a contract is. I mean it's not really any different than a job, is it? If your boss hires you to do X, and you discover one of your duties is to do something that's not illegal, but it's not something you agree with, what are your options? Do it anyway, or quit. You can't really say, "Well, I'm not going to do that, but you have to pay me anyway."

As Teresa and Patrick have already stated, this is not a matter of "I want to know more about X, therefore I will read about it." If you are looking for a degree, then by definition you are looking for a form of approbium which by definition means someone, somewhere is deciding what constitutes canon, what is needful for you to know to be certified as having the knowledge represented by the degree.

Part of this problem is the down-side of living in a free country with the separation of Church and State. Everyone's tax dollars pay for the schools, therefore no one religion can dictate the terms of public education. Which is why there are (more expensive) private schools.

Part of this also, I suspect, is difference in perspective. Many of us seem to be operating in a "names can never hurt me" mode, that words and images are not "the thing" and therefore can neither be innately wrong.
For myself, my background teaches that words images and ideas cannot be sinful in themselves nor can they do more than tempt one to wrong doing -- they cannot make one sin. Therefore, where is the harm? Likewise, if one is responsible for one's own actions (free will) it is not what one is exposed to, but what one does, that is right or wrong.
Based on the posts, the objections to "opting-out" of texts here seem to come in three types:

People have objected in the strongest possible terms to "opting-out" becuse something is hard, and other positions of laziness.
They have objected only slightly less strenuously to the "I don't really want to deal with that" head-in-the-sand approach, on the basis that things that make you feel bad can be good for you: If the thought or idea makes you uncomfortable that probably means you should think about it.
Objections have been markedly few to the "I'm not up to dealing with this right now" argument, because it implies it has been thought about, will be thought about later, or is being explored through a different medium.
If your objection is different, please explain. I lurk more than write, but generally everyone here loves to learn new stuff, to think about it and discuss it. What is the basis of danger in the exposure? In all seriousness, explain the underlying conflict.

#164 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 12:53 PM:

Ye gods what a long post!

Sorry.

#165 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 01:03 PM:

someone may have asked this already, but if it could be shown that Christina Trefzger lied to the Senate Committee on Higher Education when she said "a lot of students are being forced..." could someone get her for perjury? I don't know if she was sworn in or not.

#166 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 01:03 PM:

Compulsory, in the context of tertiary education, means "required to pass to the next stage." Or, to put it another way, "Pass this course or fail to graduate." It does not mean pressganging or duct-taping, colourful as those figures might be.

No, I am not refusing to accept another person's course of study. I am only refusing to admit those texts that are inimical to me. There are many courses of study that I would accept, and did. There are, however, some I never would. Had those courses been compulsory, I would never have graduated. But I did graduate, and although it was with only a standard pass degree, I make so bold as to aver that it was not notably inferior to those offered in Arizona State Colleges, or even perhaps elsewhere in the United States.

Going to college means undertaking a rigorous and advanced course of studies. It does not and should not mean conforming to someone else's idea of what it is proper to study.

And no, I do not believe that my questions about the canon, if it exists, were trick questions.

Lizzy L: I am in awe. I would be very interested to know to what extent you feel that your appreciation of Shakespeare has been enhanced by that course. Please believe me when I say that this is not a snark. So exhaustive a knowledge is beyond me, and I can only record my admiration of it, especially if you could bear to come into contact with the text ever again. I know I never could. Such a course would kill my enjoyment of Shakespeare stone motherless dead. Of course I can perfectly well accept that this is no more than a personal shortcoming.

#167 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 01:34 PM:

You have nothing to be sorry for, M.E. I very much appreciated your post. One thing I didn't say earlier is that that I have been a voracious reader from an early age. I've been told that I stared at the daily's funny section even before I could read, and if someone showed me reprints of the Buck Rogers strip of the year 1960, I could probably pinpoint the exact strip where it all clicked one day and I could read the words. I read a lot thru high-school & college, but it was pretty much only SF, in the written form and in comics, and I was made fun of throughout those years because of that. As a result, I felt no wish to look at the stuff that makes up Literature because, hell, if its proponents were going to look down on me because of what I loved and what gave pleasure to this lonely kid who had not a single friend, I wanted nothing to do with what they loved. Yeah, looking back, it may seem stupid, but I had only myself to mark my own path. Then I came across the birth of Quebec's SF fandom, and I wasn't alone anymore, and there were all those people who loved what I loved AND the other stuff.

#168 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 01:39 PM:

Dave Luckett: Going to college means undertaking a rigorous and advanced course of studies. It does not and should not mean conforming to someone else's idea of what it is proper to study.

Umm, for better or worse, that's exactly what a curriculum is. Someone else's idea, usually a committee's or a certifying organizaion's, of what you need to study to hit a minimum bar of qualification for a degree. Sure, you can insert the odd independent study class, but that's about it for freedom at the undergrad level.

It's not till you get to the PhD level that you start getting really large degrees of freedom in what you pursue. And even there, you're subject to the whims of advisors and grant-based funding.

#169 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:05 PM:

David Manheim - Hey! There may be a way to (mostly) accomplish what you want. Assuming you're enrolled right now in a sectarian school (as postulated above) what you can do is focus on two things, the religious classes you feel you need and the literature and humanities courses that another school would accept and use to waive their core equivalents. In the meantime, start researching other schools and talk directly and frankly with their admissions people about your desire to focus in on the requirements for your specialized field of study.

You might want to think about religiously-affiliated schools from from both your and other faith traditions. Fordham (my alma mater) might be a good idea (hint - the main building at the Lincoln Center campus is named for Leon Lowenstien, who was most definitely not Catholic), also Yeshiva might work.

If you are, indeed Orthodox, I knew lots of pretty traditional Orthodox students at City College, and they were able to integrate the curricula with their religious needs.

So, think about the two-school approach. You might just get more than you expect.

#170 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:30 PM:

I'm not strongly wedded to the idea that my students must read what I tell them to read. I think I would be open to discussing a replacement text with a student who had an objection (whether I actually replaced it or not, and what with, would depend on the discussion)

I am, however, strongly wedded to the idea that my government doesn't control what I teach. As a result of that, I would object to them giving every one of my students a free pass to define my syllabus. As Arizona Senator Thayer Verschoor [R-Gilbert] puts it, it's "because of the whole academic freedom thing."

(Disclaimer: I actually teach materials science, and nobody has ever objected to learning about, say, polymers on the basis that they are personally offensive, "I belong to a metal-only faith!" And I am at a tiny, touchy-feely engineering school - yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron - so it's possible for me to sit down and talk to every student who might have an issue.)

#171 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:42 PM:

I feel really uncomfortable about how much more respect David Manheim is getting for his desire for a restricted university course if his religion is Orthodox Judaism than if it's Fundamentalist Christianity.

Mr Manheim was very careful not to specify what his religion actually was. I think he did this on purpose.

It seems to me that someone's desire to restrict their syllabus for religious reasons should be considered equally bad (or good) irrespective of the respect in which one holds their religion. It shouldn't matter to the essential issue if he's at a narrow-mind upstate college of Baal-worshippers.

(Though my imagination of the decoration of their chapel is a lot more interesting -- sort of like Union college in softened American Assyrian, with ivy.)

#172 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 02:52 PM:

Jo - I wondered at that myself, as I felt my own attitude shift. Perhaps it's because I'm not afraid of Orthodox Jews stripping me of my rights, whereas Fundamentalist Christians are a rising (evil) political force in the US.

Nonetheless, I'd suggest the same course of action to a fundamentalist as to an Orthodox Jew - work the system to get what you want, but do it in such a way that it doesn't impose on everyone else.

#173 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:26 PM:

Dave Luckett: "Going to college means undertaking a rigorous and advanced course of studies. It does not and should not mean conforming to someone else's idea of what it is proper to study."

Larry Brennan said it already, but...in fact, going to college means pretty much exactly "conforming to someone else's idea of what it is proper to study."

At most modern American universities, that "someone else's idea" tends to have a lot of flex in it, but at the end of the day it's still someone else's idea, not your idea. That's why you get credit for going to college, unlike those of us who spent our time reading and studying whatever we wanted to.

I really don't understand why this is so hard for some people to grasp.

#174 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:27 PM:

Dave Luckett, several people above have outlined what they consider reasonable criteria for refusing to read *one* text, via an appropriate alternate assignment, a research project involving public presentation -- or, in short and has been repeated in most examples of just such a suitable thing, equal or greater workload than they'd get for just biting down and stubborning their way through what they don't like. (Incidentally, can I add to the possible alternates a suggestion that any student skipping a work on moral grounds, as well as doing an alternate project of equal effort, be asked to read and comment on an essay or two on the theological points mentioned, that an image of a thing is not the thing itself, and/or a secular discussion of same.)

There *is* a canon you can't avoid, and shouldn't, but within that canon, there are individual texts that not only can you bypass, unless you live forever, almost certainly *will* bypass. I'd like to argue that it's impossible to skip some, but most of that some is a category or an author, not a single work. (Eg., reading several works of Shakespeare is a must to any Western Literary discussion, but few people would say that one is unable to be counted conversant in the genre if one has read Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, and Richard III, and practically memorized A Midsummer Night's Dream, but happened to miss MacBeth.)

This has been lost in the clamouring against the base concept of skipping a work for dislike without grounding, laziness, or discomfort. Nobody objects to a small flexibility in the system - do they? They object to a law that pretty much gives carte blanche to skipping a work for all the wrong reasons, with all the wrong consequences. Now, I note the law does seem to mention an alternate assignment in its language, but it still has the feeling of being too open, and leading to making the initial syllabus out of the works within the subject area least likely to be objectionable, instead of out of the works most likely to give the best and most comprehensive overview of the area/genre/time period.


But of course, everyone here has read Connie Willis's "Ado", haven't they?

#175 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:28 PM:

One of the courses I teach most frequently is the one JRocheste refers to here, otherwise known as the Undergraduate Survey of English Lit before 1832.

If a student came to me and said something along the lines of "I have enormous personal and religious objections to Wycherly's Country Wife, and object to having it forced upon me. Can I substitute another text?" I'd have a genuine quandry. My immediate impulse is to say, sure, why don't you read Dryden'sAll for Love instead?

But the more I think about it, the more I think that's not the way to go. It doesn't seem fair to the other students; it does wreck havoc with the syllabus--which, while it's mostly tied to the canon, the canon is huge--so the texts are carefully chosen to cover a breadth of styles, periods, genres, forms and authors. I think I might also be establishing a false precedent for life outside of Undergraduate Survey of English Lit before 1832. When the student, almost certainly a prospective English major, leaves the universitiy and goes to work as, say, an intern at a publishing house, he can't say to his supervising editor "I really don't want to read slush pile submissions because some of them are morally repugnant." If she goes on to teach k-12, she can't tell her principal "I really don't want to teach The Color Purple, or To Kill A Mockingbird, or Huckleberry Finn because I find them morally repugnant." I could go on at length, but I think you get the idea.

In actuality, I'd likely consult with my peers and chair, but my temptation would be to say:

No. You are responsible for reading the texts on the syllabus.

Now, I'd be willing to work with the student on an alternate paper topic, but I'd do that anyway for any student. But the assigned readings are assigned for good reason. The student can choose to not read them, and take his (or her) chances on an exam, or the student can drop the class; after all, the readings are listed on the syllabus, so there's plenty of opportunity to make an early decision.

#176 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:38 PM:

I had the same reaction, Larry.

Even more ironically, as I was casting arguments in my head to persuade an assumed Fundie Xian model, I was thinking in terms of "What would a Jewish or Arabic student want that they really wouldn't."

And yeah, I think you're right that part of the lessening tension is the knowledge that there isn't (or doesn't seem to be, conspiracy theorists aside) a movement on the part of Orthodox Judaism to make major political changes in the landscape and restrict teaching of subjects in our schools.

On the other hand, I also wonder (although this is probably rationalization) if some of it isn't also our assumed knowledge of what the objections were -- because we are all relatively familiar with the arguments and assumptions of Fundie Xianism -- getting thrown out the window because, y'know, I really don't know much about Orthodox Judaism and its tenets and beliefs.

So if, say, reading this stuff is going to have the same properties of "uncleanliness" as say breaking Kosher rules or something, where it makes him "unclean" rather than say, meaning he's going to go insane and kill people or have sex or the "usual" goof-ball arguments of "influence" well, yeah maybe that is a little different.

That's part of why in an earlier post I'd asked if he could share the doctrine(?) behind the idea.

Also, it is worth noting that David isn't Miss Trefgzer: he followed his personal code, even going to another school in preference to reading them or complaining/seeking special treatment. And, he isn't lobbying to eliminate these books from the curriculum, but making a generally polite and reasoned argument supporting the positive elements to Ms. Trefgzer's argument. And there may be some.

As debcha said, (and I teach HS English BTW) there are occasional cases where a teacher may allow, or wish to allow, a single student to avoid a specific text (or a specific subject of research project). For example, if a student's mother is in the final stages of dying from cancer, a book that has a similar subject may not be appropriate at that time. Now, I don't think this is what Ms. Trefzger had in mind, but I also know there have been cases in other schools where a teacher who wanted to exercise that king of latitude was forbidden by school or state rules, and this kind of law would be an extremely badly-written example of a way around that.

But yeah, the book-burning element of "no one should have to read that book" is wrong, no matter who spouts it.

And as someone posted in response to jrocheste's classical canon list, the thing I find pathetically hysterical about the religious right book-banning crowd's guidelines is if it was applied unilaterally and fairly, the Bible would be first book hit on almost any charge.

#177 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:49 PM:

Dave Luckett: The course was wonderful! The professor was demanding but his lectures were fascinating, theatrical, and terrific, the class discussion was intense and furious, if you didn't want to be there, you dropped the 2nd week, and most people stayed. It was a total immersion experience, equivalent to what I imagine (never having done it) Outward Bound must be, or perhaps boot camp. And I can still read Shakespeare, though I don't, often. (Though the other day I was hunting for a quote and got completely engrossed in King Lear.)

Jo, I think one of the reasons I make more internal room for content objections coming from Orthodox Jews than I do for people I perceive to be fundamentalist Protestant (not necessarily evangelical) Christians is that in the Jewish tradition the study of Torah is explorative; different points of view are expressed and respected, and scholars may, and do, disagree. In my experience fundamentalist Christians approach Scripture study with a kind of "I'm right, you're wrong, and I'm going to use this Biblical text to prove it" attitude, which I think sucks. Perhaps that's not fair of me. I'll have to think about that.

I don't exactly object to someone restricting the content of his or her education for religious reasons. (I think it's dumb, dumb, dumb, but if you wanna do it, go ahead.) But I agree with the prevailing response on the thread, which says go ahead and do it, but don't expect to get a diploma from an institution which has informed you in advance (you read the degree requirements) that the content you object to is required for graduation.

Also, what Larry said. Those fundamentalist Christian mofos want to take away my right to read stuff they don't approve of, on the grounds that -- what? It's bad for me? God won't like it? I have zero tolerance for that.

#178 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 03:55 PM:

Dave L: Yes, I've been lucky. Arriving back in the academy in a sort of flailing heap at the age of 27 may or may not have helped; I had similar experiences in high school.

I feel like I'm off on an unrelated tangent to the matter at hand, or at least circling it very widely, but I have hopes that this will prove to be a spiral:

I am opposed, firmly, to this nonsense of legislation, but I am opposed to it at least partly on the understanding that if the purpose of higher education is to teach people to read critically, they must be permitted, even encouraged, to be critical, to hate things that are widely considered great, and even, sometimes, to just be totally unable to read something.

If the purpose of an Lit class is to aquire and demonstrate certain critical skills, I can't offhand see why a student can't demonstrate them by ripping a book apart, if they hate the thing.

The 'suck it up and accept what you're given to read and don't question its greatness' school strikes me as a more subtle but not unrelated infantilising of the student, and I can totally see it leading to this sort of feeling that the students need protection from being assigned 'offensive' texts.

Um. That's not very clear. I don't think students should be allowed to opt out of texts they haven't read on the grounds that they might be offensive.

But I do think they need to be permitted, even encouraged, to SAY that they are offended by them and why. Properly written and with footnotes.

Otherwise they don't learn anything anyway.

As an added bonus, it seems to reduce that common problem of 'oh, I had to read it for school and that put me right off.'

I used to agree with you about Hardy. I don't, anymore, and for this I am forced to thank English teachers who were willing to let me fight it out with the stuff.

Not that I see anyone arguing AGAINST this here.

But I think it's part of the clashing worldviews about what - and who - university is for: I suspect that the people who support this legislation would think poorly of students who challenged the worth of what they were given to read and learn on their own, because you're not supposed to do that, in the authoritarian model.

James: I suspect you are quite right. And as to the Oblate influence, when I arrived in the religion department, it was still in the very last gasps of having largely been controlled by a former nun and a priest. There were ... ructions. The legacy of said ructions is ... interesting.

That said, it was an excellent course. I think I approve, Oblates or no Oblates.

They seem to have changed things around a bit -- Workshop in Essay Writing is still required, as is Reasoning and Critical Thinking and your choice of Literature and Composition I: Prose Fiction, or Literature and Composition 2: Drama and Poetry, but you may now choose Moral Reasoning, Fundamental Philosophical Questions or Great Philosophers.

And they're not making the Faculty of Science do it. Hmmm. is it just me, or does that seem short sighted?

#179 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:04 PM:

Larry Brennan wrote:
It's not till you get to the PhD level that you start getting really large degrees of freedom in what you pursue. And even there, you're subject to the whims of advisors and grant-based funding.

Heck, in English literature, even at the Ph.D., you don't get much choice until you begin your own dissertation. There are endless lists of texts, primary and secondary, that you must read in a variety of time periods and genres, and then pass nasty exams on. I've read an awful lot of stuff that I wouldn't voluntarily have chosen to read, and, while I gleefully put Henry James' oeuvre and Richardson's Clarissa in storage, I'm still glad I read them.

And it's not like now that my exams are long over, I never have to read stuff I don't like--I do, all the time. Life is like that; sometimes you just have to get it done, no matter how much you'd rather not.

#180 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:06 PM:

'suck it up and accept what you're given to read and don't question its greatness'

Good lit teachers don't say that last part. "Read what I tell you, then tell me what you think and why, using examples from the text" is more like it.

#181 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Larry (well, not JUST Larry, but I'm quoting Larry):

Nonetheless, I'd suggest the same course of action to a fundamentalist as to an Orthodox Jew - work the system to get what you want, but do it in such a way that it doesn't impose on everyone else.

OK, give it another quarter turn: young Muslim women in France have been having trouble getting schooling because they are not permitted to wear hijab on school property, because this is considered to be 'imposing their religion on someone else'.

You know, seperation of church and state is a fine thing, but it DOES tend to be constructed -- consciously or not -- so that members of the MAJORITY religion are able to participate in public affairs without encountering any actual barriers. The secular 'rules in place' do not tend to be directly offensive to them in the first place.

Which is probably one reason why I'm more suspicious of calls for accomodation from Christians than others, but.

How do we deal with that?


#182 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:08 PM:

TexAnne: I am so with you. Sadly, not all lit teachers are great, and cannot be made so.

The question is, when conflict DOES erupt, is the faculty going to back the great ones, or the other kind?

#183 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:31 PM:

Marna: true enough. The US press never mentions, however, that crosses and Stars of David are also forbidden--e.g., girls who wear necklaces with small charms are required to put them under their shirts or in their purses. Also, the law is inciting otherwise secular young women to wear scarves for the first time--the classic teenage "you can't tell me what to do!"

To answer your other question, the faculty will back academic freedom. Administrators...well, most of them don't think of themselves as faculty anymore, so they'll probably back the rich alumni.

#184 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 04:37 PM:

Marna - The reason that it's easier for members of a large religious group to live within the cultural norms is that they've got the largest influence. You see that influence in play in New York, where public schools close for major Jewish holidays. The real acceptance marker in NYC is when a holiday gets alternate side of the street parking suspended. A few Islamic holidays were recently added to this rarefied list.

Personally, I think that French policy is stupid. I went to school with a fair number of kids who wore yarmulkes every day, and college with women who wore a headscarf, wig or hijab. It was all no big deal. At least in the big coastal and northern cities, the US is more willing to accept non-Christian religious practice than Europe. This, of course, may change as the fundies gain more power.

#185 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 05:22 PM:

Jo, when I read David M's first comment, I had the customary flinching response. Then I relaxed a little when he said he was arguing from a Jewish perspective, as several posters above said they did. Because I know Orthodox Judaism has no objection to studying books with controversial themes, vulgar language, or impious sentiments, as part of studying history or literature. Yeshiva University has an English department, they study Shakespeare (though with men and women in different classes...they consider it inappropriate to discuss murder, incest, and dirty jokes in mixed company), and generally read ABOUT lots of things they would find grotesquely wrong to consider doing.

Then I went downstairs for a bit, and I thought, "What should this Arizona law have to do with Jews, anyhow?" Orthodox Jews like my grandparents, or my uncle, or like the people at Yeshiva University, don't represent the only way of being Orthodox Jews. There are other communities with different customs, and different beliefs sort of tacked on to the side of what other Jews believe.

There are situations where young adults in such communities don't WANT a broad-based secular education in the liberal arts. They want to learn something useful, like medicine or dentistry or law, and get the state certification to go back to their communities and practice. But one generally needs a certain amount of liberal-arts education to get into medical school. I can recognize it as a tough situation, even though the fringe religious communities created it themselves. I just don't think the Arizona law is an acceptable way out of it.

#186 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 05:25 PM:

Dave Luckett: "Going to college means undertaking a rigorous and advanced course of studies. It does not and should not mean conforming to someone else's idea of what it is proper to study."


Dave, the problem with this is that in order to guarantee 'a rigorous and advanced course of studies' I have to tell my students what to read.

I can't teach undergraduate comparative politics unless I assign texts and a sequence of readings which are going to be limited to only a few countries (I've got 45 of effective teaching time in a semester and, given that, I've got to select what I think woill best provide student with an understanding of how political systems work in the world outside the US. I teach at an HBCU (historically black college/university), if I get students who object to my covering Germany and Britain, because these are 'white people's countries', should I assign them separate readings about Burkina Faso or Zambia?.

I also teach political theory (2,500 + years' worth of political ideas). Should I, when confronted by Afrocentric students drop all the DWMs from the course? It would get rather bare.

The students sit down in front of me, and read (or rapidly skim) the stuff I assign them because, after all, I know more about the subjects I teach than they do. One consequence of my greater knowledge is that I get to tell them 'read this or that' in order for them to develop a 'rigorous and advanced knowledge' of the subjects.

And, yes, some of them may be offended by the material, whether it is because it offends them religiously (and how does one teach modern political thought, for example, without Nietzsche? Nietzsche causes massive offense to many of my students), or because they feel that they shouldn't have to learn a couple of foreign words if I'm talking about, say, German politics.


#187 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 05:27 PM:

Well, there's "compulsory" and then there is the fact that one can often argue to take a higher level course to substitute for the compulsory lower-level one. So one could, in all liklihood, jump right to the passion of Chaucer, past the dreaded English 101 with unpalatable inclusions, with a good enough argument. Heaven knows I did that sort of thing often enough.

Most schools specify a wide range of core requirements -- three science, three English, three other humanities -- so that one has a large range to choose from. It's likely that you did not thoroughly investigate the educational possibilities. Other people of your religion have likely navigated their course through other institutions without all your problems.

#188 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 06:00 PM:

'suck it up and accept what you're given to read and don't question its greatness'

I've been to some pretty wretched, and some pretty good schools, in the U.S. and the U.K., and have never once even felt that a teacher was thinking that.

I certainly don't expect students to like, admire, or appreciate everything I ask them to read; I do expect them to read and think about everything, and come to some conclusions about what the author is trying to do, and why, and how the author is working, or not working, for them.

#189 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 06:16 PM:

The US press never mentions, however, that crosses and Stars of David are also forbidden--e.g., girls who wear necklaces with small charms are required to put them under their shirts or in their purses.

I saw that mentioned in the US press when the law first passed. If it's not mentioned as much now, that is probably because a necklace can be tucked under a shirt, but a headscarf cannot be similarly hidden, so the law has a disproportionate impact on Muslim girls.

--Mary Aileen

#190 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 07:20 PM:

TexAnne: *nods* Actually, I knew that. But, yeah -- one CAN tuck a cross, Star of David, Goddess pendant, etc, into a purse. There's no absolute barrier to maintaining and practicing one's faith AND getting an education.

A Muslim woman in my department once came up with an analogy for the effects of that kind of restriction that I have never forgotten:

Imagine living and trying to function normally in a world where at any time someone might demand that you bare your breasts in order to be allowed to proceed. Where everytime you needed an ID photo you had to argue to be allowed to retain your shirt. Where when you did keep your shirt on, people treated you as if you were invisible or mentally subnormal.

I'm not surprised that teenaged girls who never covered before are covering in reaction to seeing women in their community feeling that way.

Lisa: Me either, but Dave L's comments were making me wonder. I'm always sailing forth confidently thinking I know what normal is and then discovering that I've been living in a strange and previously invisible bubble, so.

Larry: yes, exactly. The question is, being all -- almost all *bows to David M* -- more or less agreed that this legislation is a pile of steaming crap, how can we manage the tension?

And I am perpetually of two minds. On the one hand, up to a point I think it's probably very good for one's education to have to rub up against other ways of doing things and figure out how to make your own way.

On the other, the burden of managing all that PLUS doing what you officially need to do to get the degree can be a very heavy one and it's not distributed evenly.

One of the interesting things about getting an anthropology of religion degree when one is a woman is that you get a lot of those, and so you get to/have to notice and reflect on them.

Problematising your worldview, to use the jargon.

I have spent entire courses never being given a text written by someone who did NOT consider my sex to be self-evidently the deficient one.

This is simply unavoidable, and I'm not suggesting that it could or should have been avoided. But it was ... certainly interesting.

I've also taken courses which required me to go places where I would have to cover my head, or my arms, or my legs.

Again. Unavoidable. And I'm not saying I'd want to have avoided it, but what I do know is, when I took a grad seminar which required regular attendance at a rather conservative place of worship, which led to most of us spending one day a week covered up for a full semester, the handful of guys in that course had a completely different experience from us.

At one point we half-seriously suggested that they should be required to come to class with their heads covered and sit in the back. Not because we wanted to make them miserable, but because in the course of their normal lives they were never, ever going to encounter a situation where they would get to study what that was like, and a person ought to KNOW.

(We also noticed that it was appreciably more difficult to make ourselves heard in class. This was interesting, from an anthropological standpoint. It was damned annoying from a feminist one.)

#191 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 07:21 PM:

Add to jrocheste's classical literature:
Catullus, poems (death, sex, etc.)

(My copy is in a box, or I'd be more specific than 'etc'.) But the ones to 'Lesbia' should be sufficient for the unoffensive-literature crowd to get up in arms.

#192 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 08:30 PM:

Others have already said most of what I wanted to about canons, but...

The basic idea of a canon is this: it's the body of works that have been influential on others. In mathematics, that's Euclid and such. In physics, Newton, Einstein, and the like. In English literature, the Bible and Shakespeare and such. The closer we get to the present, the harder it can be to work out what's got widest and deepest influences, but one thing to do is look at the folks who seem serious about it now, and see what's influencing them, and who they're influencing.

The application is complex sometimes, but the principle is pretty simple.

And as others have said, a course of study necessarily involves making decisions. I've known several professors well enough to gab about syllabus development with them, and not one of them felt that there was a uniquely correct answer to the question "What reading should this course have?" Nor, for that matter, is the scope of the course itself objectively correct and obvious. For instance,a friend teaches a course on sf every couple years in the English department at a major Midwestern university. :) Sometimes he focuses on roots of the genre. Sometimes on sf as created by people outside the social mainstream of their time. Sometimes on themes like "unexpected change and responding to it". In every case, there are works which seem very obviously important, and others that are interesting...and far too many of both to possibly fit the time available. Informed judgment gets the professor to a syllabus that will, he hope, be illuminating and worthwhile, even though there'll always be works he wishes he'd been able to include and at least one or a few he wishes later he'd left out.

None of this, of course, is unique to the humanities. A class on hydrology, or invertebrate embryology, or polarimetric techniques, or...anything at all once you get beyond the most very basic introduction, really, involves acts of judgment. The fact that you're selecting from among papers about the design of instruments for measuring small apparent movements of things far away rather than about visions of moral conduct and good society in the poetry of 16th century Cheshire doesn't change this. The whole point of studying with someone else rather than just wading right into the literature is to have a judgment guiding your work. And the principles of selection are much the same in every field, among teachers who seek to inform.

The existence of bad and/or biased teachers and the fallibility of human judgment don't change any of that. They just mean that we don't get perfectly to any good goal, and that shouldnt' be news.

#193 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 08:33 PM:

The thing is, if you're sufficiently literate and spend time with literate people, you learn about the "canon" without having to read them. You know what they're about, the themes, even scenes and lines. That leaves you plenty of time to read science fiction.

#194 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 08:47 PM:

There are two things about this law that bother me.

My biggest problem with this is specifically that people in general and politicians in particular are once again assuming that anyone can be an educator -- after all, everyone went to school, everyone has ten plus years of observing teachers, and everyone who has seen that knows how to teach as well as any high school teacher or college professor.

And then, after the teachers advise why it's a bad idea, and are told to stuff it, and the plans of the politicians go wrong, it's the teacher's (or teachers'?) fault!

There are one or two other fields where this brand of illogic holds true -- the military, police, and writing come to mind -- and it never, or rarely ever, works.

The second problem is that it's a form of censorship, even if it is self-censorship. And if, as some have already intimated on this site, 18 of every 20 or 20 of every 25 students in two or three consecutive classes decide to opt out of a particular book, that text gets dropped, and the censorship goes from self-censorship to true censorship -- others deciding what I can't or shouldn't read.

That having been said, there are a host of stories at colleges, among friends, and even a couple here in this thread, where people claim to not go to class, read all the texts at home, and ace the tests, or to go to class, listen to lectures, and blow off the books, and do well in the course.

It would be most intriguing to see a class based on this law, where the professor provides students a list of dates and lecture topics, and a syllabus defining the goal of the course with whatever paper assignments laid out without any mandated texts.

i.e.: By the end of this course you should understand the reason for the development of satire in the restoration, and be familiar with the works of Pope, Swift, Aphra Behn, Oliver Goldsmith and Lady Mary Montague.
There will be three papers due this term. The first is due in three weeks. Read three works by Pope, two by swift and two by Behn, and write a six page paper explaining the significance of social criticism to the three writers.
The second paper will be due October 19th. Read three poems and one play by Behn, and fifteen letters by Lady Montague and write a six page paper on the status of women in 18th century England and how it was reflected on stage.

It would require the teacher to be aware of all works, but gets rid of any book requirement at all.

And that of course is the other problem with the law: it does state the student petitions for alternate materials.

So what is the professor supposed to do? Order 25 copies of each of the approved texts for the course, and then another twenty-five copies of an alternate selection for each of those books?
One way or another, you're going to end up with at least 25 un-sold books that the college has ordered. I don't know how much can be returned, or how much charge there would be, but I'm betting it won't be free. And in this era of politicians claiming education is too expensive, who's going to get blamed and eat the charges?
A) the AZ Senate Comm. on Higher Ed.
B) the students
C) the college

I leave this as an exercise to the reader ...

: )

#195 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 08:52 PM:

What Bruce said about the canon in the sciences. I was stunned to move to a new city, begin the process of transferring to a new university, and discover that courses my first school considered core curriculum for all engineers were lumped together in a "pick one" list. Since I had already taken two of the courses on the list (surveying and basic circuit analysis), I would not be required to take Intro to Thermodynamics. All three were required of a civil student at my old school.

#196 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:04 PM:

OG: How interesting! What did they require of the uncivil students?

#197 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:09 PM:
i.e.: By the end of this course you should understand the reason for the development of satire in the restoration, and be familiar with the works of Pope, Swift, Aphra Behn, Oliver Goldsmith and Lady Mary Montague. There will be three papers due this term. The first is due in three weeks. Read three works by Pope, two by swift and two by Behn, and write a six page paper explaining the significance of social criticism to the three writers. The second paper will be due October 19th. Read three poems and one play by Behn, and fifteen letters by Lady Montague and write a six page paper on the status of women in 18th century England and how it was reflected on stage.

Suppose there's a student in the class whose personal set of religious convictions forbid him from reading anything at all by Swift, and another who won't read anything by a woman, and another whose religion forbids poetry. This one is offended by "satire," since "that's not funny!" That one won't write a six-page paper since "six" is part of "666." Yet another is offended by the idea of a "Restoration," because that implies that something needed to be, or actually was, restored.

Sorry, but that syllabus is still offensive.

How about, "In this class you will be required to read a book and discuss it in class."

But, how will class discussion go? Suppose someone read a book that offends another student, and says something offensive?

Great. "In this class you will be required to read a book. The works will not be discussed in class. You will be expected to write a paper about the book you read."

But, suppose the book offends the instructor? Well, "In this class you will be expected to read a book and write a paper. The book will not be discussed, and the paper will not be read."

There! The perfect non-offensive education!

Unless someone is offended by the idea of "paper," since it murders trees.

Everyone passes. Hand out the diplomas at the end of the year. Or, save time and hand out diplomas on enrollment and payment of fees.

#198 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:13 PM:

Marna wrote:

I have spent entire courses never being given a text written by someone who did NOT consider my sex to be self-evidently the deficient one.

Heh. As a female from the Southeastern United States with a degree in religion, I feel your pain, sister. Not to mention that all major religions and a good few minor ones have traditionally held exactly that view. As Chaucer so perceptively has the Wife of Bath ask, "Who peynted the leon, tel me who?"

Not to mention all the people you run into on the street, at work, etc. who also believe our sex to be self-evidently the deficient one. (And where did the idea come from that if 2 things are different, one of them must be deficient??)

#199 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:27 PM:

Sorry, but that syllabus is still offensive.

Yeah, I know.

Whoever thought teachers would be looking back on the "good ol' days"
When teachers assigned books and papers,
students ignored them until the weekend was paper was due
And then bought a paper on-line?

Unless someone is offended by the idea of "paper," since it murders trees.

Everyone passes. Hand out the diplomas at the end of the year. Or, save time and hand out diplomas on enrollment and payment of fees.

Of course, Jim, the flaw in this argument is that if the paper is offensive due to tree murder, then so is the diploma, right?

So, how about, "Send us the fees, and if anyone calls for a reference we'll tell them you're a graduate."


Or better yet, maybe an on-line pre-entry test for a BA-equivalent GED. Get your BA and skip all that icky study stuff. Only $80,000.00, tutoring available before keggers, $1,000.00 per hour.

#200 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 09:33 PM:

Much has been said about people being turned off literature for life by being forced to read it in school. But why assume that doing the opposite--letting kids ignore literature if they felt like it--wouldn't have a similar effect (maybe on different kids)? I remember declaring in high school that poetry was "bullshit." If that adolescent spasm had been respected by the teacher and taken seriously, I might still feel the same way today.

I recently read a fairly well-known novel by a writer often taught in college literature classes.

(1) It was based on a philosophical premise that was not only obviously wrong, but directly insulting to me.

(2) The characters were absurd grotesques, and without exception behaved very badly.

(3) The plot was completely ridiculous.

I enjoyed it very much. Why? Because things like (1) don't matter when you're in the hands of a master, and (2) and (3), while sounding bad when put so baldly, were handled in a very satisfying way, and the book would have been poorer without them. And if, as I suspect, an author who didn't believe (1) couldn't have written this book, then hooray for (1), at least until somebody loses an eye.

That's how I feel now. But if I had learned the lesson that my feelings about the author's philosophy trumped all other considerations, maybe I would have simply thrown the book away--and who knows how many others.

A side question--why this seem to happen with literature much more than the other arts? I've never heard of someone being unable to appreciate classical music or canonic visual art because of forced exposure in school. Anyone have a theory why this is (or counter-examples)?

#201 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 10:51 PM:

TexAnne: The uncivil ones got to swap the surveying in for something else, hopefully etiquette classes.

#202 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 11:25 PM:

Tim Walters writes:

"A side question--why this seem to happen with literature much more than the other arts? I've never heard of someone being unable to appreciate classical music or canonic visual art because of forced exposure in school. Anyone have a theory why this is (or counter-examples)?"

It happens because English Lit is almost always a required course in high school and again in college. Music history and art history are never offered in high school and never required in college. People who pick music history or art history are presumed to have some interest in the subject and aren't forced into it.

Myself I loathe Hemmingway much more thoroughly than I do any modern painter save perhaps de Koenig. Yet even as an art history major I was much more successful in avoiding de Koenig than Hemmingway (I had to read 2 of H's novels - lost time the universe owes me, if you want my opinion.) I only ran into de Koenig in one survey class.

#203 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2006, 11:38 PM:

A side question--why this seem to happen with literature much more than the other arts? I've never heard of someone being unable to appreciate classical music or canonic visual art because of forced exposure in school. Anyone have a theory why this is (or counter-examples)?

Perhaps because the others don't represent as much of an investment in time and boredom, and therefore it's easier to give them a second chance? Swapping the CD/SD card out on the commute vs. the memory of a miserable two weeks of sacrificing your formerly free time to slog through a tedious book?

Literature classes above all need variety. I learned a distaste for American literature in high school that I still haven't gotten past because the required reading was so uniformly depressing.

#204 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 12:16 AM:

I think Dave Luckett has convinced me to give Thomas Hardy another try.

#205 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 12:41 AM:

I was both a fast and a compulsive reader, so no matter what the book was I preferred it to any other homework. Writing, on the other hand, was my bane; several times I got a bad grade because I couldn't bring myself to do the writing assignments.

I think Dave Luckett has convinced me to give Thomas Hardy another try.

I'm not a huge fan, but despite his reputation he can be quite funny.

#206 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 01:28 AM:

Lila: Oooh where?

Naomi Goldenberg (who I was lucky enough to get to take Psych of Religion from and OMG FREUD ON RELIGION ... I recommend going for second or thirdhand hardcovers of Moses and Monotheism and Totem and Taboo, the paperbacks don't handle being walled well) once pointed out that the only thing you really need to know to understand Mary Daly is that she did most of the coursework for her graduate degree sitting behind a screen at the side of the room so that she wouldn't distract the serious students.

I had TRULY great profs in general, and that makes all the difference.

And heck knows, it was useful: people who yank out religious arguments in favour of sexism when I'm around tend to regret it.

But I'm just ... saying. I've had to read a LOT of offensive books in this degree.

And as I say, I'm still on the fence about exactly when that ceases to be a feature and becomes a real problem.

#207 ::: afigbee ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 01:30 AM:

It's like the Red Guards.

#208 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 02:39 AM:

Bruce Arthurs: Well, there you go. I wish you every success.

Tim Walters: So he can. I hadn't seen that piece before. It's funny. Yet it's still Hardy. The band fell asleep in church, for reasons rooted in human fallibility. They can never, ever be forgiven for their fall. They are cast out by the ruling elements of an outraged society, and the world is made less thereby. In the end, the machine triumphs.

He can be beautiful, as with "The Darkling Thrush" or "The Oxen". He was a fine poet. He was a fine writer, I guess.

The result of encountering him, for me, was something like growing more sensitive to beestings. I became hypersensitive to the theme that humans are mere pawns in the hands of an ineluctable fate, helpless in the face of their own wickedness or inadequacy. The outrage I feel when I see that theme is far out of all proportion. Kurt Vonnegut said something like reacting to a novel with outrage is like attacking a fudge sundae, and he was right, of course.

But here's the thing. Anaphylactic shock is all out of proportion to the injury inflicted by a beesting, but it is real. As a result, there are whole swathes of English texts that I cannot bear to read.

Was that, do you suppose, the intended result of an attempted education in the early Modern novel?

Concerning other arts, I am quite with the professor who reacted so strongly to the implied objection to the music he played on the grounds that it wasn't "pretty". "Music is not meant to be 'pretty'!"

No, of course it's not. Such an objection is worthless. But suppose the student had carefully absorbed the lecture, gone away and sought out the complete work in question, played it over in full, looked at other works in the same school or from the same composer, read some well-credentialed commentary, and then, having approached the professor in a private interview said something like: "Professor, I understand that this is music of power and substance, and yet I find it unutterably and unbrokenly ugly. I quite agree that music is not meant to be pretty, and yet I find it impossible to believe that it should be unrelievedly hideous. Is it acceptable to say as much, and to proceed from such an aesthetic position?"

What do you think that the professor would have said to that? And what do you think he should have said?

#209 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 03:03 AM:

Dave, as with your comments about novelists, my immediate reaction would "This is not the program for you. We're not trying to be all things to all people, and such belligerence will make it very, very difficult to engage in the discussion and exchange which is fundamental to all humanistic study", followed by pointing you at someplace like Brown University. It's not just the substance of the disagreement, it's the nastiness and gratuitous extremeness of the expression. I would wonder very seriously what would make you think it would be worth pressing on at that program, just as I'd wonder about a Unitarian trying to force an accommodation at the local Mormon stake, or a virginal child-loather at Parents Without Partners, or a vegan at at a sausage factory.

As it happens, I know the answer for music. Unless you're very much into the modern and postmodern academic forms of music, university programs at the advanced levels seldom do much good. Go practical - it's film orchestras, session bands, and the like where a lot of interesting stuff ends up happening. Several of my friends have given up on academic music for applied performance, and they are as a group among the happiest of my friends. They get to make music shaped by an actual study of how audiences react along with the opportunity to draw richly and widely on multiple traditions.

In all seriousness, it's not clear to me what you would probably call an affirmative approach to literature and I would probably call rah-rah has to do with literature. You've walled yourself off from a whole lot of stuff about composition as well as theme. I'm not sure that what's left actually warrants an existence independent from, say, advertising, management, or some kind of practical therapeutic psychology.

#210 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 03:23 AM:

I should note that the concern about attitude and personality clash is, among the academics I know, independent of the ideas at stake. I've heard several of my professors say things like "She was easily the best qualified of the applicants, but she kept getting into fights with folks while here for her test lectures, and it drove us all nuts. She ended up at University X, and seems to be thriving. Just one of those things." and "He will have to do extra prep to handle these courses we need someone for, but he gets along so well with the grad students and the chair that it's worth it, the fit is right." In this it's just like any other business, where nominal, "objective" qualification is far from the whole story.

So I'd expect someone with the attitude you've offered up in two different examples to have widespread problems even without vociferously rejecting the foundation of most of the department's work, just because academics are real people too and interested in avoidable stress in their work. (Particularly at a time when the viability of sustained effort is in real trouble, thanks to a general shift to untenured, unprotected professorial labor, but that's another story.)

#211 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:12 AM:

humans are mere pawns in the hands of an ineluctable fate, helpless in the face of their own wickedness or inadequacy.

Well, this is why I'm not a big fan of Hardy--he tends to beat that drum a little too hard. Where I part company with you is attributing the same fatalism to Joyce, Faulkner*, and Salinger, and modern literature in general. It's true that these writers sometimes write tragedies--but that's simply saying that tragedies sometimes happen, which I trust is uncontroversial, rather than a grand statement that humans are, like, totally screwed (read Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech for a robust repudiation of the latter view).

You objected earlier to "depictions of human beings as useless, ineffectual ninnies, pawns in the grip of fate and their own vile inadequacies." I can only speak for myself, but I've been all those things at one time or another, and I expect that I'm not unusual in that regard. When I read an effective tragedy, I feel that I'm gaining a better understanding of how this happens, and how I can make it less likely. (Of course, positive examples are also necessary.)

The beauty of it is that there's no need to make any special effort to read for self-improvement--something like Joyce's "Araby" is both an outstanding aesthetic experience and a direct shaft of inexpressible but intense insight. I mean, I was that kid, and thanks to Joyce I don't have to be anymore, or at least not as much.

What do you think that the professor would have said to that? And what do you think he should have said?

Can't answer the first, but the second would go something like this: "What you want to compose or perform when you leave this class is entirely your business. The university's business is to see that you graduate with the tools needed to compose or perform music at a graduate level, among which is a working knowledge of twentieth-century music. Some students don't like Schoenberg; some students don't like Mozart; all students need to understand both."

*From another thread.

#212 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:25 AM:

Bruce Baugh: I... see. Thank you for that. You have explained much that has puzzled me.

I was thinking of returning to University next year, to do the doctorate my master's tutor has been urging. I don't think I will, now.

#213 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:30 AM:

I have taken math and science classes at the University of Washington without being matriculated, so there weren't any core requirements attached. I see no reason the credit shouldn't transfer to a religious school of any kind.

There are schools that have no required classes, though all the ones I know of are probably socially offensive to a conservative religious.

---

I've known a couple of people who really thought they should be allowed to study the natural sciences without learning any math, and a few departments can make this possible, but on the whole... no. Math does, alas, cause these people pain and make them feel helpless in the face of an uncaring reality, but without it they don't know enough for the school to certify their knowledge.

#214 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:36 AM:

Tim Walters: You are undoubtedly right. I am overly down on Joyce, and Faulkner. Anaphylactic shock, you see. And your take on the professor's probable response is very perceptive, and I think, correct. Thank you for confirming my decision.

#215 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:48 AM:

Dave: If you're seriously looking at the possibility of a degree program, then I think the best advice is really simple - check out the individuals. It's unlikely that you'd find an advisor you're really sympatico with, I think, but then life is unlikely overall. :) See what the people you're thinking of studying with have published, for instance. If they give lectures open to the public, go attend a view and see what you think of their mannerisms and style. (This is a big one for me - if I can't listen comfortably to someone, it doesn't really matter how much wisdom they have to say, and I have some quirks that I've had great trouble managing, let alone overcoming, in what upsets my comfort.) You may or may not be able to audit some lectures if you tell someone you're considering applying on the recommendation of this fellow over there.

The range of individual problems is huge. It's one thing to come to generalizations (of varying dgrees of validity, from great to awful), but your own work should be driven by the local conditions, I'd think. And while I'd expect the outcome to be an expected disappointment, it could be otherwise, and it'd be neat to find that it was so.

#216 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 07:32 AM:

My high school English teacher (AP, senior year), actually did something a lot like M.E. Henaghen's idea. He gave us a list of books (with summaries and page counts, to be snarky) and told us we had to read one outside of class. There would be an essay question in the final in which we would have to discuss our chosen text. (The essay question turned out to be about the interaction between the physical environments of the books and the plot, and worked well with all his chosen texts.)

That was when I read Bleak House, because it was the longest and I was a show-off. I was also the only one who chose it. I suspect he predicted both of these things. But then, he was the kind of teacher who let me attend class two days a week the term it clashed with my college Latin class.

But I have clearly been lucky in my instructors throughout my education - my college Latin and Greek reading courses always had the same essay topic (Choose something from the texts, research it to appropriate depth, and write about it to appropriate length.) They allowed me to write scholarly essays on the Centumviral Court, symbolic analyses of the role of poets in The Odyssey and a parody of Juvenal in translation.

All I'm saying is that even within the context of a set syllabus, there is a lot of academic freedom to choose what you study, if you pick your professors with care.

#217 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 09:12 AM:

I got put off classical music by doing it in school in exactly the same way I got put off Jane Austen.

Fortunately, I have lived long enough since to give them another chance.

Oh, and anyone who wants to study one thing and one thing only with no breadth requirements should go to university in Britain. When I first read about the American Liberal Arts education, in Doorways in the Sand I thought "What an imagination Roger Zelazny has got! What an astonishing SFnal idea." When I discovered it again, in The Number of the Beast, I thought "Heinlein got this idea from Zelazny! And he didn't acknowlege it anywhere!" It took coming across it again in Pamela Dean's Tam Lin to make me actually believe it existed. I've been sulking ever since.

#218 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 09:17 AM:

Marna: I did my first two years at Mercer University in Macon GA, and finished up at the University of Georgia (transferred there when I married--husband couldn't transfer to my school because they didn't have a journalism program).

By golly those Baptists give a mean Intro Old Testament exam. U.Ga. was very good on comparative religions, esp. the ancient near east and Theravada Buddhism. I also got a good dose of Confucianism/Taoism/Buddhism/Chinese folk religion while doing some Chinese lit in grad school (U.Ga., Comparative Lit, finished coursework but let a back injury convince me not to write the thesis).

#219 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 11:23 AM:

When I first read about the American Liberal Arts education, in Doorways in the Sand I thought "What an imagination Roger Zelazny has got! What an astonishing SFnal idea." When I discovered it again, in The Number of the Beast, I thought "Heinlein got this idea from Zelazny! And he didn't acknowlege it anywhere!" It took coming across it again in Pamela Dean's Tam Lin to make me actually believe it existed. I've been sulking ever since.

Students bitch about the required survey courses of the core curriculum, and senior faculty tend to regard escape from teaching them as one of the rewards of tenure -- but there's still something shiny and hopeful about the thought that in an ideal world we'd have literate engineers and poets with at least a nodding aquaintance with chemistry and physics.

One wonders, in passing, whether the rise of the arts&sciences core curriculum can be tied in some fashion to the development of American sf.

#220 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 11:23 AM:

Dave Luckett writes:

"Bruce Baugh: I... see. Thank you for that. You have explained much that has puzzled me. I was thinking of returning to University next year, to do the doctorate my master's tutor has been urging. I don't think I will, now."


While I'd like to think we're all clever and insightful, please, before making any totally life-changing decisions, consider that your master's tutor knows you far better than we are likely to, and his advice should be given far more weight.

Face to face communication - which is what you have with your tutor and co-workers - is very different from what we're doing here.

And furthermore, in my humble opinion - the very best scholars do have fire in their gut. I will never forget my thesis professor's opinion of the Mannerists - even though I disagree whole-heartedly with it. I do not think your language on the writers you dislike was a great deal stronger than hers on the Mannerists.


#221 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 11:31 AM:

And furthermore, in my humble opinion - the very best scholars do have fire in their gut.

Oh, yeah. One of my cherished memories of grad school is of Professor Lloyd of UPenn's German department discoursing one day upon proto-Indo-Hittite, and leaning forward, eyes blazing and mustache a-quiver, to proclaim with all the intensity of a new convert reciting the Credo, "I believe in the schwa secundum!"

#222 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 11:48 AM:

Unless you're very much into the modern and postmodern academic forms of music, university programs at the advanced levels seldom do much good.

I'm a partial counter-example to this. My graduate studies in music led directly to the (non-academic) job I've had for the last thirteen years. The first caveat is that my MFA was in electronic music* rather than regular old music. Computer-based recording was enough of a novelty at that time that an experimental music program was one of the few places to learn about it. The second caveat is that I was, in fact, there for the experimental music; learning a practical skill was welcome but not planned.

*At Mills; big howdy to all you Mills folks from the other thread.

#223 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 12:18 PM:

At UC Berkeley back in the Seventies, I took a music history class that introduced me to some really cool medieval and Renaissance composers. Guillaume de Machaut wrote fabulous songs, and Monteverde's "Orfeo" is still the only opera I really like -- none of the vocal showboating that came in later.

As for Hemingway and most of the American writers, I managed to get a Ph.D. in English while avoiding them altogether. (Re Hardy: I wasn't crazy about a lot of his stuff, but had an odd fondness for Jude the Obscure -- even if that was so long ago, I can no longer say why. And the poems are good.)

#224 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 12:29 PM:

David Luckett: "...and I would defend the right of any person to reject them with contumely and still - and this is the point - regard themselves as being educated and cultured; and equally, I would reject the idea that any particular text or class of texts should be forced on anyone as being good for the latter in any sense."

David, you missed an important distinction with your comment, which I believe to be overly-inclusive. Most of the posters (and lurkers) on this board, meself and youself included, qualify in the "educated and cultured" category, but we were not always so.

It is very difficult to seperate ourselves from what we become as we age. You and I are not the same creatures we were when we were 19, but the change has been so slow that we may be blind to how our perceptions have altered. WE are old and time-tested enough to make the occasional decision that a certain book or idea will not appeal to us, and that to forego the experience of that book or idea will not damage us (too much) educationally or culturally.

The audience that most college courses are aimed at (18 - 22 year olds), however, is not. At least, not in general. This is even more so at the high school level. Those populations NEED the challenge and are not, by and large, qualified to say what will and won't benefit them the most. At best, having the opt-out choice would only serve to reinforce the intolerances they learned as they grew up. This is not what college, especially public college, is all about. It's called a Liberal Arts education for a reason. We all needed the early bombardment of differing views in order to survive (educationally and culturally) the idealistic self-deprivation we inflict upon ourselves later on. Limiting the inputs in their youth is what created the dangerous, narrow-minded idealogues who plague our various legislatures today.

Now I know I will incur the wrath of almost every younger person on this board by making what must sound like incredibly patronizing generalizations. I felt that way when my elders made similar statements twenty five years ago. Well, get over it. Twenty five years from now you'll understand where I'm coming from. Hush now! I said Get Over It...

#225 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 12:55 PM:

I was probably not more cultured at 22 than I am now, but I probably was at 28.

#226 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 01:03 PM:

there's still something shiny and hopeful about the thought that in an ideal world we'd have literate engineers and poets with at least a nodding aquaintance with chemistry and physics.

One wonders, in passing, whether the rise of the arts & sciences core curriculum can be tied in some fashion to the development of American sf.


Or possibly, vice versa ...

Actually, does anyone know when the liberal arts core curriculum came into vogue?

And as far as the "fire in the gut" and the general comment on being "educated and cultured" (I forget who said what, alas, apologies ...), Edward Oleander is right: high school students and the average college students are not fully formed yet. Some of what they get from reading this stuff is like a seed; it may not reach fruition for another five or ten years, but life experience makes a difference, and it's better for them to have had the exposure.

This is oddly true in my experience. I was always a compulsive reader, but by high school I had narrowed my tastes almost exclusively to science fiction. In high school and college I'd read two or three books a week minimum outside class, but often didn't read the assigned English texts because they were boring -- and often because I was a disorganized mess and had forgotten the assignment. And there was an awful lot of it I didn't like -- at the time. Especially poetry. In HS especially, I hated poetry. I felt poetry should have "proper rhymes" and be written in an easily recognized, consistent meter. "Free verse," I said more than once, "is crap. It's prose written in verse form, not really poetry."

It was pretty funny when I took my first class, as a long term sub teaching poetry. I was reading or re-reading a lot of the stuff for the first time 24-36 hours ahead of my students, and my reactions had totally changed over the fifteen-odd years since high school. One day one of the students asked me if I really liked this stuff, and I had to say yeah, I did. Surprised the heck out of me. I hadn't realized I'd changed my mind.

#227 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 01:06 PM:

Bryan:
I was probably not more cultured at 22 than I am now, but I probably was at 28.

Is that backward? You were more cultured at 28 than you are now?

Regressive culture?

#228 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 01:31 PM:

There are certain years when I have been at an especial fever pitch and my production in matters cultural have been great, as has been my understanding of the materials I worked upon.

#229 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 01:35 PM:

Edward: Alas, the child is father to the man. I passionately rejected Certain Texts then, and in the bitter clabbered bile of my dotage, still reject them with whatever fading passion I can muster.

While I can regret the fact that I grow angry when I think of what those texts say and mean, I will not unsay what I said about them. It actually distresses me that others, however culpably and blatantly young they may be, are required to read texts that they feel the same way about. I don't believe it's good for them, and nothing will shake that unbelief short of actual, real, demonstrable evidence to the contrary.

In short, I stand by what I wrote.

#230 ::: bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 02:00 PM:

Tim: I've heard of enough experiences like yours that I had to use "seldom" rather than "never". I weasel for a reason. :)

#231 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 02:47 PM:

there's still something shiny and hopeful about the thought that in an ideal world we'd have literate engineers and poets with at least a nodding aquaintance with chemistry and physics.

UC Berkeley gave my EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) brother a lifelong love of Shakespeare with the Subject A course that read, analysed, and acted out one of the historical plays. It gave me, the perennial Classical obscurist, a broader view of music, botany, linguistics and astronomy, all of which have enriched my life enormously.

When I remember my year abroad at St Andrews and when I speak to my British university educated colleagues, I am staggered at how little they know about fields outwith their own. Considering that fully half of them are not working in their fields of study, this sometimes strikes me as criminal, and almost always as sadly wasteful.

bryan,
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now

#232 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 03:09 PM:

Dave Luckett:
While I can regret the fact that I grow angry when I think of what those texts say and mean, I will not unsay what I said about them. It actually distresses me that others, however culpably and blatantly young they may be, are required to read texts that they feel the same way about. I don't believe it's good for them, and nothing will shake that unbelief short of actual, real, demonstrable evidence to the contrary.

In short, I stand by what I wrote.


I can understand and agree with that, to a point. However, let me ask a counter question (and if it has already been asked and answered earlier I apologize for the repetition).

Your complaint, as I understand it was that there were these books that
you were told to read,
didn't wnat to read,
read them anyway, and
didn't like them.

However, has it ever happened (with books or other) that there were also things
you didn't want to do or try,
which you were made to do or try anyway,
which you then either
a) enjoyed, or
b) hated at the time, but came to appreciate the experience/idea/etc. later?

And, if the answer is "yes", how were your reservations about experience "a" recognizably different from those in experience "b"?

As you (and others) have already stated, each person's experience and tastes are different, so one curriculum will never satisfy all students.

As a student/reader, can you tell in advance which experience you will learn from or enjoy, despite your reservations and which you won't?

Likewise, as a teacher, can I tell somehow which of your objections/which of my assignments will bear fruit, and which will not?

Is the best solution really to say (and if in simplifying I have mis-stated your argument here I apologize and please correct me)

"Everyone should read only what they already know, understand, and are comfortable with. No one should be forced to learn, grow or be challenged."

Hmmmm.

Maybe this is a more basic question for this thread:

What is education? What should the purpose of it be?

#233 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 03:23 PM:

I've been sulking ever since.

. . .because you didn't get one? Or because you were wrong?

As for Dickens, I remember deciding that A Christmas Carol was unforgivable, because it proved that Dickens, in small doses, is a delight. (Was that the one where the baby has been playing with the pincushion, and there were entirely too many pins missing to be good for it, "either taken internally or as a tonic"? )

On the other hand, I decided to prove a point to myself (or someone) in high school, and read Great Expectations over a weekend. The experience did not sit well with me.

#234 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 03:46 PM:

There were a couple points which I would like to respond to. Before I get to them, I'd like to thank Jo Walton for the points he made February 25, 2006, 02:42, and wonder why jorcheste felt it necessary to point out something, my religion, which I think it was clear that I left ambiguous. Adrian; I never said that this was written from a Jewish viewpoint. I don't think it really has anything to do with the issue, so it wasn't mentioned at first. Any assumptions anyone here has about what I believe should be ignored, since so far people are batting much closer to 0 than 100. And I'm sorry I was unable to respond for so long, I was unavailable Friday and Saturday... well, we'll just say religious reasons.

The first point is the assertion that I am attempting to force others to shield me from what they believe should be taught in a classroom. That horribly misrepresents what I said - I pointed out that I would being forced by the system to take classes the contents of which are contrary to precepts in my religious beliefs. I certainly do not want to force my views on others, but at the same time, feel that if something using my tax dollars is being offered, I should have the _opportunity_ to take advantage of it. For instance, if there are state-run universities with engineering classes that qualified students can take for a certain price, I do not understand what business the state has to tell me I also must complete a course in, for instance, modern American literature, which necessarily includes material that I find objectionable. I believe that it is important to understand views opposed to my own, but exposure to such views should not require me to read material that violates religious beliefs. The fact that sexuality or drug use is mentioned does not pose a particular problem for me - specific descriptions thereof might.

As to the point I attempted to make about the taxes I pay being used to finance a system I disagree with - I wish to back down from what I stated, as it is not what I feel is correct - I would have not problem with the system as it stands if the nature of the system even allowed me to attend classes regularly in only the subjects I wish. Of course, there is a significant penalty for refusing to take core courses in most schools, including being told that you may not continue your education without them. Without paying a significant penalty, I cannot attend my state university. So, in response to pericat, who claimed, to quote, "Even core curriculum is optional; but you don't get the paper if you don't take and pass the core." Well, no. No, you are incorrect. If this were the case, then no-one would force me to take 2 literatures in my first 3 semesters just because I attended their college.

I certainly find nothing about either Economics or Mathematics objectionable. Neither, of course, do my co-religionists, or any other religion I am aware of. The problem is that a group of less than a thousand students is not able to have courses offered in every possible subject - my English Literature courses cover more material then many (though certainly not all) colleges cover in comparable courses, as do my world history classes. I cannot, however, take a class taught by a professor with a mastery of abstract algebra unless the college has such a professor, and with only a dozen people interested in various branches of mathematics, the college simply cannot accommodate everyone's preferences. This has nothing to do with the religious beliefs of the professors, which is in no way a necessary qualification to teach at the school. And, Mr. Blum, not that I brought this up, but if we are going to be specific about this, PLEASE don't tell me that Yeshiva University is an Orthodox school - anyone involved at any level in Modern Jewish thought understands that there is a fairly sharp distinction between what people calling themselves "Modern Orthodox" and those calling themselves Orthodox believe. And Mr. Brennan - the requirements of attempting such a compromise requires a huge amount of time, and doesn't work for other reasons applicable to me personally - though it is typically a somewhat viable solution. It does not address the problem in the more general form of making access to the educational system really universal, a goal I think is part of the philosophical approach behind the decision reached by the comittee mentioned above.

Ms Hayden; you claim that "narrow-minded religionists may succeed in hampering the ability of mainstream students to get a non-cotton-candy education" is ridiculous. No one involved is forcing anyone else not to read a book. There is no censorship, and no ground to believe that anyone could be prevented from getting an education. The only thing that may happen is that some students, who are uninterested in certain subjects, may decide to weasel out of them. I don't think that this could qualify as religious censorship by any standard.

In response to jrocheste's list of various works I might find offensive, let's be a bit even handed. I have read a significant percentage of the works mentioned, (7 mentioned by name, and many more that would be included in one of the categories mentioned) and many of the rest I would not object to. But this is not about me. It's about the public, three quarters of which are Christian. About a quarter of the population is Catholic. About a sixth is Baptist. To be reasonable, let's assume that only a quarter of the total population is offended by explicit sexual content - that should mean that a quarter of the population is being, intentionally or not, told not to attend college at the public universities. So no speculation about causes of the dismal state of education in this country should be speculated about until basic questions about serving the populace are addressed. This does not mean forbidding evolutionary biology, but it does mean that topics that a large percentage of the population objects to should be handled delicately. Not ignored, and not left out, but handled without attempts to belittle the beliefs held by a significant portion of the population.

To Anders and David Luckett - firstly, I think that everyone would be willing to admit to a difference between reading about eating meat, and reading graphic sexual descriptions. Descriptions of evolutionary theory are a bit different than descriptions of sexual acts, because there is a difference between being shielded from majority opinions because of religious beliefs, and published modern literature. The opinions expressed in evolution cannot be written in a way not opposed to many religions, as opposed to the points which are made by many writers, which might have been written in such a way, but for effect, were not. Secondly, to pick on the details, David, your list is one-for-three. Otherwise, they were good points.

I personally do not think that sexual material can simply be "excised from a general undergrad education." On the other hand, Literature classes can, and are, taught with no content containing explicit sexual acts. I don't think the cannon is ridiculous, and in fact I appreciate many of the books that there is a supposition that I object to, but when I go to a history class on ancient Rome, even if their tradition did involve homosexuality, I don't think it is required to read any descriptive texts to understand the culture. The same cannot be said about literature in general, but I don't believe that anyone really thinks that anything in the subject other than perhaps a modern literature class could not be designed without any texts that have what has been referred to in this thread as "explicit" sexual content. I might be wrong, I certainly have been before.

My liberal arts education could certainly be completed without exposure to anything I find objectionable, with as much exposure the the periods and lifestyles as that presented anywhere else. The problem I am attempting to express with the system is that there seems to be an imposed rigidity for the simple reason that it is easier to present the material without dealing without objections. If, Ashni, there was any necessity to the specific works you pick in your classroom, I would understand. That tends not to be the issue. The issue instead is that some works could easily not be covered while maintaining a full introduction to literature, but the teachers feel, not without reason, that certain works are a better representation than others. The concept of academic freedom does not imply that students be forced to do anything - it implies that teachers should have the freedom to present it. The fact that you happen to teach at the college I might attend does not give you the right to force me to do anything, and if the college feels that the subject you teach be covered for me to graduate, it doesn't follow that I should not be allowed to attempt to make accommodations. The courts have repeatedly affirmed that separation of church and state, and freedom of religion, applies to institutions that receive public funds.

M. E. Henegen - Wow. OK, I can attempt to start at the beginning, but my post is already getting to proportions yours did not even approach. Basically, I'll try to address the couple of points that I don't think I've dealt with. Firstly, the fact that there are five different “Introduction to Literature” classes does not in any way mean that not all of them will cover certain material. And frankly, even if I can find one introduction to literature that is compatible, you are relying on the idea that there will probably be a solution to the problem - picking a college for $20,000 a year in loans is not something I can do on that basis. Attending such schools, I certainly have no "right" not to do so.

As to the "scholarship as a contract" argument - If the scholarship is offered to me using money given to the college from the government, is it really a legal contract to ask that I violate religious principles? I'm certainly not interested in spending years in court finding out. That's why it's different than a job. And while the approbation that a degree gives me does imply that I have been taught what the college requires, I have at no point indicated un unwillingness to cover topics involved in what almost any college calls it's core curriculum - and part of the facts of life living in a multicultural environment that allows freedom of religion for it's members, and requires respecting that freedom on behalf of the government and governmentally funded institutions, is that if you can't make something neutral you must make a version that accommodates each group, something that is not done, for reasons that only make sense on a financial level, and not a legal level, as the committee on higher education has determined. Mr. Burke, a teacher, did not say that the proposal was unfair, but that it was "flawed [because] it would allow a student to demand alternative materials for anything considered 'personally offensive.'"

And in terms of looking for a degree, while the structure offered by a college curriculum is convenient, if there was no alternative, I would be happy with the ability to read the books on a subject, and discuss them with someone who was qualified to help me with the subjects I did not grasp, ensure that I was doing the mathematics correctly, etc. Sadly, this access to qualified individuals in fields like group theory and abstract algebra is something it is hard, if not impossible, to find outside academia. Otherwise MIT's Open Courseware would be fine - and I did consider it. A degree in religious studies would be sufficient to be accepted to an advanced program in most subjects, if I also had a mastery of the related material. Of course, that is exactly the problem. College is the only practical way to get most of the material I would need to cover to have that background.

And I don't think that the objections split quite so nicely into your three categories. For instance, most religions are not against sex, or its discussion - they simply feel that it is something that is not to be discussed specifically in public. "The Old Testament firmly opposed this form of religion [the idolization of sex,] which represents a powerful temptation against monotheistic faith, combating it as a perversion of religiosity. But it in no way rejected love as such; rather, it declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of love actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it... Purification and growth in maturity are called for... they heal love and restore its true grandeur." (If anyone recognizes the quote, I’m impressed) So I think that most of the objections that people make on that front are reasonably well backed up.

And I guess that about wraps things up. I hope this wasn’t incoherent, it was written a bit too quickly.

#235 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:06 PM:

In graduate school I took a course on Alexander Pope with a professor who was passionate about Pope. I didn't like Pope then and I don't now. But I learned in that course to appreciate certain aspects of his poetry -- and I got to enjoy and enter into my professor's delight and breadth of knowledge. Good, passionate teaching itself is something to be cherished. Now, I doubt very much that if the professor had been passionate about quadratic equations I would have been able to enjoy the class in the same way -- though I don't know, maybe I would have. Maybe one reason I loathed math and was never any good at it in school is because I never had a teacher whose approach to the subject was other than mechanical. But one aspect of learning which I valued than, and value even more now, is good, passionate, informed teaching. Reading on one's own is fine, but reading and then listening to comments about a subject from an informed, articulate, intelligent person who LOVES the stuff can be a whole 'nother thing.

#236 ::: Mike Booth ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:08 PM:

A side question--why this seem to happen with literature much more than the other arts? I've never heard of someone being unable to appreciate classical music or canonic visual art because of forced exposure in school. Anyone have a theory why this is (or counter-examples)?

I agree with OG: the problem with required literature is that it soaks up so much time. If you hate the music of Arnold Schoenberg, you may have to grit your teeth for five or ten minutes during the survey course. If you're assigned to read Moby Dick, and you hate it, you are sentenced to weeks of torture.

This is the fault of the novel, a genre which is designed to last for hours and to be incomplete unless you read the whole thing. (You can't really talk about Moby Dick until you've made it to the end.) I don't remember hating any of the short stories I read in school. If you hate a short story, you just finish it and move on. It's a Cliffs Notes version of itself.

#237 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 04:33 PM:

I've read the whole thread, and I'm interested in Dave Luckett's position. Although I'm not wholly sure that I understand it.

While I can regret the fact that I grow angry when I think of what those texts say and mean, I will not unsay what I said about them.

I had a similar, although perhaps less extreme, reaction to Jude the Obscure, insofar as it annoyed me that the author was treating his characters as puppets of a malign fate largely in service of his (justifiable) conviction that the marital conventions of his time were cruelly restrictive. Nabokov has a similar complaint about Don Quixote in his lectures on the subject, which you might look up if you haven't read them. But while I can see how this might have made you dislike these books and even the courses in which they were taught, I don't see how this undermines the various world systems of higher education in literature.

You claim to be concerned that other students are being "forced" to read them for course credit. I think perhaps we shouldn't start worrying about what other people might be offended by, or we'll rapidly have no grounds for any discussion. But that doesn't seem to be central point.

You complain that works in a similar vein to Hardy's are part of the core curriculum in many (all?) university English courses, and you question the validity of a canon of English literature. Fragano's answer (among others) seemed to solve this one. Yes: the academic teaching of English literature is a racket. It is aimed towards achieving a *qualification* in a particular *discipline*, and the people who set the requirements for this are university professors. On a practical level, they don't all choose the same books: there isn't a single canon, despite the efforts of Harold Bloom. But there are a lot of books which most professors agree to be important. If you find that *every* course in English in the world features books that you don't like or that you don't think are very important - well, either you have the wrong idea about what is important in English literature, or all university professors have. Once you reach the point where it is evident that everyone in the discipline is wrong but you, then you need to at least consider the idea that your beliefs may be less well-founded than you think.

Of course, university professors have not been appointed by God, or any equivalent universal and objective principle. They may be wrong. In fact, there is an obvious conspiracy (and I'm serious here): English professors were examined by other English professors, and were taught by them what was important, and so on back to the beginning of the discipline. Maybe all the English professors are wrong. But there are two consequences. Either the academic discipline of English is not for you (which is not to say that you have misunderstood your reading, or are in any way inferior to those who have academic qualifications: witness Patrick); or you understand the discipline better than your professors, and ought to set out to persuade them that they are all wrong.

This second option is where it becomes important that you *should* read the things that *they* think matter, not just so that you can decide that you dislike them, but so that you can see exactly what claims are being made for them, and gather enough material and experience of the discipline to present convincing arguments to your professors as to why their understanding of these works is wrong. Note that I am not saying that you need to read these books because they are good, or because there is no other way of becoming educated (aside from the narrow business of specific academic qualifications). What I am saying is that in order to argue effectively that conventional wisdom is incorrect, you need to know what it *is* and exactly where it goes wrong. You clearly have read some of these books at least: perhaps you are at this stage now.

And this, for most professors, is the ultimate *point* of education. I don't know of any professors who teach in order to have their judgements and opinions repeated back to them: I certainly don't (and I teach history, which can be argued to require more expertise than literary interpretation, although I don't claim as much myself). Once you have mastered the discipline and found that you have convincing and cogent arguments against the way that it is set up, *then* you take that PhD course in order to make those arguments known within the academic field. Your doctorate is where you depart from the given judgements of your peers, and where you become one of the authorised judges yourself. You are *supposed* to say original things. This was as true for Einstein (learn classical mechanics; become expert in the language *and discipline* of physics; produce and publish alternative theory in order to persuade other physicists to change their minds) as it is for any PhD candidate now.

Now, none of this means that your professors were right to discount your objections entirely. In the thought experiment you offered, a professor faced with a student who says: "this work is terrible, philosophically repugnant to me, and badly written besides" should ask the student to write a paper in which s/he argues this position. There is no requirement for students to think that the literature they are discussing is good. They don't even have to think it is important. But they do have to have an opinion on it which is the result of careful reading and thinking and which they are able to argue effectively.

Any professor who thinks that a good grade can only be given to students who approve of their chosen reading is not worthy of the position. You may have had bad professors. I got the impression that you *assumed* that you would get bad grades if you criticised the reading, but perhaps I was mistaken in that.

(Personally, I'd be surprised if any professor who set Hardy as a reading could have been unaware of the many criticisms that have been made of his mechanistic universe: it was even discussed in the introduction of my Wordsworth edition, IIRC.)

In any case, your solution is to become a university professor in English and design a curriculum based on what you think are the most important books; or if you don't want to do that, then maybe try to persuade any English professors you know to modify their views. To this extent, university education is a conspiracy. Gaining an English degree is to seek admission to a club. You don't have to join, but only members can change the rules.

Sorry for the long post. There is no offence meant in any of this. I think you make a reasonable point, but I think there is an answer. I continue to reserve my right to think that 100 Years of Solitude is badly-written sophomoric rubbish. But if English professors choose to teach it, I will be interested to know their reasons. (And, of course, the fact that I hate it doesn't mean that I don't think it could be used to teach English. I reckon Atlanta Nights could be used to teach English literature, without anyone being required to enjoy it.)

#238 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 05:02 PM:

M.E.:

Maybe this is a more basic question for this thread:

What is education? What should the purpose of it be?

Restricting myself firmly to the Arts or to the Arts component of any other degree, I would tentatively suggest that it should:

Aquaint you with at least the general outline of How We Got Where We Are, and equip you with the means to go find out more, in pursuit of your own needs and interests,

Teach you to read a piece of non-fiction critically -- is this factually accurate? Does it make sense? Does it explain what it needs to explain to support its point? If it fails in any of these points, are the failures important enough to invalidate the conclusion, or no? What work is it building on, and how sound is THAT work?

Teach you to read a piece of fiction critically, whether you LIKE the work or not -- what does it say? How does it say it? Where does it 'fit' in the whole body of literature? In history? Ideally this should also leave you better able to find the stuff you want to read for yourself, later, but I do NOT think that it's to instill a 'love of literature', whatever that is. I think it is to teach you all the other things you can do with a book BESIDES read it for love, and I think this is important.

It should teach you to construct an decent argument, and make it verbally or in writing.

I think if at all possible, it should teach you to look at a piece of art and understand it well enough to be able to discuss it, and the same with a piece of music. You know, everyone laughs at Music Appreciation and Art appreciation courses, but my God, it's hard to teach yourself.

And I am inclined to think that it ought to at least wave you in the direction of the notion of philosophy, religion, ethics: what are we, and what is this world we're in, and what are we supposed to be doing about it?

And somewhere in the cracks, it should throw a lot of Really Cool Stuff past your nose, that you wouldn't necessarily find yourself, in the hopes of giving you some sort of foundation for a life of finding more Really Cool Stuff to read, look at, and listen to.

#239 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 05:23 PM:

Speaking of Tam Lin, as Jo Walton brought it up...

There's an excellent bit about how an English professor can, generally, ignore at least three major periods of English lit and get along just fine. I myself am fervently hoping that this holds true for classics, and that I can get my Ph.D. in Greek and Latin literature while avoiding Plato as much as possible.

And for students who don't want to study certain areas, there are plenty of schools that have no core curriculum classes that are required. I personally chose one that did, because it allows you to explore more areas and can be quite beneficial to the student who comes to college as an undecided and confused person without a major.

#240 ::: Mike Booth ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 07:01 PM:

In response to David M:

To be reasonable, let's assume that only a quarter of the total population is offended by explicit sexual content - that should mean that a quarter of the population is being, intentionally or not, told not to attend college at the public universities.

No. You (not "they" - I disbelieve your assertion that you're part of a such a large team) are being told that, if you attend college at a public university, you may well be offended. Big deal. Most adults, and all scholars, manage to survive the process of being offended. If you prefer to avoid all danger of offense, it's your choice, not our fault.

Everyone in college is offended, sooner or later -- if not by the professor's choice of topics, or by the color of her socks, than by the TV in the student lounge, the music at the keg parties, the slander in the weekly College Republican newsletter, or the conspicuously, continuously amorous couple in the dorm room down the hall (believe me, we really tried not to listen; it really does become boring after a while). A scholar is expected to handle offense with dignity. He is allowed -- expected, even -- to dissent, rebut, exhort, wave his arms, and leap onto pianos. But good manners are required. Summoning lawyers is against the rules.

This does not mean forbidding evolutionary biology, but it does mean that topics that a large percentage of the population objects to should be handled delicately. Not ignored, and not left out, but handled without attempts to belittle the beliefs held by a significant portion of the population.

Nonsense. Nobody believes this. Do Catholic missionaries refuse to belittle the beliefs of pagans (and vice versa)? Do Fundamentalist Christians refuse to belittle the belief, held by over half of the US population, that gay people should be allowed to enter into civil unions?

Pornography is very popular; the size of the industry attests to that. Doesn't this suggest that the minority view -- that pornography is sinful -- should be handled delicately, without belittling the beliefs held by the significant number of pornography consumers?

No, actually, it doesn't. Questioning the beliefs of others is a favorite human activity, and it's the essence of scholarship. Requiring scholars to handle certain popular beliefs with kid gloves is the opposite of free inquiry.

The fact that sexuality or drug use is mentioned does not pose a particular problem for me - specific descriptions thereof might.

Pull the other one. You are clearly an articulate adult with some education, you are surfing the Web, you have a blog, and yet you ask us to believe -- and to go out of our way to accommodate the fact -- that you are a hyper-sensitive, sex-phobic, delicate flower with transparently thin skin who may very well die if forced to read a "specific" description of a sexual act or a drug trip.

Geez. If Saint Patrick had been such a wimp, the Irish would still be worshiping trees. But he had guts, and so do you. This fainting act of yours is not fooling anybody, and it is no way to win an argument, let alone earn a degree. Get a grip, take some deep breaths, apply to MIT, take the least sinful English classes you can find, close your eyes during the naughty bits (or read the Cliffs Notes), cleanse your conscience by attending weekly (or daily) services in the local church/mosque/temple/synagogue/sacred circle, write your essays, collect your A, shake your professor's hand... and then deliver yourself of all the fire and brimstone you like. Go wild. Although, if you're a bit more subtle, you might be able to convert the professor to your cause, if not your faith. Far stranger things have happened.

(Incidentally: your quotation is from the latest papal encyclical. I've never read it, but Google has. Does your faith allow you to use Google, or is the risk just too great?)

#241 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 07:41 PM:

Damn, Mike Booth, you got in ahead of me! Except I would just have been guessing, since I didn't have the patience to Google -- and I would have guessed wrong. I would have guessed not the most recent encyclical but something from the late Pope, because the quote seems to me to echo John Paul IIs "Theology of the Body" -- and indeed, it does so echo. (By the way, I like Ratzinger/Benedict's writing a whole lot more than that of JPII, whose stuff I simply can't read cuz it's so clunky. I don't always like what Benedict says, but he writes like an angel, and I guess, since he's Pope now, I have to at least take a second look at what he thinks, maybe even a third...)

While I think you are being a bit harsh with David M., I do agree, being offended is part of getting an education. In fact, it's part of being alive in this crazy world. Learning how not to be too offended (because dude, your tender sensibilities are just not all that important) is also part of being alive. Considering all the awful stuff that people choose to do to each other (stipulating here to the usual list of horrors), being offended by what you have to read in a required English lit course seems fairly mild.

I say this respectfully, truly.

Nomie, WHY do you want to avoid Plato? Inquiring minds want to know.

#242 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 07:53 PM:

Mike Booth: "Pornography is very popular; the size of the industry attests to that. Doesn't this suggest that the minority view -- that pornography is sinful -- should be handled delicately, without belittling the beliefs held by the significant number of pornography consumers?

No, actually, it doesn't. Questioning the beliefs of others is a favorite human activity, and it's the essence of scholarship. Requiring scholars to handle certain popular beliefs with kid gloves is the opposite of free inquiry."

---------

Excellent! This meshes with my supposition that the young, or at least most college students, need to be 'forced' to expose themselves to ideas they don't care for. Let me use myself as an example of why I believe this.

As a youth, I soaked up radical conservatism and hawkish homophobia in equal proportions. I was a card-carrying College Republican, voted for Reagan in 1980, and was the first person in Minnesota to register for the draft.

At Community College, I took courses (English Lit in particular) that forced me to read material I vehemently rejected. At the University of Minnesota this continued, and over a course of years, I began to doubt my conservative views. I voted Democrat in '84, and that truly turned the corner for me. By 1988 I was a true Liberal, and married to one as well (indeed, it was she who introduced me to this board). My developing social conscience brought me to the nursing field, and my current career serving the homeless populations of the twin Cities. Had I not been 'forced' to soak up books, essays and lectures I disagreed with, I am quite certain my life would have turned out much differently, and not in a good way.

Now, was it an easy process? NO! There was one Poli-Sci teacher who was an avowed Communist, and taught us that Vietnam was wrong, but the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was right. His views were so outside my comfort zone that I dropped the course and grieved the teacher. I lost, and now I'm glad I did. Even though he upset me, he forced me to think. To this day I think he was over the top, but I can now appreciate that he was doing it on purpose. He wanted to piss us off, and he did. It provided a tiny, subtle push that, combined with other tiny, subtle pushes, brought me, eventually, to the radically different and very satisfying world view I now hold.

Had I been able to structure my classes to totally protect my views at the time, my growth would have essentially halted and I would today be an intellectual cripple, unable to debate effectively, unable to defend my beliefs, and unable to venture outside the bubble-prison of my own making.

When an unformed person objects to a book they have not read, they are really objecting to a book THEIR PARENTS didn't like. They have no true idea what they like yet. Only by sampling the uncomfortable can they create their own comfort zone. The cumulative loss to society is what can, in extreme cases, breed the sort of insulated contempt that leads to the genocides and ethnic cleansings of the 20th century. As proof I submit that most of the worst despots of the past 100 years had little or no "Liberal Arts" in their educations. THEY soaked up only what they wanted to...

Perhaps this better explains my uneasiness at Mr. Luckett's post about not wanting to force students to read anything they don't want to...

#243 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 08:15 PM:

Margaret Organ-Kean : It happens because English Lit is almost always a required course in high school and again in college. Music history and art history are never offered in high school and never required in college. People who pick music history or art history are presumed to have some interest in the subject and aren't forced into it.

At the university where I did my teaching of art history surveys, liberal arts majors were required to take two arts electives out of three: introductory music history, art history or drama survey. Music was, I suspect, entirely non-offensive, unless you believe that listening to several distinct "L'Homme arme'" masses might lead to life-threatening boredom. Drama, OTOH, probably would be considerably more controversial than art nudes, what with incest, murder, drunkenness, rape, insubordination to city authorities, and who knows what all. (And that just in Sophocles and friends.)

#244 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 08:30 PM:

Perhaps this better explains my uneasiness at Mr. Luckett's post about not wanting to force students to read anything they don't want to...

... am I the only person here who is laughing ruefully at this?

In the words of Robertson Davies, "I have been a rake at reading. I have read those things I ought not to have read, and I have left unread those things I ought to have read, and there is no health in me."

... gotten away with it cold, too, fairly often. I only actually finished the aforementioned and never to be sufficiently damned DH Lawrence because I was avoiding reading Joseph Campbell or something equally dull for another class.

I seriously doubt that this legislation's primary impact is going to be about individual students using it to avoid Doing The Readings. It's SO MUCH more trouble than a dead grandmother. Or a case of flu. Or an unexpected double shift, or ... or just not reading the thing, or skimming it, and hoping it won't be a mandatory question on the exam.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nobody is ever caught up on the readings. And that the supplemental reading is more interesting than the required reading. And that the stuff you find on your own is best of all. And that you can probably weasel enough information about what's actually on the exam out of the prof to slide by on having half-digested two-third of the required pages.

And really, if a particular text really truly is brutally offensive to you, there is a perfectly good system in place for going and complaining about it and getting an alternate, which is a whole lot less trouble to use than this will probably be.

What this legislation is going to do is make it easier for parents and government officials and occasionally students with an axe to grind to control what professors (where 'professors' =, if we're talking about undergrad courses, overworked underpaid grad students who are sessionalling and already don't really have enough time for this crap) are willing to risk offering in the first place.

Individual students using at as an excuse not to do the readings is not the main issue. This is going to be used to keep books away from students far more than it will ever be used to get them avoid reading them.

#245 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 08:50 PM:

I agree very strongly with the last couple posters: learning how to deal with the offensive, or potentially offensive, is one of the things that a good education should do. And I think that applies in some ways to the sciences just as much as to the humanities - there you deal with the sometimes appalling limitations of common sense and logic when it comes to the documentable workings of the universe, and this is a moral challenge too. Some people fail it, as witness the small but persistent market for antisemitic physics, that tries to do without sense-shocking people like Einstein.

#246 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 09:14 PM:

And every so often, reading about this sort of 'keep the offensive stuff out of here' movement, I am reminded of the 'local control of schools' push. Which idea, as far as I can determine, is intended to keep children from learning anything their parents found they didn't absolutely need to live in whatever area they're in. I keep wanting to shake them and ask, very loudly, if they really can guarantee that all of their children will never have to leave the area because of school, work, or whatever.

#247 ::: Lauralee ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 09:30 PM:

David Manheim wrote: "The fact that sexuality or drug use is mentioned does not pose a particular problem for me - specific descriptions thereof might.

I can't remember a single detailed description of sex or drug use in any of my courses, and I recently graduated from a large public university.* References aplenty to such things, yeah, but...nothing I would consider offensive if one defines "offensive" as in-depth explicit description. Except maybe for some of the Canterbury Tales, which I could easily have avoided (an elective). And the essay I wrote on women's sex lives in classical Greece, heh. But I chose that essay topic.

I did get high enough marks in high school English that I was allowed to skip the English credit requirements. But I don't think the set of first-year English courses that you could pick from would have been significantly different from my other courses in terms of how explicit they got about drugs and sex. In fact, I highly doubt most of them included much of anything in that area - they certainly didn't seem to from the calendar descriptions.

*In Canada, if it matters. I suppose it might. Now I'm wondering if I somehow missed out on all the sex! drugs! rock 'n roll! that apparently forms part of a good secular university education in the States (particularly in American English departments; who knew?). ;)

#248 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 09:42 PM:

My freshman English class in college included reading Lolita. I suppose it might qualify as offensive to some, but I don't recall anything in it that bothered me, other than I would have preferred reading sf or a good mystery. I saw more offensive stuff in the student union after the BSU and SDS occupied it (and by current standards, most of that would be fairly mild).

#249 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 09:48 PM:

Edward, you mistake me. I do not advocate the idea that young people should not read anything that they don't want to. I say that nobody should be required, for necessary academic credit, to study and validate by lengthy (and overall favourable) comment, material that they actively and consciously reject, and the ethical or aesthetic basis of which they despise, having given it proper deliberation and investigation.

It is urged that no academic would actually require the "favourable comment" part. I say that is plainly not the case. I point to Bruce Baugh's and Tim Walters' prediction of the reaction of a professor approached by a student with this problem: basically, to tell the student to leave, because the material objected to was required; it was a Great Work whose seminal stature the student must recognise. I cite my own experience, which was roughly the same, with the rider that it was made clear that if I condemned the work in question, it was because I had failed to understand it, or the author, or the temper of the times, or the concerns of the school of literature involved, or some such. I took that to mean "failed, as in F". Perhaps that was wrong of me. I don't think so, though.

#250 ::: Lauralee ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 10:40 PM:

Dave Luckett wrote: It is urged that no academic would actually require the "favourable comment" part.

Well, no academic should. And lots of them don't - many profs genuinely only want you to construct a good argument, and they don't evaluate it on the basis of whether they personally agree with you or not. But then there are the profs who are less than...ideal. I always have a lot more respect for the ones who fall in the first category, and they're usually much better teachers, too. It's a shame not all teachers are like that, but I'm not sure how one could make it so all of them were...

The bad teachers do usually make you learn how to write a bunch of multisyllabic lies praising a work you hate so that you can get a good mark. Oh, and they make you appreciate the good teachers all the more. :) So I suppose they're not a dead loss.

#251 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 10:59 PM:

Hi, Dave L.,

It is urged that no academic would actually require the "favourable comment" part. I say that is plainly not the case.

This, then, seems to be the only real disagreement we have. And I think it's a shame, because I continue to believe that no professor would insist on a student *liking* the readings given to them in class, or commenting favourably upon them, instead of demanding a carefully considered response which took whatever approach the student chose. You evidently have experience which says otherwise; and perhaps Bruce and Tim disagree with me too, but I don't think so. (Tim suggested that a professor would tell you that you had to study the subject whether you liked it or not - which is to say, you are free to object violently to the book if you choose, as long as you agreed that the professor thought it important and did the work he set; Bruce wrote that some professors get fed up with being questioned and have knee-jerk reactions to being challenged, which is a shame, but doesn't tell us anything about their pedagogical views - and in fact, it might explain why your professors seemed to have views wildly different from anything that the professors on this board have said. Neither of them actually said that you would be required to *approve of* the work, just that you would be expected to study it. Again, they can correct me if I am wrong here.)

Still, if your professors insisted on your liking the book, then (in my view) they were bad professors. Perhaps there are a lot of bad professors around. Perhaps they congregate especially in English departments. But at this point we can both only argue from anecdotal evidence.

So, all that can be proved here is that: (a) you were taught one way; and (b) I teach differently, and so does every professor I know. The only useful conclusion that can be drawn from these premises (if true) is that not every professor is like the professors you had. Which surely is all you need to hear.

I was wrong to say that "no academic" would act like the ones you cite. But I know of no academic who has, and I'm currently teaching at my fourth university. If you are really interested in doing a PhD, go and talk to the professors beforehand and ask them about this. From my own experience, I would think that your experience will turn out to have been unrepresentative. If not, then I'd be fascinated to know what exactly these people think they are teaching.

#252 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 11:08 PM:

Incidentally, when I went to be interviewed for entrance to my undergraduate university, the interviewers asked me (among other things) which history book I had read that I *didn't* think was any good, and why. I suspect they believed that it was better evidence of analytical ability to be able to say why you didn't like something than to say why you did. I don't think it is necessarily (as people say) easier to blame than to praise: to know why a book fails, you have to be able to analyse both the book itself and the successful book which it might have been. If you want to know how walls are built, you are better off looking at a half-built one than a complete one.

So The Great Gatsby is a great book. The interesting question (and paper topic) is: what was bad about This Side of Paradise?

#253 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2006, 11:20 PM:

Candle, what I meant to say - but may have said badly - is that I think many professors would say that a sufficiently hostile attitude makes it not really worthwhile to keep pursuing it. If you're certain this can't be thing for you and if engaging in it in any intensive way is just inevitably repugnant, then it's probably a waste of everyone's time, if the thing is sufficiently important to how the program works. And if the thing is most of what the program does, extra so. By contrast, someone who can approach a disliked thing in a frame of mind that allows for a more balanced critique may be worth pursuing, depending on the specific things and people.

#254 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 12:12 AM:

David Manheim:

Yeah, "wow". I'm afraid brevity was never my strong suit.

Nonetheless, thank you for your response. I am one of those people who always tries to understand the "whys" and logic behind things, before making a decision, so if you don't mind, I have a few more questions and statements.

I never said that this was written from a Jewish viewpoint. I don't think it really has anything to do with the issue, so it wasn't mentioned at first. Any assumptions anyone here has about what I believe should be ignored

Well, yes and no. If your argument isn't religiously based, then you're right, it doesn't matter worth a tinker's dam. However, what viewpoint you are writing it from certainly is important, at least if you really are intending to generate an honest and open discussion. You point out that others' assumptions have, for the most part, been off base; but despite several requests for specific details, you still haven't specifically aired the nature of your grievance as to what is objectionable and why.

I pointed out that I would being forced by the system to take classes the contents of which are contrary to precepts in my religious beliefs. I certainly do not want to force my views on others, but at the same time, feel that if something using my tax dollars is being offered, I should have the _opportunity_ to take advantage of it.

Okay, this would seem to indicate that your complaint is based on religion. Since you gave no details, most people's assumptions -- at least early on -- were based on the usual arguments of christian fundamentalists. These arguments usually boil down to "I don't want my kid reading that" (in high school) or "That's wrong and no one should read it". Gross over-simplifications both, but both are essentially censorship arguments, and I have yet to hear an argument that truly cites in what way someone else's words make you sinful. (see my earlier post).

I do not understand what business the state has to tell me I also must complete a course in, for instance, modern American literature, which necessarily includes material that I find objectionable.

Again, what material is objectionable? The assumption to date is explicit something, probably sex, drugs, or violence.

And secondly, is it "in violation of your religious precepts" or merely "[personally] objectionable"? You commented (to Andrew Willett I think) that a vegan having to read about eating meat is not the same as an explicit sex scene. If your objection is solely personal, why not? If someone finds the slaughter, roasting, and consumption of animal flesh repulsive and morally offensive, why wouldn't a passage about a barbecue or a beef butchery yard be just as offensive?


I believe that it is important to understand views opposed to my own, but exposure to such views should not require me to read material that violates religious beliefs. The fact that sexuality or drug use is mentioned does not pose a particular problem for me - specific descriptions thereof might.

For you, or for your religious precepts? Details, again.
While I know in a vague way that Modern Orthodoxy is more conservative, but Conservatives still find them ... weak? And that Hasidic (sp?) Judaism is one of the most strict forms of Judaism, I'm just an Irish Catholic and know very little about the precepts of your faith.

Not to pry, but if it is religious, what is the violation? I know there are "proximity issues" in Judaism (coming into contact, or too close to "unclean things") though I don't know the specifics of what they are. Is one of the laws in Leviticus (I believe) that one can not observe or read?

One of the strengths of literature is the need to show, to generate empathy with a character. While it's fine to say The fact that ... it's ... mentioned does not pose a particular problem for me - specific descriptions thereof might one of the reasons literature is sometimes a more effective teacher than say a medical journal is when someone reads about the bad things happening to someone because of, say, drugs, it makes more of an impact than the dry medical jouranl explaining addiction and withdrawal in two nice sterile paragraphs.
Point being, there is usually a reason, related to the message, which a more ... restrained text may not have.

I agree with Lizzy L and Edward Oleander on this. In many ways it is the function of the public education system to offend. Because sometimes that's what it takes to stir the mind from a rut and make students think. Edward Oleander is also right on about the parents thing, too. High school, and especially college, is where adolescents stop being children and finally re-form themselves as adults. Is it better for them to get challenged and think early on, or to have some later event in life trigger this major change after they have begun setting roots, and have more to "tear up" when it happens?


It does not address the problem in the more general form of making access to the educational system really universal, a goal I think is part of the philosophical approach behind the decision reached by the comittee mentioned above.

As has been mentioned earlier, this is technically inaccurate. Access is universal, no one is forbidden to attend. You have chosen -- laudably -- on account of your beliefs that this is not the choice for you.

No one involved is forcing anyone else not to read a book. There is no censorship, and no ground to believe that anyone could be prevented from getting an education. The only thing that may happen is that some students, who are uninterested in certain subjects, may decide to weasel out of them. I don't think that this could qualify as religious censorship by any standard.

There are two arguments here.
Marna's post a short way up-thread argues the basis of the real threat of censorship far better than I had attempted to much earlier.

The second argument is about the "weasel factor."
Either underpaid professors are to spend twice as much of their already over-booked time to create an "alternate" for each selection in their curriculum in case it is disputed; Or,
The professors will drop the books most likely to be challenged -- even if they are better texts, or more established in the canon. (Censorship again; Or,
Some students will be able to weasel out of some assignments by citing "personal objections" and (in some cases) get the same grade with less work (or less appropriate work) than those who did the assignments of the original curriculum.

And yes, historically this type of back-door tactic is often the work of the same religious movements that want "Harry Potter" removed from the library because it teaches witchcraft.

But this is not about me. It's about the public, three quarters of which are Christian. About a quarter of the population is Catholic. About a sixth is Baptist. To be reasonable, let's assume that only a quarter of the total population is offended by explicit sexual content - that should mean that a quarter of the population is being, intentionally or not, told not to attend college at the public universities. So no speculation about causes of the dismal state of education in this country should be speculated about until basic questions about serving the populace are addressed.

Couldn't agree more.

First, are you serious? I'm inclined to agree with Mike Booth, and just deny your statement and simply state this IS about you.
But, is your argument seriously that you are bringing this up not (as mentioned several severals of times earlier in this thread) for religious reasons, but rather as a means to improve education and address "the dismal state of education in our country"?

So you believe -- contrary to most studies -- that the problem with the American educational system is not that standards have been lowered, and [some] students are not motivated to learn, don't do the work, and look for the easy path to success (which [some] teachers give them)?
Instead your opinion is that the problem with the educational system is that it is too systemized and restricted and needs to loosen its grip on curriculum?

Also and again, no one is barred from attendance; they choose not to attend. As someone had said above, if a group demanded segregated colleges because "mixed race" schools were offensive, or demanded schools segregated by gender, or that all women worre burkhas(sp?) because otherwise they wouldn't attend, does that mean that's what we should do with the schools so that "all can attend"?

Topics that a large percentage of the population objects to should be handled delicately. Not ignored, and not left out, but handled without attempts to belittle the beliefs held by a significant portion of the population.

Okay, but if someone is using explicit references to whatever as a means of demonstrating the reason behind the "beliefs held by a significant portion of the population", how is reading and talking about that handling it indelicately?

And again, what beliefs, specifically?

Descriptions of evolutionary theory are a bit different than descriptions of sexual acts, because there is a difference between being shielded from majority opinions because of religious beliefs, and published modern literature. The opinions expressed in evolution cannot be written in a way not opposed to many religions, as opposed to the points which are made by many writers, which might have been written in such a way, but for effect, were not.

Again, but what was the intent behind the "effect"?
And what "points which are made by many writers" might have been written "in a way not opposed to many religions" in the first place? Again, I have yet to see an argument saying that "my religion forbids me to read a book about people doing X". Usually such arguments are the "moral objection" that "My religion says that doing X is bad, and this book talks about/shows people doing X, and so I don't want to read it/think anyone should read it."
But, I know of no religion that says seeing/hearing/watching/reading about others doing something is sinful to oneself.

If I am mistaken, please enlighten me.


I personally do not think that sexual material can simply be "excised from a general undergrad education." On the other hand, Literature classes can, and are, taught with no content containing explicit sexual acts. ... when I go to a history class on ancient Rome, even if their tradition did involve homosexuality, I don't think it is required to read any descriptive texts to understand the culture. The same cannot be said about literature in general, but I don't believe that anyone really thinks that anything in the subject other than perhaps a modern literature class could not be designed without any texts that have what has been referred to in this thread as "explicit" sexual content. I might be wrong, I certainly have been before.

I'm not sure what you mean. A course on Chaucer would have many things that might be "personally objectionable" ... if you read unabridged Chaucer. Or is that not what you mean?

The problem I am attempting to express with the system is that there seems to be an imposed rigidity for the simple reason that it is easier to present the material without dealing without objections.

Well, yes. Again, as stated earlier, the "degree-granting-institution" is certifying that someone who knows the subject has related and tested for understanding of the required information. Therefore, it is the professor who is responsible for deciding how to relay the information. There are numerous texts to pick from, and both to avoid chaos, and to ensure the professor is prepared, the t4xts to be used should be decided in advance. If anyone and everyone can object to anything and everything, at any time and for any reason (which "personally offensive" pretty much guarantees), then this cannot happen. For reasons of efficiency, accuracy, and expertise, it IS best to let an expert (and that's what professors are supposed to be within their field) choose the texts and not have objections.

The issue is not so much a "necessity to the specific works picked", but a necessity that A) some specific works are picked, and B) that the works picked reflect the entire perspective of the subject matter.

the teachers feel, not without reason, that certain works are a better representation than others. The concept of academic freedom does not imply that students be forced to do anything - it implies that teachers should have the freedom to present it.

So you are saying that students going to the school have a right to ignore the curriculum. We all agree. What is mostly being objected to is the reversal of your part two:
Students saying "You don't have the right to present that to me. I don't like it. Pick something else instead."

The fact that you happen to teach at the college I might attend does not give you the right to force me to do anything, and if the college feels that the subject you teach be covered for me to graduate, it doesn't follow that I should not be allowed to attempt to make accommodations. The courts have repeatedly affirmed that separation of church and state, and freedom of religion, applies to institutions that receive public funds.

Again, true. But again, please show where reading the material is a violation of your religion, as opposed to a simple violation of your personal taste.

the fact that there are five different “Introduction to Literature” classes does not in any way mean that not all of them will cover certain material.
Your double-negative is confusing me, but I think you are saying that you want to study a certain period, but there is no way to study that particular period without either A) having to read a certain book; or B) having to deal with a certain topic.

Is this right?

And frankly, even if I can find one introduction to literature that is compatible, you are relying on the idea that there will probably be a solution to the problem - picking a college for $20,000 a year in loans is not something I can do on that basis. Attending such schools, I certainly have no "right" not to do so.
Okay, I don't understand your statement here at all. I was saying that at the cheaper state schools you should be able to find some intro to lit course that wouldn't violate your precepts, even if that meant avoiding a particular period you would have preferred.

I then said if that option did not appeal, you would then need to choose to either A) take the course anyway, (and maybe skip the offensive selections) or B) choose to go to a private school.
Possibly your loan statement is intended to express the clause of " -- if you can afford to".

If so, this leads back to your taxation questions with another interesting argument: what about those whose taxes pay for the state colleges, and who qualify, but cannot afford even that reduced tuition? Is that "fair and universal"?

As to the "scholarship as a contract" argument - If the scholarship is offered to me using money given to the college from the government, is it really a legal contract to ask that I violate religious principles?
Just because the college offers you the scholarship doesn't mean it's payed for by taxes -- you would know better than I what type of scholarship you were offered/accepted.

But yes, if you accept the scholarship from the school that you will meet their graduation requirements and they will forgive X portion of tuition, that's the contract.

They cannot bar you from the scholarship on account of creed, they cannot -- in your case -- make you take classes or work on Sabbath -- but unless you can show where your religion forbids you reading a certain type of text, it is not a religious objection.

the approbation that a degree gives me does imply that I have been taught what the college requires, I have at no point indicated un unwillingness to cover topics involved in what almost any college calls it's core curriculum

Unless one defines particular texts as "topics"

living in a multicultural environment that allows freedom of religion ... requires respecting that freedom on behalf of the government and governmentally funded institutions, is that if you can't make something neutral you must make a version that accommodates each group,

Law is not my specialty, but I believe you are mistaken here. Separation of Church and State, at least as practiced here, requires
A) that no one be excluded due to their creed; and
B) that no one religion be exclusively represented.
Not that nothing in the institution be offensive or against doctrine for any of the 28.3 co-religionists (plus atheists) that may make use of it.

You quoted Mr. Burke, a teacher. I remind you one of the committee chairs also made reference to the saw about pornography: two people can look at the same thing and one sees pornography while the other sees art; the problem with laws of this nature is that everything is offensive to someone.

Mr. Burke, a teacher, did not say that the proposal was unfair, but that it was "flawed [because] it would allow a student to demand alternative materials for anything considered 'personally offensive.'"

No one here has said it was unfair either. And, in general the tenor of the posts have not indicated a problem with genuine issues, the majority concern was that of Mr. Burke -- that the laws vagueness would allow anyone to opt out of anything at any time for essentially any reason -- and as a sub-issue, that the long term effect was going to be the pulling of any book that might be argued from the curriculum, denying it to all students.

most religions are not against sex, or its discussion - they simply feel that it is something that is not to be discussed specifically in public.
I did not say (or did not mean to say or imply) religions were against sex. I was saying that the complaints against the books tended to be due to certain subjects, such as sex -- specifically, and not mentioned earlier for which I apologize, adultery and pre-marital sex.
I do however, disagree over the "something not to be discussed specifically in public" on two counts:
First, that has been more custom than law, I believe, a sign (at one time, at least) of poor breeding or bad manners.
Second, and more important, I question the reason behind the rule, whether custom or law. Certainly the taint of shame associated with sex arises -- in part -- from this reluctance to speak of it. If we were able to speak about it more openly in our society it is quite possible that many of the sex-related problems in the world might be somewhat alleviated, or at least better understood.
Certainly the recent pederasty scandal in the Catholic Church shows the harmful side of this practice, which I am certain does not align well with the goals of God, by whatever name people may know him.

"The Old Testament ... declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of love actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it... Purification and growth in maturity are called for... they heal love and restore its true grandeur."
Regardless of the source of the quote, might a book that utilizes explicit (casual) sex to portray it as "counterfeiting" love and demonstrates the lack of "dignity and dehumanizing" nature of it have some redeeming qualities? And might it not be true that a book aiming for such an "effect" might actually need that explicit sex to make the point?

I have no objection to a genuine religious objection, but if anyone can say "I'm personally offended by this and don't want to read it" the law goes too far. Also, while there are varying degrees of teacher (as seen in this thread) it should be the teachers option to decide, or the college's, not the government's -- unless it is wholly subsidized by the government.

#255 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 12:29 AM:

Dave Manheim:

Oh, as I probably should have said to start, it seems like a large part of the problem is how one defines "objectionable".

The posts seem to be running on the logic that there are some circumstances where a student objecting or opting out of a text isn't a major problem.
The idea that a student could object to War and Peace because they find Tolstoy (or an inordinately long text, more likely) "personally objectionable" is not one of them.

Likewise, there is a long history of certain groups attempting to ban certain books because they object to their content. There is some fear this is if not deliberately, than still effectively, another attempt to do this.

Finally, despite many claims of "religious issues", there has not been any explanation from any religion as to how explicit text is a violation.

In most cases, religious convictions and mores are cited as the basis for a personal objection. And also, as many entries in this thread have attested, many, if not most, of these objections have been summary statements by people who have not read the book, or by people who are objecting to the images or verbiage out of context.

Please, if there is a religious objection, let us know.

#256 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 01:40 AM:

Candle, what I meant to say - but may have said badly - is that I think many professors would say that a sufficiently hostile attitude makes it not really worthwhile to keep pursuing it.

OK, thanks. Evidently I did misread you. In any case, this isn't the attitude Dave L. was unhappy with, I think, and if anything it makes me think that professors are often more reasonable than they need to be about things like this.

But I've probably said more than enough already.

#257 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 01:57 AM:

I point to Bruce Baugh's and Tim Walters' prediction of the reaction of a professor approached by a student with this problem: basically, to tell the student to leave, because the material objected to was required; it was a Great Work whose seminal stature the student must recognise.

Um... say what? My professor doesn't care a lick whether you like Schoenberg or not, as long as you can do the analysis homework. Note that this is much more comparable to dissecting the meter and rhyme of a poem than to expounding on the theme and plot of a novel. Music school is designed to produce musicians, not music professors.

"Greatness" and taste don't enter into it. Either you know how to write, perform and analyze music in a twelve-tone style, and understand its historical context, or you don't. The idea isn't that you'll graduate and write just like Schoenberg (or Mozart, or Bach, or Palestrina); it's that you'll have those tools in your box, to use, ignore or subvert as occasion demands, and know what you're talking about when you need to communicate with other musicians.

The idea of someone refusing to learn a specific part of music theory is as goofy as a jeweler's apprentice refusing to learn to work with silver, or a poetry student refusing to write a sestina on moral grounds. If you don't want to learn the rudiments of music theory, why are you there instead of woodshedding or taking lessons?

#258 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 02:46 AM:

I find myself getting more and more skeptical about some of the kinds of offense being talked about here.

Now, I have read the Bible - in English, admittedly, but in several translations. I am aware that it portrays the acts of sinful and sometimes wicked men and women. There's incest in there, and murder, and malevolent seduction, and theft, and a whole lot of bad stuff. I don't think that the intent of any of the Bible's writers was to glorify these bad deeds, but to show us (among other things) how it is they happen and what their consequences are.

This is really very much what a lot of writers of fiction want to show you, too: to the best of their understanding, if you start from this point, with these people, you'll get there because of who they are and what they do. It's a story of particular people, places, and events, of course, but it's intended to illuminate something of general relevance, the double lesson "this is what it was like for them" and "this is how we all are, in this regard".

I admit to not being altogether up on Jewish traditions, but I know from my experiences in several Christian churches that the "prohibitions" against offensive material tend to crumble when actually probed. Christians have the example of St. Paul saying "all things are lawful to me, but not all things are profitable", which moves the question to a much more pragmatic basis - is there potential gain to be had in this study? And there's Jesus saying "it is not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth", and room to doubt that simply reporting what X has said and then what you think about it must therefore be taken as an endorsement of X, rather than a study of it.

There is a general Christian sense that glorifying sin and evil is a bad thing, but then frankly a lot of the literature being denounced doesn't glorify it at all. Whatever glories there may be are usually shown as leading to more woe and less fun later on. And saying "they did this bad thing but it didn't really ruin their lives" is only to acknowledge that this is how sin works - we don't immediately experience the direct unbridled wrath of God for each wrong done, no matter how much we might wish it. For others. :) Nor does there seem scriptural precedent for refusing to listen to an honest view that you think wrong simply because it is wrong - certainly worthy men and women in the Bible go out into the world to listen as well as to instruct, and put up with far worse than novelists who may be unduly pessimistic about human potential.

In short, it just doesn't add up. It's an aesthetic impulse dressed as an imperative, without (so nearly as I can find) hard justification for the outfit.

To repeat, I don't know what other traditions use as their justifications, so I don't feel I can pass judgment at all, and I hope that nothing in here sounds like guilt by association or anything. I do intend to cast suspicion and even some scorn on allegedly Christian refusals to look at potentially uncomfortable stuff, though.

#259 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 02:57 AM:

Tim Walters: Yes. You have excellently demonstrated a drawback of using analogy. It is quite true that studying music theory is not like studying literature, in a number of important aspects. I should not have been tempted to use that analogy.

I should simply have asked, "Is it possible, in a literature course, to proceed from an aesthetic viewpoint that is fundamentally opposed to the work or works in question?" That is, to take the view that the works are ugly (and that this is bad) or false, or tendentious, or foolish, or self-inconsistent, or picayune, or obscene, or whatever?

My answer is that, no, one should not do this. That appears to be Bruce Baugh's answer, too. But I say further that one should not be penalised for not doing it if one is prepared to put equal effort into other works of equal standing, and that the school's responsibility is to provide reasonable alternatives, either in the form of different texts or in the form of a different but equally accredited course or curriculum. As far as I understand him, Bruce Baugh would not agree. Perhaps you would care to comment?

#260 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 03:53 AM:

Dave, I can't help noticing that you never have anything to say in response to anyone explaining how canons develop, nor what their limits are in providing some black iron prison of departmental dogma. You keep skipping on the parts where you can rant about the conspiracy of professors to swallow our souls and about how you have to martyr yourself rathre than risk contaminating the purity of your essence. This is regrettably unsurprising, but also rather disappointing. I leave the field to someone else - I have responsibilities despite being as sick as I am at the moment, and this energy is needed elsewhere.

Good luck in keeping yourself nailed to that cross. It doesn't seem like you much want to do anything else.

#261 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 03:56 AM:

And no, you don't have to respond to that last one. It's an admission of my giving up, feeling that I've just been casting effort into a void, or more accurately into a shredder, and I'm just venting a bit of frustration before getting back to work on things that matter to me more than your determination to wage this particular war against literature.

On the whole I'd prefer not being cited in support of any of your arguments, but my words are out there to use or not as you wish, I guess.

#262 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 04:25 AM:

ok. wading in....

i was raised orthodox (although david m. would probably not consider it so: my parents were big hippies for our community, & so far as let me, shock-horror, take nude figure drawing when i was in high school), & my brother is now possibly even orthodox by david m.'s standards: he follows chabad. we had the why-is-art-necessary discussion not too long ago.

the two main objections, as far as we arrived at, that ultra-orthodoxy (which is still modern orthodoxy in that it engages with modern society, but nevermind) has to literature are:

1)it is a waste of time, a time which could be spent in holier pursuit, such as torah study.
this argument is negated in david m.'s case, i think, since he thinks there is value in a secular education, for his future purposes. if the degree is vitally important to him, it follows that no degree requirement is a waste of time.

2) descriptions of sex can cause one to become aroused, which can lead one to sin (read: masturbate, mostly).
this one is harder to argue about, because, gee, who am i to say what would compell you to masturbate. i have never been compelled to masturbate by any passage in literature, but maybe i am just too hardened & desensitized by my exposure to secular society.

one would think that what david m. & others see as the great value of a "rigourous education" & a university degree would outweigh the risks of maybe, one-in-a-million chance that you would be so overcome by a description in literature that, despite your deep beliefs & taboos against it, you would have no choice but to uncover your nakedness right there on the spot.

but as far as i can tell, is is just hardened norms & paranoia, based on no one for a hundred years' personal experience, & mostly you can't do it (read modern secular literature) because "it isn't done."

and i better say, for the sake of polite discourse: i am using "you" purely rhetorically here. all it means is "not me."

#263 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 05:33 AM:

David Luckett: "Edward, you mistake me. I do not advocate the idea that young people should not read anything that they don't want to. I say that nobody should be required, for necessary academic credit, to study and validate by lengthy (and overall favourable) comment, material that they actively and consciously reject, and the ethical or aesthetic basis of which they despise, having given it proper deliberation and investigation."

------

To be a proper and deliberate investigation of a work such as a book, don't you basically need to read it? Chances are, these younger people have not read extensively on the subject/viewpoint they despise, they merely parrot the prejudices they grew up with. Your point is much more valid for the older reader who has digested enough of their particular dislike to know in advance (by simple inquiry and/or review reading) whether a new work will be substantially different than what has gone before...

-----

David: "It is urged that no academic would actually require the "favourable comment" part. I say that is plainly not the case. I point to Bruce Baugh's and Tim Walters' prediction of the reaction of a professor approached by a student with this problem: basically, to tell the student to leave, because the material objected to was required; it was a Great Work whose seminal stature the student must recognise. I cite my own experience, which was roughly the same, with the rider that it was made clear that if I condemned the work in question, it was because I had failed to understand it, or the author, or the temper of the times, or the concerns of the school of literature involved, or some such. I took that to mean "failed, as in F". Perhaps that was wrong of me. I don't think so, though."

-----

David, I'm curious. Where did you go to school? You and a couple others have mentioned the teachers who get angry if a student expresses a negative view of their assigned reading, and I find that deplorable. While i think it is good to force the student to READ what is assigned, it is surely the mark of a small and woefully inadequate person to force the student to AGREE with the material. If you had this happen to you, then I can see why you believe as you do! Perhaps this petty powermongering is more common than I would like to believe, and the bulk of the Arizona legislature suffered as you did. How sad that the actions of these pathetic instructors now engender an attitude that threatens the acedemic maturation of future generations...

I myself was considerably more fortunate. I can honestly say that with over 400 undergrad quarter credits under my belt (don't ask...) from three major colleges in the Twin Cities, NOT ONE prof ever gave me a downcheck because I trashed the assigned material in my verbal or written reports. I often wrote a negative paper just to be obstinate, focusing on the parts I disliked, and ignoring the parts I thought valid. In fact, I often got higher marks disagreeing, because I had to be far more careful with my logic, and the quality of my arguements was generally higher than when I wrote a positive review/critique.

Har! If anyone reading these posts is currently involved in a nature vs nuture debate, this revelation scores one for nurture...

#264 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:23 AM:

Bruce Baugh: You are clearly very ill. I very much regret having upset you.

#265 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:24 AM:

The bad teachers do usually make you learn how to write a bunch of multisyllabic lies praising a work you hate so that you can get a good mark.

I could argue that in a world of pointy-haired bosses, this could be considered a necessary survival skill. It's certainly served most engineers I've known rather well.

#266 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 07:05 AM:

But, I know of no religion that says seeing/hearing/watching/reading about others doing something is sinful to oneself.

In the church I grew up in (Southern Baptist), there were many, many testimonials. There were, in fact, professional testimony makers who travelled from church to church doing a "testimony followed by Q&A" session at each stop. A common element to many of them was that their downfall started when they saw something on television/heard something on the radio/read something in a book that gave them the idea to try something.

Such nasty ideas have to come from outside, in their worldview, especially when those ideas occur to young people raised in the church. They are still in that comfortable fallacy where things never happened before the day they first heard of them.

I've been out of the loop too long to remember the specific scriptural justifications for that belief, but I can assure you they have them. Everything has a scriptural justification.

#267 ::: dagny ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 07:13 AM:

Mr. Luckett, since your objection to Hardy seems to be about theme and not style, might I suggest giving Under the Greenwood Tree or Far from the Madding Crowd a try? I think you would be pleasantly surprised.

#268 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 07:31 AM:

Edward, yes, you have to read it. I find I have been less than accurate with my language, a frequent discovery of mine. I have used "read" to mean "study in an academic context", and that was slipshod.

"Reading", however, can, and does, include skipping the bits you hate most, as when, for example, the description of the complicated causes of protagonist's despair goes on into the middle distance. You can't skip it if you have to prepare a tutorial paper on that chapter, or take a pop quiz on the causes of the protagonist's despair, or answer sharp questions about how this relates to his wife's twenty-year-old incest with her younger brother.

That takes study. It requires assimilation and acceptance of the text as something that repays that study, and is a suitable subject for it, which is in itself a validation of it. That's a bit different from reading, and that difference is the reason why I don't think I'm talking about private reading. I'm concerned with rigorous, careful reading of exactly the kind that study of literature as an academic discipline is supposed to be about.

I'm with Teresa, though probably this would come as a surprise but no relief to her: I don't think you should get to duck a text unless you know exactly what you reject about it, and why, on ethical, intellectual or aesthetic grounds. "It's boring", for example, damn straight doesn't cut it. I don't doubt her belief that there'd be damned few who'd bother. But I'd bother, and want the right to reject, given that.

#269 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 07:33 AM:

David, I'm curious. Where did you go to school? You and a couple others have mentioned the teachers who get angry if a student expresses a negative view of their assigned reading, and I find that deplorable. While i think it is good to force the student to READ what is assigned, it is surely the mark of a small and woefully inadequate person to force the student to AGREE with the material. If you had this happen to you, then I can see why you believe as you do! Perhaps this petty powermongering is more common than I would like to believe, and the bulk of the Arizona legislature suffered as you did. How sad that the actions of these pathetic instructors now engender an attitude that threatens the acedemic maturation of future generations...

I had a professor for one of my sophomore surveys of English Lit who had specific definitions for her assignments. Among them, according to the grad students at the English lab, was that if she assigned a "criticism", the student was expected to come up with the same points one could find in the professor's own dissertation and/or later writings. These points were not discussed in class. They were supposedly so self-evident that any student with two brain cells would see them immediately upon reading the text.

Between my college-prep high school English (didn't have AP back then in the Dark Ages) and my ACT scores, I was allowed to opt out of freshmen comp. Hearsay was that the courses were largely remedial grammer and basic essay structure. Since the series required so very many texts to support the desired volume of writing, it would be inevitable that a substantial percentage of them would be offensive to someone. (We called the courses "Hand Cramp 101-2-3".)

#270 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 08:55 AM:

Lizzy L., I want to avoid Plato because I find him insipid, dry and stultifyingly dull. Also, philosophy isn't my area, and it generally gives me a headache. I'll take a nice racy poem or some history any day, thanks.

Dave Luckett writes: "Is it possible, in a literature course, to proceed from an aesthetic viewpoint that is fundamentally opposed to the work or works in question?" That is, to take the view that the works are ugly (and that this is bad) or false, or tendentious, or foolish, or self-inconsistent, or picayune, or obscene, or whatever?

Well, last semester I took a course on Women and Literature for my last credit for my English minor. The main reason for taking the class was the professor, one who I'd had before and loved and respected; the curriculum, as listed in the course catalog, also intrigued me.

By the time class started, the curriculum had changed significantly, and as the weeks went by I realized that I intensely disliked or hated nearly every work on the syllabus. They were, to use your words and my opinions, ugly and false and tendentious and foolish and self-inconsistent. There was one exception, and the rest I just could not stand. (To name names: House on Mango Street, The Awakening, "The Yellow Wall-Paper," Jane Eyre, Wide Sargasso Sea, Beloved, and Bread Givers. This is my opinion, and I know I'm alone on many of these. The one work I liked was Room of One's Own, because I am a Woolf fangirl.) But I stayed in the class. Why? Because the professor made me see that there might be some merit. Because hearing my classmates' opinions, so wildly different from my own, made me look back at the works and reconsider them. Because having to formulate well-reasoned statements for class other than "This sucked and I hated it" to explain my dislike was a great mental exercise. Because writing six pages on why I hated Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, for their poor characterization and lame-duck endings, was tremendously cathartic.

I think there's a great deal of value to be found in studying works you don't necessarily approve of. If nothing else, it helps to solidify the criteria you use for what you do approve of and enjoy.

#271 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 09:06 AM:

Oh, I was sulking because if there was an education like that, I wanted it. I mean it's clearly ideally designed for me, so it seems very unfair that nobody mentioned the possibility when it was a possibility. Well, I couldn't have afforded it. My substandard and exclusively classical education was at least free.

#272 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 11:47 AM:

Aha -- somebody up-thread finally clarified for me -why- I find Dickens exasperating...

I loved _A Christmas Carol_ (of course my introduction to it was by way of Mr. Magoo). So I was delighted to discover that we were going to be reading one of Mr. Dickens works in English class my freshman year.

How could someone who wrote something as delightful as _A Christmas Carol_ dare write something so boring and turgid as _Great Expectations_?

I wonder if my attitude toward Dickens would be different if we'd read _Oliver Twist_ instead?

I really think that a lot of the aversion people develop to reading for entertainment can be laid directly at the door of their school English classes.

Are there any teachers out there who work at making reading fun for their students? I know I studied a lot harder when I enjoyed what I was learning.

I shudder with horror when I hear someone say, "I haven't picked up a book since college/high school, etc." And these are the people we're telling to read to/with their children.

#273 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 12:54 PM:

My experience, echoed upthread, is that a novel's value to a student is proportional to the skill of the instructor in explaining the author's talent as a writer, and proportional as well to the skill of the instructor in teaching a student how to read a work on various levels. That's why, in high school, this callow youth actually enjoyed reading Dickens (Great Expectations), Shakespeare, and Graham Greene--my teachers, through their skill and enthusiasm, brought me fully into the works being discussed. The same happened in my college Contemporary Lit class, in which I gained an appreciation for a number of writers that some on this thread despise -- Hemingway, Joyce, Roth, Salinger, and Lawrence, among others.

Because one of the themes of this thread concerns philistinism, I offer for your amusement Ed Zern on D. H. Lawrence:

"Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterley's Lover has just been reissued by Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-by-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant-raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book cannot take the place of J. R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping."

-Ed Zern, Field & Stream magazine, November 1959.

#274 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 01:19 PM:

I'm not sure how to take that comment -- surely you aren't proposing that Ed Zern's review was "philistine?" There was a lot of noise about the Grove reprint, and most adult Americans of the time knew very what the "extraneous material*" in Chatterley was, whether or not they'd read it. The review counts as one of the wittier things said then, particularly given where it appeared.

*To the best of my recollection, it concerns what went on between the lifting of the (UK) ban on the book and the Beatles' first long-playing record. Something about dressing quail, I think; perhaps Dick Cheney would profit by reading it.

#275 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 01:47 PM:

No, John, I don't mean to call Zern a philistine. In adopting that stance for his review, however, he created something that I still can't read without chuckling. Figured it was worth sharing for the latter reason, even if its relevance to this thread is minor....

#276 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 02:16 PM:

To start with what I think is the most common problem people are having with my personal statements, as opposed to the general argument I am attempting to make, is that they believe that the issue that people of various religions have is that they are offended by certain material, and that something being “disturbing” or “challenging their beliefs” is not a bad thing, therefore the objections are baseless. This simply stems from ignorance about what various groups believe – something that I am not much better acquainted with than most of the rest of this group, excluding my personal religion.

I am going to respond based on the limited amount I know about Catholicism first, and then move on to Judaism. First, in catholic theology, if the pope says something, it is not simply good advice, but rather the voice of G-d in the world, and therefore – and this is the important part – binding on all Catholics. If he says pornography is against the rules, it doesn’t mean that seeing people engaged in immoral acts is going to challenge your faith, and therefore it is best to avoid it. The claim being made, whether you agree with this or not, is that god is communicating with mankind, and telling them that a certain act is forbidden. This seems like a good religious objection as far as I can tell. I don’t know what it corresponds to in Baptist or other Protestant thought, but I would guess that it is not just that “it’s not a good idea.” I could certainly be wrong, knowing very little about the specific belief structures of aforementioned religions.

Secondly, Judaism’s approach to sexual content is also based on a belief that it is prohibited based on the word of G-d as transmitted to the Jewish people at Sinai. Based on several passages in the Mishna, written more than 1800 years ago, the codification of Jewish law that Maimonides wrote says that viewing, reading, or hearing about certain sexual behavior is a biblical prohibition that falls under the category outlined in Deuteronomy 23, ““there may not be any promiscuous men among the Jewish people, or any promiscuous women among the Jewish people”. Other authorities disagree, but only about the source of what every medieval Jewish legalist agreed is a biblical commandment. This means, to clarify, that according to the basis of rabbinic Judaism, G-d’s words are specifically stating that it is forbidden. All recent authorities in both orthodox and modern orthodox legal thought agree to this. This doesn’t mean it’s simply frowned upon, or that it “challenges” the beliefs of Judaism. This is in contrast to, for instance, the idea that love should be free. It may be contrary to Jewish law, but there is no problem discussing, in a non-physically descriptive way, the issue.

Now these religious objections may eliminate a fairly large swathe of literature written over the past several thousand years, but that is not due to any personal opinions on behalf of either Jews or Catholics. Hopefully I will have time to respond to several other points made soon, but I’m currently out of time.

#277 ::: M.E. Henaghen ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 03:11 PM:

David Manheim:

Thank you. This cuts much more to the heart of the matter.

I think the most common problem people are having ... is that they believe that the issue that people of various religions have is that they are offended by certain material, and that something being “disturbing” or “challenging their beliefs” is not a bad thing, therefore the objections are baseless.

IMO, this is half-true. I believe the case is whether something is actually "challenging their beliefs" -- i.e. in violation -- as opposed to simply "disturbing" or "offensive" which is more a case of possibly being in poor taste.

In catholic theology, if the pope says something, it is not simply good advice, but rather the voice of G-d in the world, and therefore – and this is the important part – binding on all Catholics.

Yes, though only for religious, not secular matters -- not that this invalidates your argument or your example.

If he says pornography is against the rules, it doesn’t mean that seeing people engaged in immoral acts is going to challenge your faith, and therefore it is best to avoid it. The claim being made, whether you agree with this or not, is that god is communicating with mankind, and telling them that a certain act is forbidden. This seems like a good religious objection as far as I can tell.

Yes. The question, of course, is "What is pornography?" A devilishly hard question to answer, judging that it has been argued and debated for decades, if not centuries.

Judaism’s approach to sexual content is also based on a belief that it is prohibited based on the word of G-d as transmitted to the Jewish people at Sinai. Based on several passages in the Mishna, written more than 1800 years ago, the codification of Jewish law that Maimonides wrote says that viewing, reading, or hearing about certain sexual behavior is a biblical prohibition that falls under the category outlined in Deuteronomy 23, ““there may not be any promiscuous men among the Jewish people, or any promiscuous women among the Jewish people”.

Okay. First, for my own clarification, is the Mishna a recent offical commentary on Deuteronomy, where the original prohibitions of D. were standardized, for lack of a better term?

Other authorities disagree, but only about the source of what every medieval Jewish legalist agreed is a biblical commandment. This means, to clarify, that according to the basis of rabbinic Judaism, G-d’s words are specifically stating that it is forbidden.

Not to pick nits, but you say "it is forbidden". I am assuming that while the Deuteronomy passage you refer to uses the word "promiscuous" which tends to be interpreted today as intimate physical action, your "it" is intended to mean "pornography"? Or is it meaning "sexual content"?

All recent authorities in both orthodox and modern orthodox legal thought agree to this. This doesn’t mean it’s simply frowned upon, or that it “challenges” the beliefs of Judaism.

Fine. Now, does Judaism (in the Mishna or elsewhere) define "pornography"? I've already opined that our society at large does not, or maore accurately, cannot do so consistently.

My point, and that of others on this thread so far as I can judge, is that the majority, if not the entirety, of the material in the literary canon is not pornography, and therefore is not in violation of this/these codes.

Failing a religious definition, the dictionary defines pornography not merely by content, but by intent. It is explicit material created for the purpose of arousal.

I believe from your earlier posts that you agree, at least in most cases, that the material in question was not written for that purpose.

If there is not an alternate objective definition of pornography available, and "some people" still define it as pornography, then again we are at an impasse.


Now these religious objections may eliminate a fairly large swathe of literature written over the past several thousand years, but that is not due to any personal opinions on behalf of either Jews or Catholics.

Again, except in so far as how one defines "pornography". Where is the line at which depictions/descriptions become pornography, and/or when does intent cease to matter.

I have assumed "pornography" because I am utterly incapable of defining "sexual content". If that is your term, please assist me by defining the guidelines.

Or, perhaps an easier route to the key is:

Which works are viewed/do you view as unsuitable, and what is the nature of the pornographic content?


#278 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 03:15 PM:

Doubtless classical educations are cheaper because their texts are out of copyright. (Joke! Mostly.)

#279 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 03:16 PM:

Um, not exactly. The Pope "saying something" is not the voice of God in the world. Popes say all kinds of things. If the Pope expresses a personal opinion "Hey, those are ugly shoes" it is the personal opinion of a man (who may have terrible taste...) When the Pope, by virtue of his office as head of the college of bishops, as supreme pastor and teacher, "proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals" this definition is deemed to be infallible and it must be treated the same way Catholics treat revelation, i. e. scripture. As has been mentioned in other threads, since the doctrine of infallibility was first stated by whichever Council it was (temporary mental block here), a Pope has proclaimed such a doctrine twice. The infallibility actually resides in the Church and therefore is also present in the Magisterium, the teaching function of the Church, as long as it is "united" with the Pope. When the Church at an Ecumenical Council, in concordance with the Pope, proposes a doctrine "as being divinely revealed," Catholics are supposed to treat these teachings also as worthy of obedience. However, "ordinary" teachings, which are supposed to lead to a "better understanding" of faith and morals, are not infallible, though the faithful are expected to both respect and adhere to such teachings. And statements by the Church, even the Pope, on topics outside the issues of faith and morals (Does the earth go around the Sun? How old is the solar system?) are not infallible.

Sorry -- I hope this doesn't come off as too pedantic. But Catholic doctrine, having had 2000 years to evolve, is not so simple, which is why the Catechism I am working from, published 1995, impramatur Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, is 842 pages long. I am not going to add here the stuff the catechism says about conscience, but it is important and also very interesting. There is an ongoing theological discussion in the Church about those situations where an individual's conscience says one thing and Church teaching says another -- a not uncommon occurrence in the individualistic West. But I digress...

#280 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 03:38 PM:

Okay, I've decided that wasn't a very helpful post. Sorry. But with regard to pornography: yes, Catholics are supposed to avoid it. Pornography is defined as "removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners in order to display them deliberately to third parties." It offends against chastity because "it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants...since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others."

But I don't see that reading a description of even detailed sexual acts in the context of literary criticism is necessarily a pornographic act, though I suppose it could be, in which case I, as a Catholic, can recognize that I've participated in an offense against chastity by getting all hot and excited when I should be saving those acts of intimacy for my spouse. In which case I can make a sincere confession and not read that book again.

#281 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 04:13 PM:

To David M.: I can have no arguments against your position because we are starting from such radically different points. I can only say I thoroughly disagree, and wish you felt differently.

In an attempt to be practical:

1) Have you considered auditing the courses you need? [Warning: rest of site contains many things many people might find offensive. ]

2) McGill University, if I recall, has no "liberal arts" requirements at all for science majors. This may have changed in the last 15 years, but I remember that the Honors Physics program students only had 2 electives in 3 years, and the freshman year requirements were all "General sciences and math".

Brown University seems to have impressive flexibility, as well, but McGill is Canadian and delivers a very good education for a very good price [by American standards.]

From the Brown website: While the curriculum does not have distribution requirements or required courses outside the individual student's academic concentration, undergraduates, with advice and counsel from faculty and staff, experience a rigorous academic program within their areas of concentration.

3) Someone [not David M.] mentioned a religious divison involving single-sex classrooms. I have no idea if that is one of David M.'s prerequisites; if it is, I can only say good luck.

#282 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 05:05 PM:

Lizzy L: Papal infallibility ex cathedra was proclaimed by the First Vatican Council in 1870.

#283 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 05:47 PM:

I should simply have asked, "Is it possible, in a literature course, to proceed from an aesthetic viewpoint that is fundamentally opposed to the work or works in question?" That is, to take the view that the works are ugly (and that this is bad) or false, or tendentious, or foolish, or self-inconsistent, or picayune, or obscene, or whatever?

My answer is that, no, one should not do this.

Which, of course, does not answer the question. You didn't ask whether one *should* do this, but whether it was possible. Of course it is possible. I would say, too (and I've argued this position already), that it would be unusual for a professor to object to your doing this, at least in any way which would automatically affect your grade. It may not be very pleasant, and it may well be far from ideal, but *one should not do this* is just a moral imperative you have created by yourself.

This is where you meet David M. If you think that any course that would give you your preferred qualification would require you to do something you dislike, or think should not be done, then you are indeed stuck. But this is a rod you have made for your own back. No professor is forcing you to approve his or her reading list; you are forcing your professors to make special provision for your idiosyncratic literary tastes.

What if the only book you found morally or aesthetically valid were the Bible? Or, perhaps, Green Eggs and Ham? Would you deserve an English degree for studying these exclusively? Would it be the professor's fault for forcing you to read and comment effectively on books other than these?

This, note, is not my reductio ad absurdum but your own. If you have never found a course of which you approve then, in the considered opinion of experts in the field (ie. English professors), you are being unduly restrictive in your tastes. Some of them would no doubt still offer you some alternative. But not to do so does not constitute unacceptable behaviour. Grit your teeth, read Hardy (or Hitler), tear into him, get the grade. If you demand the right to set your own curriculum then you can award yourself your own degree.

Reading and analysing need not be the same as approving or enjoying, or else Fragano would not be using Mein Kampf in class, and I would not be teaching Catullus. You may feel it's a waste of time to read something you don't like. I feel it's a waste of time only to read and analyse things you like. But our feelings are not the point: the point is your professor's expertise.

Yes, it's a conspiracy of experts. Just like a conspiracy of experts will keep you off the Olympic soccer team when you turn up having trained all your life in handball. Feel free to invent your own game. But don't complain that we're not adapting ours to suit you.

#284 ::: ComicGeekGirl ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 05:47 PM:

I really think that a lot of the aversion people develop to reading for entertainment can be laid directly at the door of their school English classes.

Absolutely. It's not even the teachers' fault, in most cases; the blame lies with textbook committees, curriculum managers, and those who write state standards.

Like the geniuses who decided 14 year olds should read The Great Gatsby. Every kid I know, who read that book in Freshman English, hates it to this day. Or those who decided Ethan Fromme was the Wharton book should be part of the core curriculum. Or that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the only "Latin" writer who needs to be taught.

I could go on, and on, and on...

However, even worse than schools? Parents.

For some reason, most parents decide that their children are little carbon copies of themselves, and have the exact same taste in books as they (the parent) does. Or the parent is only comfortable with the child reading books that the parents read as children.

If my mom had decided that I needed to follow in her footsteps, and read nothing but light romance, I probably wouldn't have read anything. And I cringe whenever a parent asks me for the Dick and Jane books for their new readers, which happens on a weekly basis.

P.S. -- David Goldfarb, I didn't think of Beowulf, for my anti-Tolkien mom, but since it has monsters in it, I doubt it would have worked. I think I gave her Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave and told her that I really couldn't think of a fantasy book without some "fantastic" elements. :)

#285 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:09 PM:

Mr. Heneghan – OK, for background on the Mishna, try http://www.aish.com/literacy/concepts/The_Oral_Tradition.asp . For who gets to define the terms used, see http://www.aish.com/literacy/concepts/The_Rules_of_Halacha.asp .
That’s going to be as definitive an answer as you will probably find about how the system is supposed to work. What it means realistically is that I can ask my rabbi what is or isn’t forbidden, and in this case the prevailing opinion is that, without providing an exhaustive list, anything that modern society would define as pornography certainly is according to our rules as well, any descriptions of physical acts which are forbidden by torah law, and any specific descriptions of sexual acts. (The latter two are based on specific items enumerated in the Shulchan Aruch based on what I mentioned earlier in Maimonides, and the former one is clearly under his ruling.) Neither of these is a recent ruling. And of course, I get to be brief about this part of the answer (though not the others!) because I included a reading list.

The difference I referred to earlier between the description of eating meat and the description of sexual topics is that while eating meat has nothing to do with the physical process, most religions believe that there is something ‘bad’ about thinking about certain topics excessively in the wrong context. (I know I’m being vague here, but it is because this is a very general point.) Once again, this should have nothing to do with my personal religious views, as it is something that, for whatever reasons, many religions seem to agree on.

Being offended and stirring someone from a rut is a valuable thing to do – but at the same time, I can offend people very easily without accomplishing very much. I may be able to cause valuable discussion about race relations by endorsing violence, but the action does not justify the purpose. The problem is that many people feel that the content does not really serve the purpose alone, and the point could be made that many movies that are produced, which may have very good purposes, contain completely gratuitous sex scenes. The same could be said about some literary works, and while you may or may not agree, it is a point that is not intrinsically unfair. Maybe the shock and understanding accompanying someone’s exposure to, picking an extreme case, a mutilated murder victim will allow them to better understand the depravity of some people, but the cost may simply not be worth the added effect. I won’t pick specific works, but I’m absolutely sure that there are people here who think that entire sections of certain famous literary books serve no real purpose – might the same be said about the sexual content of others?


While I certainly feel that the educational system in this country is falling apart for many, varied reasons, I would question anyone who claims that this exclusion changes nothing when hundreds of thousands of students attend private parochial schools because they are not served by the public system. It may not be a main effect, but it certainly is there. The other part of this, however, is that students have been de-motivated by the fact that they see that academia, which is significantly farther to the left than most of the country both religiously and politically, does not seem to mirror the world as they deal with it. This isn’t just about religion, but based on the purely anecdotal evidence I have heard from many friends about the gap between the statements routinely made by their very-liberal professors and the moderate and right wind views of many of the students, it’s no inconceivable that this type of religious divide further aggravates that issue as well.

Oh, and as an addendum, it seems like very few of this type of objection is ever raised in higher level classes not required as part of a core curriculum. I think, and this is a guess, that people would not object if they could simply not take the course. Once the objections exist, the rule being badly written is inexcusable, but that’s not what the point of this discussion seems to be. And there are certainly states where some scholarships are funded by the state in the form of a Lottery, such as New Mexico, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee, to pick some I could find easily. This means that state money is paying for the education of citizens with over a 2.5 GPA.

Mr. Oleander: While the comment wasn’t directed at me, my name is david, so I’ll respond anyways. In high school most students are expected to accept what they are given, and understand why the teachers praise it. This is reasonable, given the relative levels of knowledge, but I am sure I am not the only person who had teachers who, despite knowing a significant amount in their field, were as intolerant and narrow minded as most of the rest of the world.

Oh, and as a postscript, I personally am not looking for other options. I am aware that they exist, and considered them extensively. I did not choose them for a variety of reasons, including but certainly not limited to the ones we are discussing. To everyone who gave advice, thank you for trying, but no thank you. And single sex classrooms were certainly not a prerequisite.

#286 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:09 PM:

candle,

If you demand the right to set your own curriculum then you can award yourself your own degree.

Nice nutshell.

I'd disagre with you about some of Catullus, particularly 51. (Yes, yes, I know, Sappho, but I like C's translation better). And reading him was an education in vocabulary, not to mention tooth-whitening recipies.

ComicGeekGirl,

Oddly enough, I would credit my parents with a lot of my literary taste. They did things like read The Hobbit and LoTR to me starting at age 4, followed by a core curriculum of SF&F, mysteries, essays and poetry. Bedtime (or evening, anyway) stories continued until I was a teenager. I don't recall loathing anything they read to me, and they were pretty catholic in their tastes.

They also did things like suggest books to me, then leave me alone to decide whether or not to read them. Sometimes the choices were poor - once again The Yearling comes to mind - but sometimes they changed my life. My mother commented, offhand, that Oedipous Tyrannos was "the most perfect tragedy ever written", then wandered off while I read most of extant Greek drama in translation. That off the cuff comment when I was about 13 is probably the reason I became keen to study Classical languages, leading to my Latin major.

In other words, they were well-read, and treated being well-read as a valuable trait to develop. They now take great pleasure in having me recommend things to them (I just finished reading The Day the Saucers Came to my mother over the phone. She may end up reading some Gaiman as a result.)

#287 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:21 PM:

Slightly more on-topic, there is a prevalent assumption on this thread that one pays taxes to support a state-funded university system so that one can then go to university.

This is not the point of a state-funded university system. "I'm a taxpayer so I should be able to attend this university" is just using the government as your middleman in purchasing a university education. Don't bother. Go private. It's less administrative hassle all round.

The point of a state-funded university system is to increase the population of university-educated people, and to widen the pool of university students beyond the independently wealthy and the children of the professional classes. It's to ensure that if the next Jonas Salk is born to a gas station attendant, we as a society still get the benefit of his talent.

Your tax dollars (pounds, euros, denarii) come back to you when you go to a doctor who studied at that university, or are represented by a lawyer who did so, or have your children taught by a teacher who did. Not when you go study there yourself - that merely creates an obligation to use the community's gift wisely.

#288 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:33 PM:

My brother took a class in ornamental horticulture at his local junior college, and went on to become a professional in the field, complete with PhD. He now does research and some teaching at the state university (a land-grant school) where he got his BS and PhD. This is in some sense putting back into the system what you've gotten from it.

This is also an example of a career determined by a breadth/general education choice. (That was not a required class!)

#289 ::: ComicGeekGirl ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 06:55 PM:

abi Bravo to your parents, and Bravo to all other parents who do the same thing. I have a 4 year old of my own, and I try to let her taste guide me in guiding her to appropriate materials. (That made more sense in my head).

Sad to say, however, I think that parents like yours, and mine, are a minority. A more hopeful thought is that they are savvy library users, and don't ask for as much help. But the majority of parents that I assist everyday either

1) Don't read themselves, and therefore put no value on their kids reading. The flip side of this is a child who simply does not like to read, being frog-marched into it by their parents.

2) Want to tightly control their kids reading, which usually translates into only reading materials from the parents childhood.

3) But so many restrictions on what the child reads, usually against any kind of human physical interaction and/or "magic" (which seems to cover everything but divine intervention, from an approved diety) that the kid just gives up on leisure time reading.

I don't mean to imply that there aren't parents who influnce their kids for the positive; it's just in my observations, parents seem to bias kids against reading.

(BTW: It's not wrong for a 4 year old to love Gaiman, is it?)

#290 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 10:40 PM:

abi: I do think Catullus is good now and then, and 51 (and 52, for different reasons) are among my favourites. To the point that I have wasted plenty of time producing English translations of them. But really I just don't like his persona. I'm much more of an Ovid fan myself.

Your tax dollars (pounds, euros, denarii) come back to you when you go to a doctor who studied at that university, or are represented by a lawyer who did so, or have your children taught by a teacher who did.

I agree entirely, by the way. Was that on the exam for your UK citizenship? :)

#291 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2006, 11:04 PM:

candle. Forgive a gliss. It was, I confess, a deficiency, but repairing it will take some space.

Thesis: One should not approach a body of fiction from the adversarial viewpoint that it is bad and therefore despised (for whatever definition or description of "bad" one wishes to adopt) because that approach destroys the very reason for reading fiction. It is therefore an invalid approach.

Discussion: Fiction, I once thought, is only for enjoyment, including values of "enjoyment" that are far removed from mere excitement or intrigue or simple wish to find out What Happens Next, though I confess that absent those motivations I find no enjoyment in it. But discussion on this list has modified that position somewhat.

I would now admit that one might gain valuable insights from reading fiction, though I still find them fragile. People say you can prove anything from the Bible, which is not really true, in my opinion, but not a bad first approximation. But good heavens, what could you not prove from a study of some body of narrative fiction?

But if the insights to be gained from reading fiction are therefore fragile, insecurely based, and uncertain, the main and proximate reason for reading fiction remains that one enjoys it despite this. Why then read fiction one hates and despises? The practice destroys the very raison d'etre of narrative. It strikes a blow at its very heart. It destroys narrative as a lively art, a source of joy or consolation or innocent pleasure, and turns it into a - what? A chore. A dutiful drudgery.

But let us stipulate that indeed real, secure insights are to be gained from fiction. Is it not true that fiction one hates is resisted? Does this not mean that any insights contained in it are resisted also? Would it not follow that no matter how deep and great and worthy the themes of a hated narrative might be, they will be resisted and discounted and denied? So even if the fiction were great, even if it were deeply meaningful and insightful for other tastes, if one hates it, it is useless, not merely as a source of pleasure, but as a source of insight as well. So why read it?

Well, it develops critical and reading skills. It develops self-discipline, which is good. As Patrick said, it demonstrates that one has subjected oneself to that sort of disciplined regime, and has proven capable of sucking it up.

Very well. Reading fiction that one hates develops critical and reading skills insofar as one learns to state and logically defend the precise reasons why one hates it, and to elucidate the specific qualities in which it fails. (This is true, of course, only if the teacher is prepared to tolerate that approach. I accept what I have been told here, that most teachers do, though I must confess that it runs somewhat contrary to my own experience.) As has been said here, it might even be true to say that the skills developed by this method are even sharper than the ones developed by reading fiction that is enjoyed, because the analysis will be more closely inspected if one is challenging the prof's reading list, and it needs to be more bulletproof.

But are these skills useful in developing a taste for reading the fiction in question? No. That fiction is still despised. Are they useful in developing a taste for reading fiction in general? No. They are actually opposed to the development of that taste. Who reads an enjoyable, or re-reads a much-loved, novel, so as to tear it to pieces critically? So far as the reading of fiction is concerned, then, these skills are useless.

Perhaps one might urge that adversarial logical analysis of text is a useful skill in other disciplines. In that case, do it with text that should be subjected to that process. History, for example, or philosophy, or theology, or the law. Fiction should not be subjected to adversarial analysis. It can't stand it. It destroys its very reason for being. And the process is to no good purpose, as a process.

Self-discipline. How is this to be defined? From what I can see, it generally means successful subjection of oneself to experiences one dislikes, because they are good for one. I suppose it can be urged that the habit can transfer from one department of life to another, and so therefore should be developed even in the reading of fiction, the main and proximate purpose of which is enjoyment, as I argue above. But this seems to me to be extortionately expensive. One reads fiction one hates in order to develop self-discipline, and thus destroys for one the very reason for reading fiction.

Certainly, one may find - as people here have said - that the fiction is not hated at all. One finds that one enjoys it, after all, if one is exposed to it. I agree (see my last post) that one should expose oneself to the prospect of joy by reading the fiction to see - at a superficial level. But if the only outcome of this exposure is a deepening distaste and the emergence of revolt? Sure, if enjoyment emerges, then one can proceed usefully to serious study. But not unless.

Therefore, I would hold that one should not seriously study fiction one hates, because the process is destructive, and without commensurate gains.

Commentary: Grit your teeth, read Hardy (or Hitler), tear into him, get the grade.

Oh, I did. The grade was even an A, although it was obtained by gritting my teeth and praising him, which is to say that I was rewarded for being a pusillanimous hypocrite and moral coward. It took me decades to understand what I had done - rather like the Mayor of Casterbridge. I wonder if Hardy is having his revenge at last?

Oh, and I shall look up "Under the Greenwood Tree", at least, and give it the once-over sort of read I mentioned. No promises beyond that, mind.

#292 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 02:12 AM:

The grade was even an A, although it was obtained by gritting my teeth and praising him...

Well, by "tear into him" I meant be critical and not praise him regardless - but of course, the circumstances in which you did this account for your approach here.

Most of the rest of what you've written here seems fair enough to me, and I'm happy to agree with it. I should admit that I am an historian, and so in my own discipline the critical approach will work regardless of the text. But in my shadow life as an English professor, I don't think I'd agree with you on the purpose of studying English.

(But I should add that this is not an argument I am attempting to win. Here I just want to state what I think. I'm not even trying to persuade you that I'm right, particularly.)

I think that studying a text you like, and learning to criticise it, *does* provide an enhanced appreciation of it. I think I have learned to like better my copy of Dumas by applying to it the skills I learned in expressing my dislike of Hardy. But obviously I can't prove this, and it may not happen for you.

I also think that the study of English has aims beyond the (enhanced?) appreciation of texts that you like, and indeed I think that likes and dislikes are irrelevant to the intellectual task it promotes. As far as I'm concerned, the study of English should be about analysis, and whether or not I happen to like the object of the analysis it may still be a suitable case for study. As I've said upthread somewhere, I think that whatever English is, it can be done just as effectively with Atlanta Nights as with Beowulf. Although of course it will depend on the precise points you are trying to make regarding the texts.

So what do I think English is, or is for? First of all I think it is most useful for learning to write: not in terms of learning grammar, but in terms of learning how to best use plot, narrative, character and metaphor, and all the other tools of writing (prose and poetry). Perhaps in the US these are not part of English but part of Creative Writing - if so, then I guess this point is irrelevant. And if so, it would certainly make me less respectful of English departments. Certainly I have generally considered English in part to be a kind of practical apprenticeship.

Secondly, I think English promotes the use of ingenuity and argument as applied to the various genres studied within it (prose and poetry). So to some extent English is like philosophy: the aim is to produce the best argument with the tools available, rather than to serve any higher aim. Perhaps that's an idiosyncratic definition of philosophy, but I consider it essential to distinguish philosophy as a skill from theology as an aim. And in this sense I consider English - really, literary criticism - as a skill. This part of English I guess corresponds to practical criticism. Again, I don't think it requires liking the text, any more than a mechanic has to like the cars he works on. (Of course, it may well *help*.)

Thirdly, I suppose academic English is an arena in which aesthetic judgements are to be made. This is the bit that's most difficult if you don't like the books, although even then it isn't impossible: it would just mean a lot of negative judgements. But I find it hard to believe that a conventional English course would consist of nothing but books you dislike. If so, it would indeed be pretty unpleasant. On the other hand - as we were arguing before - I don't think there is any way to blame English professors for this. (Unless, as we agree, they require you to pretend to like the books, for which it is perfectly fair to blame them.)

I don't personally recognise any other purpose than these three in the study of academic English. There may be moral benefits to be gained from reading, but they are not (for me) to be taught in a college course, and they are just as likely to be acquired through private reading as in an official course. And as far as I'm concerned, reading fiction for the moral insights is like reading philosophy for the plot.

In the end, though, my reading of your last post is that you don't think academic English allows you to enjoy your reading more. Fair enough. I don't want to say that it does. But I've given at least two things which I think can be gained from fiction even in the absence of the sheer pleasure of enjoyable reading. These are the things for which I think academic English is valuable, and at which I would hope it is aimed. And for myself, I feel I can appreciate Donne's poetry better now that I understand the rules of form; and that I can appreciate other novels more for having worked to understand what I disliked about 100 Years of Solitude; and that my aesthetic judgements may not be binding on others, but are at least the product of a broader experience and more careful thinking than they otherwise might have been. Although it must be borne in mind that I have only ever studied literature on my own, and never took a single course in the subject.

Still, in the end, I think I agree with you on the point in your last post. Studying English to enhance your enjoyment of fiction makes only as much sense as studying the recipe for ice-cream in order to enhance your enjoyment of the taste. It might work (or it might not), but it isn't exactly the central point of the exercise. If that's what you want out of it, then you are probably right to avoid academic English.

I hope you can agree with this post. I'm going to have to go back to working at some point, and I'm not up to continuing to write messages as long as this...!

#293 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 03:04 AM:

Oh, but I do agree. I do.

Of course that English course didn't only consist of books I disliked. I found myself enjoying Hemingway, though I never thought I would. Severe, yes, but with stature. Gravitas, I suppose. And Graves, but that was about it for modern novelists on that curriculum. The rest was poetry, that year. I actually liked Eliot, once we got away from The Waste Land.

And academic English was enjoyable, so long as I could love the text. The next year I got to do Pope, Swift, Dryden and Johnson. God, that was good. Coprophiliac, rude, irreverent, didactic, quarrelsome, and so, so alive. Any skill in debate I have derives from them. And Shakespeare, not enough. I remember our tutor reading the last lines of King Richard's prison speech from Richard II, the tears in her eyes. And in mine.

And now, having gone to look it up, find it's not the last lines at all, but Act V, 5, 31-41, ending with "but man is With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased By being nothing." Old men forget, you know. I wonder who said that?

#294 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 09:00 AM:

clew, oh, that it were so! The upside to classics is that at least the likelihood of new editions making my copies obsolete is fairly low.

And I am so tickled that there is a Catullus vs Ovid discussion going on right now. One more reason to love Making Light. (I personally enjoy both poets, fostered by an AP Latin Poetry course in my senior year of high school. But then, my high school was unusual...)

#295 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 10:02 AM:

Sorry, this is a bit off the thread of not reading offensive books, and more along the "why read books you hate" line...

But let us stipulate that indeed real, secure insights are to be gained from fiction. Is it not true that fiction one hates is resisted? Does this not mean that any insights contained in it are resisted also? Would it not follow that no matter how deep and great and worthy the themes of a hated narrative might be, they will be resisted and discounted and denied? So even if the fiction were great, even if it were deeply meaningful and insightful for other tastes, if one hates it, it is useless, not merely as a source of pleasure, but as a source of insight as well. So why read it?

Why read it? For the purposes of discussion, of course. In your average English literature course (or any course, or even any book club,) you don't read the book in a vacuum. You read the book and then come to class to discuss it. (It's always been my experience that these discussions go much better when there is at least one person who really likes/appreciates the book and one who really doesn't, but that's not always what happens.) This allows for a more thorough exploration of the book's merits, flaws, overall themes, social context, what-have-you. It also allows students (or readers, if you will) to see things about the book that they didn't see on reading it themselves. Much like coming back to a book you like after many years and finding it's completely different from the book you remember, I find after a discussion on even a book I hated, it's possible to come back to the book with a fresh perspective and a new appreciation for it -- though not necessarily a love of it.

#296 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 12:11 PM:

I was just reading through this thread and reminded myself how tiresome I find the whole "I would prefer not to" aspect of the opting-out law. Then I realized that my compulsory study of the odious (IMHO, of course!) "Bartleby the Scrivener" in high school allowed me to make that observation in the first place! Neat!

So I totally agree with Ceri about the ability to converse with grown-ups being a big reason to study canon. Of course, I also agree with the more important reasons listed in the thread as well, but as someone who never finished college I've found good old Cultural Literacy to be a legitimate reason for holding my nose and choking down the "good for me" stuff.

I am grateful for my "forced" exposure to Dickens and Steinbeck in high school, neither of whom I have the desire to revisit. But I remain peeved that someone very clever on the faculty determined that the students in the advanced English classes should read the lesser known works of Important Authors. Instead of being forced to read "Moby Dick", which has been referenced by many smart grown ups as well as the X-files, we were forced to read "Billy Budd" - which was my first and only failure to slog through. I couldn't even get through the Cliff Notes, it was so damn boring. I took the "F" like a (wo)man, and consequently dropped down to "average" english, wherein I learned much more about 19th century american lit through short story analysis and a better teacher.

#297 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 12:38 PM:

nerdycellist, I actually agree with you. And Ceri (incidentally, Ceri, would that by any chance be the Welsh, short for Ceridwen?)

I mean, it's not because I think you should have been failed for not taking in Billy Budd. Dear God, Melville's lesser fiction, spare me days, etc. It's because my distaste for Hardy has started so many interesting conversations that when I get to wherever he's gone, I'll owe him a pint of scrumpy. Mind you, if it's where I think we'll both be, the pint'll be a bit warm...

#298 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 03:11 PM:

In the more argumentative parts of this thread, others have said what I think clearly and in detail, so I won't add to the fray. Instead, I'll address the claim made by several people that no one learns to appreciate literature from high school English class. May I offer myself as a counterexample?

I learned to enjoy Shakespeare in high school--actually, I'm profoundly grateful to the teacher that taught us how to appreciate him. First you read a plot summary. Then you go to see the play itself, because theatre is meant to be watched. The actors' tone of voice and body language make all the difference in comprehension. (You read the summary first so that if you miss a line, you don't lose track of what's going on.) Afterwards, you read the script to catch the bits that slipped by you. I've shared this process with people who thought Shakespeare was the height of inaccessibility, and it works for just about everyone.

I also liked the Great Gatsby, mostly because we learned how to dance the Charleston. I liked the discussions around Moby Dick although I would never have wanted to read it without the support group. I liked Greek tragedy and Ibsen because I identified with Medea and Nora. I liked To His Coy Mistress and the other poems of the same school because, well, they were dirty (even if not explicit).

Of course, there were also plenty of works that I didn't like. But really, what snotty intellectual pleasure can compare with the sense of superiority one feels on being able to articulate why one despises Dickens or Garcia Marquez? The enjoyment I've gotten over the years in discussions like this one far outweighs the horrid summer in which I had to read both One Hundred Years of Solitude and Great Expectations.

#299 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 03:23 PM:

Clew -- it was free because we then had socialised education in Britain. And to your half-joke and reference to the other thread, you did note that I entirely support copyright ending with the author's death or at worst fourteen years after?

#300 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 04:42 PM:

I confess, I simply never warmed to Ovid. Catullus was my bit of intellectual rough, I think, the bad boy of Latin poetry. He's a big softie at heart - 51 being a prime example - but I liked the raw emotion.

Ovid always seemed a little to controlled.

#301 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 05:47 PM:

Ovid always seemed a little too controlled.

Yeah, that's what I see as the difference too. Ovid clearly could do everything he needed to in Latin poetry, and he didn't care who knew it. His whole project looks like it was intended to make it unnecessary for anyone else to write Latin poetry ever again. For some reason I like that.

Catullus, on the other hand, always annoyed me with the 'rebel' persona. I think that annoys me just as much when poets (or rock stars, and so on) do it today. I like artists who offer the impression that they know they are exercising a certain level of skill, and who expect you to like it. Not artists who affect not to care.

And there is also the whole issue of Catullus' various threats of sexual punishment against men who had accused him of effeminacy in writing love poems to Lesbia. The lurches into unpleasant macho sexuality put me off. Ovid is at least more discreet and urbane (although arguably no less macho). It's Aramis vs. Porthos.

On the other hand, Catullus probably wrote more memorable poems, and he's a hell of a lot easier to translate. The fact that I don't like him no doubt tells you more about me than about him or his poetry.

#302 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 06:24 PM:

candle,

On the other hand, Catullus probably wrote more memorable poems, and he's a hell of a lot easier to translate. The fact that I don't like him no doubt tells you more about me than about him or his poetry.

I think my preference for Catullus says rather a lot about me. I'm not entirely certain I'm proud of that. I would point out - somewhat defensively - that my taste in C is an aberration. Like I said, my bit of intellectual rough.

#303 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2006, 06:25 PM:

Mmmm, Aramis the Yendi.

(Why are you all looking at me like that?)

#304 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 05:03 AM:

Dave L: I'd respectfully suggest then that the pain of reading Hardy may have been part of the price of discovering Richard II. Which *I* had to find all by myself, this year, in the gutter (if the inestimable Lea will forgive me for describing her livejournal so rudely).

And possibly by the joy of another student who bounced right off of Richard but who had been looking for Hardy all of their life, and not known this.

Because really, you don't know until you try, and one teacher can only properly teach so many books per class. You just have to hand them out and hope, at some point.

Also, I am glad you got your A+, because on the evidence you have in fact read and understood Hardy in an intelligent and critical manner and learned quite a lot about English Literature from it -- including, but not limited to, the fact that there's a whole school of it you yourself have no use for, so as far as I can tell you TOTALLY deserved said mark.

I know you know that, but I just wanted to say it.

#305 ::: Ceri ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 09:08 AM:

Dave L: By your reasoning, then, there are several authors I owe a beer to (many of them living), since hating their work has led to so many interesting conversations. However, I'm not just talking about liking/hating the work (and I think I wasn't clear) Having two sides on it leads to discussion, but discussion goes way beyond the merits/flaws of a book. Example:

One of the first books my SF book club read was "Stranger in a Strange Land". The book is blatantly sexist and homophobic in parts. But reading the book led us to a really interesting discussion of art and religious philosophy. The book club went on for three years, but I'd say it's one of the best discussions we've ever had. I thought then (and still think) that if there were to be a "required reading" list for neo-Paganism, that book should be on it, despite the sexism, because of way it influenced some parts of the neo-Pagan movement.

So reading the fiction isn't just about how well its written, or what happens next, but is also the ideas it contains and how they influence us. We can pick up some of it on our own, but discussion brings out what we've missed (particularly in a classroom setting where you're learning to look for these things). Someone who refused to read Stranger on the basis that it offended their personal beliefs would miss all this.

(Oh, and yes and no on the Ceridwen thing. My name is taken from Ceridwen, but my full name is actually Ceri. Sort of like being named Mike, rather than Michael).

#306 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2006, 09:29 AM:

Ceri: Exactly so!

And my sister's middle name is exactly the same as yours, for the same reason.

#307 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 10:35 AM:

BTW, inspired by your entry, I posted about my own college experience. The short-short version is that Brandeis University (a Jewish-sponsored school with a majority-Jewish student body) required the Book of Matthew as one of the few mandatory readings for all sections of the mandatory freshman humanities classes.

I was appalled (in a similar manner to the Arizona student) but knuckled under and read it, and later realized why the school was right to require it of us.

I explain further in my post how I feel I benefitted, but it seems to be exactly the situation this law covers. Had the law been into effect, it would've been detrimental to my understanding of the world.

Anyway, anybody here arguing against the law should feel free to reference my example, which is why I'm sharing it.

#308 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2006, 11:24 AM:

The bill was shot down in a 17-12 vote. This time, at least.

Arizona Republic story

#309 ::: Amy Sterling Casil ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 01:10 PM:

Candle wrote:
>>So what do I think English is, or is for? First of all I think it is most useful for learning to write: not in terms of learning grammar, but in terms of learning how to best use plot, narrative, character and metaphor, and all the other tools of writing (prose and poetry). Perhaps in the US these are not part of English but part of Creative Writing - if so, then I guess this point is irrelevant. And if so, it would certainly make me less respectful of English departments. Certainly I have generally considered English in part to be a kind of practical apprenticeship.>>

Reading the original story and situation, it's clearly a response to student protest against "forced learning." The response is retarded and at a level that has nothing to do with the classroom. If student protests had arisen about being asked to read something that bothered them in some way, that's something I see as being dealt with on the classroom, and potentially department (functioning department) level. It's worthy of discussion. It's not worthy of "not assigning" if students say they don't like something. The discussion should include all concerned. That in itself would probably constitute more of a learning experience than the assignment of material to which students are resistant and the corresponding ramming down their throat.

I'm arrogant enough to think that I could teach anything - porno or irreligious or not. It's all in the context in which something is presented. As an example, I taught (successfully) a number of conservative Muslim students in diverse classrooms that would probably DIE reading Ice Storm if it wasn't presented to them in context first - if they were not warned, it was not explained, etc. There is nothing that could not be construed as "controversial" if open discussion is in the classroom. No matter what it is, there will be differing opinions. Bringing those to light represents learning.

By the same token, I think I'd rather DIE than teach literature in service of teaching English. The point of most general ed college English is to impart basic writing and thinking skills. Literature is seldom the best vehicle in service of that; of course it's what comprises most college "English" courses, particularly at unenlightened, impractical Higher Institutions of Learning.

It's "Politics and the English Language," and I would wager less than 15% of the students who read that can truly "get" that essay's cogent point. It is too remote in time from them and too "foreign" in its manner of expression.

In the U.S., the theoretical or stated goal of college English classes is to teach methods of writing and thinking that can produce cogent responses to material that is studied and learned, to teach skills of research, and in my classes, to teach rhetoric or what is sometimes referred to as "critical thinking." Students come in unable to do these things, even the brightest. As an experienced teacher, I've come to realize (and no, I'm not currently teaching and may not return) that the ability to do these things may just come naturally with age and maturity. The lack may not be because of all the "crappy" high school English teachers and programs, but just because few students are ready. Part of the four year program is to achieve competency (and in the case of the best - excellence) in these areas. The job of the grunt English teacher is to impart these skills that are at the heart of the liberal arts education, to retain the student in the institution, and to, one would hope, inspire an enjoyment of and a desire for learning and personal growth.

As far as students being ready, being inspired in high school and so-on, I used to assign writing related to "mentors" or people that had a positive influence. About a third of the time, teachers were chosen and "inspirational" experiences often related to either English or History (that's sometimes called "Social Studies"). I can think of one student that presented a real learning/change experience as opposed to "I really related to having _this_ crammed down my throat." And God, that was the worst. These were students who'd been indoctrinated so thoroughly, at such a young age that they hadn't so much learned as imprinted like a duckling on the first thing they saw.

However, the real learning/growth experience that was described to me that made an impression was a sort of delicate, thoughtful young woman who'd realized something important in the course of her formerly-hated History class. The teacher - obviously a great one - had in the course of teaching about the history of slavery asked the students to lie down in areas of the classroom, matching the arrangements of the people being transported from Africa on slave ships. He even had them duplicate "shackles" and asked them to stay in place a long time. This imparted even to the least sensitive students something real, that sparked real desires to learn more - and gave a sense of what it must have been like.

Whenever I read this type of information, it strikes me as a bureaucratic response to student agitation over bad teaching. An engaged student of any persuasion probably would read anything. A talented teacher knows that the passive act of reading and chatting, or, heaven forbid, teacher's favorite of movie-showing and chatting, might give the student a pleasant experience at best.

That's what it is. And I really don't like to/am resistant to teaching "Literature" as anything other than the study of literature (which is upper-division) for this reason. Because it is passive. It addresses one form of learning and communication. It does not make things real and it seldom activates thinking. People think that just because they read fiction and get something out of it, everybody else could/would/should. Yes it does speak to "forced learning" which is no learning at all.

#310 ::: Amy Sterling Casil ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 01:36 PM:

Greg posted the link to the happy article reporting that the dopes didn't get their way.

From the article: "We're not banning the professor from using that material in their class," Verschoor argued. "We're not banning that professor from the college. We're just saying an adult student has the right of their conscience to object rather than subject themselves to that material."

And this is a classic rights v. responsibilities issue. My understanding of the original bill was that it sought to obviate any type of penalty to a student that refused to do assigned coursework due to "reasons of conscience." Sort of like applying the concept of "conscientious objector" to the English classroom.

I believe that the idea of a "conscientious objector" means that a person who is religiously mandated (as part of an organized religion of some type) not to kill, and who therefore can't do active military duty that involves potential killing, gets the option of alternative, nonviolent service that should bear no negative consequences to them.

I do love this. I think it is a student's dream. I could see this concept being extended to math, science, history, and virtually any other subject - and don't forget about P.E.!

Heretofore, failure to do the work assigned in any class carried the consequence of an "F." Cheating, which is the substitution of one type of "work" very different from the work that was assigned, also carried the consequence of an "F" - either on the assignment, or for the entire course.

That article argued on the merits of various works of literature that were either protested, had been banned, or had caused "offense" in some way.

But that is not the argument. Students have the right to refuse to do any assignment in any class. No law needs to be passed to "allow" them to do so. By the same token, students also have the responsibility, when they take a course, to fulfill their part of the syllabus (as teachers do to fulfill theirs). Their failure to complete work - regardless of the reason - should result in an "F." Which stands for "failure." So, that's the consequence. How stupid are these legislators, anyway? They need to go back to class.

#311 ::: Amy Sterling Casil ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2006, 01:51 PM:

For those that still don't "get it," all of these efforts to direct what is or is not presented in a classroom (I guess this would include the curriculum insertion of Intelligent Design by outside, non-educational entities like legislators or school boards or PTA groups) amount to inmates bidding to run the asylum.

All the flaws, failures, idiocies and dogmatic sophistry found in the classroom have their equivalent in student obstinacy, dishonesty, unenlightened arrogance, and flat-out laziness.

I was speaking to the instructor's need to combat these student problems with genuine instruction aimed toward achieving some type of learning. The fact that some teachers are stupid pedants does not obviate the need for students to carry their share of the burden. It's all part of the mix.

The last time I checked, no legislature could pass a law mandating competence, much less excellence. And this is so not a new argument. One might ask Thwackum, Square, and Bradley Headstone their opinions. Or Tom Jones and Charlie Hexam.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.