Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I Can't Read That!

Dean Dad comments on a problem we all have run into --

We’ve moved aggressively to include more high school students in college-level classes with our regular students. In some ways, this is very much to the good: students who are bored to tears by a high-school curriculum or offended by high-school culture get a different option, our enrollments get a boost, and some kids who might not have thought college was for them find out it isn’t so bad. Some of the smaller high schools can’t afford to run sections of advanced classes, so it’s easier to send the students here. And some of the home-schooled kids outpace their parents’ expertise (or facilities!) in certain subjects before 18, and need someplace to go. (This is especially true in the lab sciences and foreign languages.)

I worry, though, that as the influx of younger students (and their parents!) increases, we’ll gradually come under increased pressure to make every corner of our curriculum inoffensive to the younger set.We’ve had issues before with younger students in ethics classes, when the discussion turned to premarital or extramarital sex, and we’ve also had issues in literature classes, where the full panoply of human experiences is fair game. In both cases, parents have asked for alternate assignments. Deleting every ‘adult theme’ from Western literature means deleting a hell of a lot of literature. Even seemingly-innocuous courses like Art History can raise issues -- do you really want to be on the phone with an angry father, assuring him that “The Rape of the Sabine Women” really is part of the Western art tradition? It’s not much fun.

As Dean Dad goes on to note that it's not just HS kids who want to -- or whose parents want them to -- opt out of some of these assignments: he's had, and I've had, and I've had colleagues who have had, adult students who demand to be allowed not to read/study texts assigned to them, on the grounds that those texts are politically or morally offensive to them.

For instance: at a previous university, I had a student refuse to read a poem by Carolyn Forche, because it had the "F-word" in it*.

For instance: at the same university, a different student refused to read "Sonny's Blues," by James Baldwin, because the main character had been a drug addict. (She didn't think she should have to soil her mind with reading about that sort of life style.)

For instance: at another university, one of my colleagues had a student who, in a class on literary criticism, refused to study psychological criticism, because the student "was a Christian." (Uh -- what?)

For instance: here in Arkansas, one of my fellow professors got complaints because, and I quote, "she made us read a book about Lesbians." (No, this wasn't me, even though I did.)

My students who don't want to read the work I'm assigning sometimes ask me for alternative assignments.

No, I always say.

This is the required work for this class. I didn't pick it on a whim. I picked it because it's what you need to read for this class. You can read it or not read it -- it's a free country, after all -- but, like any other act of civil disobedience, you'll then have to deal with the consequences.

That's why they call it education.

*Here's the poem, btw -- I can't resist including it b/c it's so brilliant:

The Colonel

WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD IS TRUE. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said.
Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.


zelda1 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
zelda1 said...

I am of the opinion that when you take a class, well you take it all. I understand there are some high school students in some of the classes. But their parents have agreed to expose them to an early more adult life, and I'm sure it isn't any more or less mature than they have already seen on television or at the movies, and I think their age should not be a factor in getting them in or out of assignments. Now, I do believe that if a child of ten is so brilliant that they are able to take some college classes, there might be some preparation for the class by their parent, in the way of explanations. Otherwise, you sign up, you read it. My Latin teacher is always apologizing to me for the face fuckery and ass fuckery going on in Catullus. I tell him that it doesn't bother me; however, what bothers me is his apologizing to me as if I have never heard those words or those concepts or actions.
I should tell him that I was saying Fuck before he was even thought of, but then he would really know my age, and for now, he thinks 45 is way old. Way old in deed! I liked the poem. I had to delete the previous post because I am still under the influence of valium and something else and messed up somewhat badly.

delagar said...

Speaking of ass-fucking, guess what's playing in the Fort? Brokeback Mountain! Who would have believed it?

Bardiac said...

Great post!

Except really, wouldn't it have been GREAT while I was in school if I could have refused all the sexist content and readings?

I probably could have only taken math and chem, though... they were as close to non-sexist as my high school education got, thanks to decent teachers.