Monday, February 20, 2006

The "Opt-Out" Idea in Arizona

From Mesa, Ariz., comes this. According to today's story from the AP, the Arizona State Senate Committee on Higher Education last week approved a bill that would force college instructors to offer alternative coursework for students who deem certain assignments offensive to their sexuality, morality or religion.

Think about that for a sec. "Offensive to their sexuality, morality or religion." Who decides what that is? Well, according to the bill, the student decides.

The bill was intro'd by Arizona State Senator Thayer Verschoor (Republican) after a community college student complained to him that he was assigned Rick Moody's The Ice Storm. The "offensive" scenes included sexual acts and drug use. (I've only seen the Ang Lee movie version, which depicted rather mild pot-smoking and pill-popping--the movie's set in the 1970s--and one grown-up party featuring a "key party" for wife-swapping.)

The bill would allow college students to "opt out" of assignments. It would require profs to come up with non-offensive assignments that carry equal weight.

Welcome to a new and treacherous slippery slope.

Quoted in the story is a teacher of poli-sci at Scottsdale Community College: "You couldn't have a college if students could simply veto the assignment. They could simply say, `Give me something else to read,' and it would make my job impossible."

You said it, brutha.

Imagine writing exams for students who've opted out of certain sections of the syllabus. Try coming up with alternative reading and viewing for those students who think In Cold Blood is too violent--and besides, it was written by a homo--or who object to the incestuous plot elements of Psycho or Chinatown (I mention those because I use them both in the film criticism course I teach). What are the opt-out options for those? Bambi? Nope, Mom dies in that one and it's anti-hunting. Citizen Kane? Hmmm, might offend someone's morality because Charles Foster Kane has an extramarital affair. The Sound of Music? That one casts Nazis in a poor light and it's pretty pro-Catholic.

There goes all of Shakespeare, too. I can't begin to count how many morally, sexually and religiously offensive elements there are in Will's works. And most every other great book, poem, play, opera, film, name it. What's left? The Complete Works of Charles Schulz? Will that be a lower- or upper-level course?

We're entering real 1984 territory with this. (As if we haven't already been living under the burning gaze of Big Brother and his Ministry of Love for the past six years.)

If this sort of law starts to spread to the other 49 states, we might as well turn off the lights and lock all the doors and stay home. Teaching at a university will be like working in a rather strict asylum--with the inmates in charge.


Blogger chittavrtti said...

I was under the impression that college was a place to broaden one's horizons. College or University being a place to learn more about the world,to have the time and opportunity to explore ideas one would never experience otherwise. From this entry it would seem that college is a place to polish one's whining and work evasion techniques.***CV

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're going to have to nix the Charles Schultz, too. That Peppermint Patty/Marcie thing was always a little iffy. And Charlie Brown in that obviously dysfunctional relationship with Lucy and the football? That will never fly either.

9:28 PM  
Anonymous andrea said...

Yeah, second that about 'broadening horizons' ... but I also realize that people do have limits to what they personally consider offensive.

Here is how you remedy this : do not take the class with the potentially offensive material. I haven't seen In Cold Blood nor do I know anything about it, but I would *not* take a class where, say, Sin City was required viewing because that level of gratuitous violence is way, way, way past my comfort level. I'm smart enough to know this, and although I welcome classes that challenge my perception of the world, there's a line I don't think I can cross in that particular regard.

Now for people who find every last thing 'offensive' (say any movie with sex or drug use) ... maybe the university is not the right place for them. Bible school or technical school (where you learn a skill and do not have to confront sticky questions about humanity) might be a better option for that particular person's higher education. But as long as people are going to say "it's up to the student" to determine their limits - which it is - they also need to realize that it is the student's responsibility to realize that maybe university-based higher education isn't really where they belong, not dumb down the university curriculum into a padded-room version of what it should be.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Cleis said...

Funny how the Right is always going on about "PC liberals" on campus censoring their speech, or some such nonsense, yet they're the ones who support this ludicrous and dangerous bill.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

How about this - you declare yourself to be a Christo-fascist and we just hand you a diploma without you ever having to actually get an education at all, because we all know you really just want the piece of paper. Christianity has been the enemy of learning since they razed the Library at Alexandria, and if they get their way, we're going to be treated to another of their goddamned Dark Ages. I'm so sick of this relentless assault on common sense.

2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would just offer the slight correction that this bill is not the "slippery slope," this is the bottom of the damn hill that academic freedom has been shoved down, and that moaning from the pile is the death throes of true education in America.

2:53 AM  
Anonymous Amanda said...

How disheartening! I remember taking a class in college where we were required to watch a film I knew would be too difficult for me to watch, particularly in a big dark lecture hall, but I went and rented it on my own and got a friend to watch it with me and talk me through the parts that I had to cover me eyes and ears for. I knew I wasn't going to get as much out of the conversations on the film as other students and possibly take a grade hit on the next paper, but I made that choice and moved on. I didn't expect accomodation because the instructor chose to show a movie that was going to creep me out!

7:23 AM  
Anonymous JohnO said...


I really do think you have to recheck your history. The Library at Alexandria was a christian library - the largest library of it's time. The Dark Ages were hardly 'christian', it was feudal. Furthermore you should know that Constantine altered the the course of Christianity by adopting it as the state religion, and many other things.

Anyway, to the topic at hand - as a Christian - I can say that this is a really stupid idea. I am against home schooling on principle because the kids don't get out and learn to deal with issues on their own. And if you're going into college with that same attitude, well you're not going to make it very far in this life, nor the second one.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous SoontobeAssociateProfessor said...

So, does this mean that, as a faculty member, I can refuse to read (and give credit to) a student paper that I find morally objectionable?

Seriously, if this legislation is passed, I really think that those of us of the more liberal persuasion should also take full advantage of it. For example...

- Say I find the captialist system to be lacking in compassion? Great -- I can pretty much blow off two semesters of economics.

- I ought to be able to sail through an astronomy degree if my belief system will only accept astrology.

Even more seriously, I cannot imagine anything more destructive to the already shaky state of higher education in the US. About the only thing worse than this legislation is my creeping fear theat sooner rather than later, we're going to see standardized NCLB-type testing required. Don't even get me started....

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take away education and kiss democracy bye. It's that simple.

9:19 AM  
Blogger J said...

I like the idea above, letting the professors refuse to read any papers that are offensive to their own sexuality, morality, or religion. That would mean all the right-wing zealot sorority girls would fail. Awesome.

If they want alternative coursework let's give them a bible and send them to a convent. There they can conitnue on their quest for a reality devoid of sex, drugs, or -gasp- people who aren't Christian or conservative! Besides, undergrads see things way worse than the events that went down in the Ice Storm in their dorms every Friday night. But oh--add a literary element to it and the world just spontaneously combusts. Good Grief.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's really gotten to point of insanity when someone would suggest a law that if students don't like what they are learning that they can close their eyes and ears and act like it never happened. What's next? Will the media have to stop reporting on stories that are offensive? Doesn't this sound a bit like living in China?

And j said above, "There they can conitnue on their quest for a reality devoid of sex, drugs, or -gasp- people who aren't Christian or conservative!" We all know Republicans never do anything unethical or against their Christian values.

I mean imagine if a Republican President's teenage daughters got in trouble for drinking (gasp) alcohol! You know that would never happen! And what if the Republican governor of Florida had a daughter that was addicted to prescription drugs and got arrested for a false prescription. That would never happen! And what if the same Republican governor's son got arrested for a DUI. You know it! It would never happen. I mean these people are the epitome of perfection, and they don't need any offensive books or professors to taint those perfect little heads.

I mean how offensive would those scenarios be? Because you know that liberals have no moral values, right? I mean we're always offending others, and we never do anything good for society.

Conservative Christians are sooo much better than we are. They preach human rights and morality, right? But does that mean they actually have to live by what they preach because for goodness sakes, preaching about being moral is sooo much better than living it. : )

Thank goodness no one that is Christian would ever do anything bad. I mean think about the Republican politician's kids that forgo the immorality of drinking and doing drugs. Thank goodness for the countless TV evangelists that were never immoral or offensive when they ripped people off. They are all so wonderful and pious and pure. Let's not clutter those innocent minds with our educational material. We wouldn't want to corrupt those sweet little heads of theirs because they only want to do good things in the world.

No bad bad bad bad my friend in the face...shit...shit...the newspapers are going to pick up this story...fucking a...I'll keep this a secret for a while...I wish I could shoot a reporter...ah dammit!...oh yeah, no bad news...I feel sooo much better...where's the beer?

It's just another day in the life of a conservative Christian.

Shhhh! No profanity or violence. We're fighting a war so that we don't have to live that way. We don't want to offend these precious disciples. Jesus is so proud of the right. : )

11:04 AM  
Blogger distracted diva said...

Forget Shakespeare. If you want a book that goes into great detail about sex, violence, death, and morally objectionable acts, have I got a winner for you: The Bible.

Seriously, it's rife with all the same stuff that these folks prounounce "objectionable."


11:14 AM  
Blogger Average Jane said...

My employer recently had me sign a statement about potentially offensive items being presented in a non-compulsory roundtable type setting.

Every now and then, there's a meeting where employees get togethe and share what we see as "good" and "bad" advertising... apparently in the past someone got offended and now we all have to sign a statement that we won't hold the company or its officers liable if we deem that the material is inappropriate - for whatever reason.

Ridiculous, I say. *Anything* and *Everything* is offensive to someone.

I only wish that these same "offended" persons would be equally moved by their morality to make positive changes, instead of using the government to reach even deeper into the lives if private citizens.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it quote humorous that some commenters choose to make this into a "Christianity" issue rather than a "too much government" issue.

No one said that this crybaby student is/was a Chrstian...

Amusing. Now it's about Jesus Christ.

*shakes head* Jesus Christ.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Gene said...

unrelated, but worth a read:

Why It's All About Me

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a Christianity issue because Republicans have taken claim to Jesus. Nevermind the fact that liberals go to church, too, but I think Republicans have taken claim to Jesus and morality, right. That's what they preach? That's the funny thing about it. Everything that was said was in jest, but let me guess. You are offended. Could have guessed that one.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Offended, no - but I do think it's amusing.

As a Christian (and not a Republican), I don't buy that Christianity belongs to the Republicans (or vice versa) any more than I buy that bigotry is exclusively white.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let's get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father." 33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, "Last night I lay with my father. Let's get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father." 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 36 So both of Lot's daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab [1] ; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi [2] ; he is the father of the Ammonites of today\
Genesis 19:30-38

4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom--both young and old--surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." 6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
Genesis 19:4-8

15 If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: 16 Then it shall be, when he maketh his sons to inherit that which he hath, that he may not make the son of the beloved firstborn before the son of the hated, which is indeed the firstborn: 17 But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.
Deuteronomy 21:15-17

Eh, not offensive.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As a Christian (and not a Republican), I don't buy that Christianity belongs to the Republicans (or vice versa) any more than I buy that bigotry is exclusively white."

Right, but aren't Republicans really playing that Christian card? That's my point. They talk like they are blemish free and that anyone who isn't a Republican is vile and offensive. I consider myself very moral, and I'm not a Republican. That was the point.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous David said...

You'd be welcome in Europe, where you can live in such interesting places such as Amsterdam, London, Berlin or Paris, where people think ethically while not having problems when they deal with opposing opinions or styles.

Things doesn't have to be like in Arizona.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Yvette said...

After reading this post, I promptly wrote an email to all my friends studying sciences in Arizona. I suggested they opt out of stuff because the world is flat, six thousand years old, and everything revolves around it.
(Hey I know I would try it if I were there just to see what would happen!)

5:12 PM  
Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Wow... talk about someplace to cross off the potential job list...

I can't imagine the nightmare trying to teach philosophy under these conditions. I'd have people opting out of all the hard stuff. I wonder if I can require that they write an argument paper about why they should be allowed to opt out and then come discuss it with me face-to-face before getting the alternative assignment. I'm SURE that would eliminate 90% of the requests.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"offensive to their sexuality"?

If I am transgendered, can I refuse to read anything that does not exclusively feature other transgendered people?

If I am a sadist, can I refuse to read anything that does not exclusively feature other sadists?

If I am attracted only to rabbits, can I demand that you assign Watership Down?

Ahhh, so many possibilities for students to act out their control issues here. Good luck all... I am jumping the academic ship after this semester. I can no longer babysit rich and spoiled children.

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems a natural reaction to the liberal fiction that all cultures are equal.

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

**"Right, but aren't Republicans really playing that Christian card? That's my point. They talk like they are blemish free and that anyone who isn't a Republican is vile and offensive. I consider myself very moral, and I'm not a Republican. That was the point."**

*Some* Republicans really play the Christian card. Just like *Some* Democrats play the tree-hugging hippie card. And *Some* Jewish people are stingy. And *Some* black people are in gangs. And *Some* white people are racist.

I don't think an entire group is claiming anything - it's just the loudest idiots who stand out... and, right or wrong, we judge many people wrongly because of those idiots.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Library at Alexandria was not always a Christian institution. The original foundation began well before Christ (circa 283 BC / BCE) and was staffed by peoples of different cultures over time. How exactly the Library was distroyed and by whom is open to debate, partially because all of the sources about its destruction at different times are highly problematic sources.

To echo many people here, this new attack on academic freedom scares the pants off me. I teach history. Well, now aparently I will be teaching a much sanitized version of history where no one ever did anything illegal, immoral, or unethical to anyone else. All I will need to put on my syllabi is that "Things Happened."

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There can be good reasons for an opt-out of a book idea. At my high school, the opt out option for given for the senior year literature classes. This was for two specific books: The Color Purple and The Bluest Eye. The reason: the topics of rape and incest. The teachers understood that even in an all-female environment, students who were the victims of rape and/or incest would not feel comfortable being in the room while these topics are discussed, especially if the conversation turns to "well she deserved it" or "she should have felt this".

8:46 AM  
Blogger Morgaine said...

JohnO said...

I really do think you have to recheck your history. The Library at Alexandria was a christian library - the largest library of it's time. The Dark Ages were hardly 'christian', it was feudal. Furthermore you should know that Constantine altered the the course of Christianity by adopting it as the state religion, and many other things.

You are incorrect. It was clearly a Christian mob that attacked Alexandria and flayed Hypatia's flesh from her bones with abalone shells. From my site:

" the light of learning was deliberately quenched by the Christian Church"

Adapted from The First Sex by Elizabeth Gould Davis, p. 57

Did you know that "Orpheus [of Thrace] is said by both Plato and Plutarch to have had access to ancient knowledge lost in Hellenic times"? He knew, for example, that the sun and not the earth was the center of our universe, that other universes with other suns existed in the vast-ness of space, and that other worlds besides our own revolved around our sun.

Things we knew before the Christians brought you the Dark Ages:

all these things were known to the sages of the pre-Aristotelian world of the
7th and 6th centuries B.C.E.

Pythagoras (582-496 BCE):
The plurality of worlds
The sun-centered universe
The theory of cataclysmic evolution
Periodic shifting of the poles
Spherical shape of the earth

Epicurus (341-270 BCE) :
Atomic theory

Philostratus (170-245 CE):
The circulation of the blood
(discovered by Sir William Harvey in 1628)

The theory of evolution (2400 years before Darwin)

"Both Pythagoras and Epicurus were among the ancient philosophers whose works were deliberately destroyed during the Dark Ages of Europe when, as Gibbon charges, the light of learning was deliberately quenched by the Christian Church.26 Thus over two millennia were to pass before Kepler, Galileo and Copernicus rediscovered that which Orpheus, Aristarchus, and Pythagoras had proclaimed to the ancients and before Albert Einstein stumbled upon the ancient atomic theory of Epicurus.

The theory of evolution too, twenty-four hundred years before Darwin, had been known to Anaximander but was later discredited by Aristotle.28 Aristotle, "the wisest of the pagans," [sic] was revered by the early Christians, who therefore preserved his works while criminally destroying the works of his betters. He was a herald of medieval ignorance, an unwitting ally of the church fathers. It was because of Aristotle's denial of the ancient truth, known to the Sumerians, the Chaldeans, and the early Greeks, that the earth was a sphere revolving around the sun, that the Christian Church was able for so long to defend its dogma that the earth was a platform supported by the columns of hell and roofed by the vault of heaven, over which the sun obligingly rose and set." (emphasis mine)

Where would we be if we hadn't been set back a couple of thousand years by Christian zealots? How far back might the modern Christian zealots put us if they destroy our education system as they are attempting to do in Texas and Kansas? If they get rid of our right to privacy? If they gain the power to burn books again?

Your "history" Johno, has been through the patriarchal sieve.

10:31 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

I recommend reading "Ado," by Connie Willis.

It's a short story about an english teacher revising Shakespeare texts based on PC culture gone mad, including such variants as "The gravediggers," objected to on the grounds that they depict mortuary operators in an unsanitary light.

11:26 PM  

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