Skipping The Summer Reading

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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68 Responses

  1. Richard Hershberger says:

    With apologies for commenting on the most trivial aspect of the essay, I was left wondering why the College of Arts and Sciences at UC Santa Barbara didn’t send me a letter telling me to read The Blind Watchmaker. Then I looked up its publication date: about the time I graduated from UCSB. Now get off my lawn, child!

    Also, I would submit that paradise would not require handy cans of turpentine to remove the gobs of tar you picked up on the beach. Pro tip: you probably don’t want to use turpentine for the gob in your hair, but vegetable oil works pretty well, too.Report

    • Chris in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      I read The Blind Watchmaker again a couple years ago, wondering whether I should try to get my son to read it. It doesn’t hold up so well. The Selfish Gene is still pretty interesting, though. I just had a difficult time reading it knowing what Dawkins would become. Like Elton John, it’d been better if he’d just retired at the end of the 70s.Report

    • Wait, how many of us are there running around Ordinary Times? Sound off, fellow Gauchos!Report

      • I refuse to belong to any club that would have me for a member.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko says:

        When I was there, the student paper put out a call for better names the Gauchos, on the entirely reasonable grounds that Argentinian cowboys were very nearly entirely unconnected with Santa Barbara. The best suggestion was that we should be the UCSB Unsightly Offshore Oil Derricks.

        I think my timing was better that yours. I spent two years in the dorms. Things were pretty loose. There were guys brewing beer in the dorms, and one guy set up a still, and it wasn’t uncommon to have puffs of non-tobacco smoke come under the door. By the time I left they had pretty much cracked down on all that. After two years I moved to Isla Vista–speaking of paradise, what a dump that was! But it had character, with a strong hippie vibe: an honest-to-God leftie coffee house, long before Starbucks; a genuine head shop; a hippie food co-op; genuine hippies sleeping in Anisqoyo Park; etc. Most of that was gone by the time I left, replaced by yuppie clothing stores and the like. I haven’t been back in decades, but looking at it in Google Street View, it looks like it is still a dump, but with more chain stores than back in the day. People seem to still ride their bikes down the middle of the street, so there is that.Report

        • Yeah, it was starting that commercial, but not visual, transformation. I’m told smoking generally is down, whether tobacco or otherwise. In my day, smoking in the dorms wasn’t allowed but stepping outside for a smoke was tolerated and no one cared what it was you were smoking or how it smelled. In IV, of course, everything went.

          McBurley’s Burgers closed my second year (with Delta Tau Delta getting shut down their best customer base evaporated); Freebirds Burritos became a whole lot more Chipotle-like; Starbucks replaced Cafe Roma and Subway replaced Javan’s. Boo.

          At least Woodstock’s Pizza kept its old-school vibe and its awesome sauce-filled crust.

          The worst development since my graduation, though was on campus: they closed the Pub in the UCen! What used to be the Pub is now the base of some massive cone-shaped mini-Galleria of yuppie commerce, and where you used to splurge on a pitcher of Bass Ale you now grab a latte and go. While I’m sure there’s still places students gather for bull sessions, there’s less beer and more coffee fueling them, which has to impact the quality of the discussion profoundly.Report

          • Alan Scott in reply to Burt Likko says:

            Holy Crap, you guys have a Woodstock Pizza too? I thought that was a SLO thing.

            (does a bit of research)

            Huh. There are apparently six. All in college towns/neighborhoods, all but one in California.Report

  2. Glyph says:

    Awesome post Burt.

    I have not read Fun Home, and I am going to sidestep, somewhat, the RFRA and legal questions. But I own an Alan Moore (one of the most respected comic writers of all time)/Melinda Gebbie graphic novel entitled Lost Girls.

    Moore set out to make a pornographic comic. This is not a book which incidentally contains some questionable content on its way to make a different point; no, this is a book which is composed almost entirely of questionable content; but makes the point that even so, other truths may be found (about war/violence, and sex, and childhood, and the difference between fictional depictions of acts and real acts).

    It is an intentionally-filthy book, that is also a work of art and thought.

    Would it be appropriate to assign Lost Girls as entry-level college reading? I am all for expanding minds, but at what point should we step back, and let people decide for themselves whether they want their minds expanded?

    Put another way: a good mind-expansion, via art or other means, would do most people some good.

    Even so, we should not drop LSD in their drinks.Report

    • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

      I agree, very nice post.

      I get the point of challenging incoming students to encounter people, ideas, and experiences, that may differ widely from what they’ve known in what will, for most of them, have been relatively sheltered lives up to that point. And while I haven’t read Fun Home, I imagine that was the purpose of it, though I can understand not wanting to read it because of graphic representations of sex.

      I will say that it seems to me that faculty, desiring to have incoming students’ worlds shaken up a bit through reading, should want to include books on the list that the kids are likely to read, and therefore that don’t present them with easy excuses not to read them. So maybe a book with graphic depictions of sex, if the book does contain such, wasn’t the best idea.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Chris says:

        I bet they didn’t remotely anticipate that students would have a problem reading (“reading”?) the book because of those few explicit depictions of sex. Very likely they did anticipate that some would have a problem reading it because of its essential nature as an account of life from a perspective they weren’t comfortable with. (I wonder if those people either turned out not to exist at all, or just quietly didn’t do the reading, or if we’re just not hearing about their complaints.) I’m sure they were prepared with a firm response that that discomfort was exactly the put of assigning the book.

        But the complaints turned out to be what they turned out to be, instead. (Those darn crafty students.) So now I do wonder whether indeed they would agree with you that the book wasn’t the best choice for that reason.Report

        • Chris in reply to Michael Drew says:

          Well, they always put controversial books on such lists, so they know that some people are going to object to them based on their topic or perspective, so the point is not to give them any easy outs, like “it has icky sex pictures.”Report

    • nevermoor in reply to Glyph says:

      Would it be appropriate to assign Lost Girls as entry-level college reading?

      If you mean “pre-admission” it would seem like an odd choice since it wouldn’t give as good a story to discuss with people you don’t yet know.

      If you mean in a course where it was relevant, sure. If you can teach Ulysses to college freshman you can teach anything.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to nevermoor says:

        If you can teach Ulysses to college freshman you can teach anything.

        We stopped teaching Ulysses to freshmen 3 years ago, after the whole “trigger warning” people teamed up with the “Stop Teaching DWM!” people.

        We believe that this coincides with graphic novels being the required reading only tangentially.Report

        • Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

          Man, I would hate to be the person teaching Ulysses to freshmen.Report

          • CJColucci in reply to Chris says:

            I’d be astounded if anyone tried to teach Ulysses to freshmen. It seems to me that that would be a pedagogical mistake because too few freshmen are ready for it.Report

            • nevermoor in reply to CJColucci says:

              I can attest that it happened in the hoary old days of ten years ago. In some ways its actually great to teach because it requires an engagement wholly different from HS books and therefore brings home the idea that college is a different world.

              That said, after putting in the work I didn’t like the book so I’m sure Joyce fans would see that as proof I wasn’t ready for it.Report

        • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

          Teaching Joyce’s books is far better than teaching his letters.Report

      • Glyph in reply to nevermoor says:

        Yeah, I didn’t mean “ever”, I just meant kind of, uh…blind. Lost Girls is definitely not a book you’d want to spring on people without some explanation of what they are getting into.

        I have no idea how explicit Fun Home gets; but all I meant to point out was that depictions of sexuality exist on a continuum from “fairly tame” to “It’s too late. I’ve seen everything”, even amongst artworks of indisputable high artistic merit; and there’s certainly an argument to be made that certain things are just “too much” for certain venues (even if Fun Home, specifically, doesn’t meet that standard here).Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Glyph says:

          This article appears to show the “offending” pages. It’s one of those “gee, I guess this is technically explicit” scenes that are, in certain ways, the exact opposite of pornography.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Alan Scott says:

            According to the OP, Fun Home deals not just with the discovery that Bechdel’s dad was gay, but his “repeated sexual contact with an underage boy”. I suspect that part of the issue is that today, we much more readily brand imagery as “pornographic”, than we do prose/text. I could describe the plot to the Solondz movie Happiness, and it’s not going to hit your stomach like actually watching the film does.

            Could you assign Lolita to incoming freshmen? Probably. A hypothetical graphic-novel version of Lolita? Maybe not, depending greatly on how it was handled.

            Especially because to some degree in the popular imagination comics still retain their disreputable, titillating/pandering aura, regardless of what they depict; so if it’s sex-related, forget it.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Glyph says:

      Ummmm, Glyph…

      Don’t drink that.Report

  3. Tod Kelly says:

    Great read, Mr. Likko.

    (Though I worry that I somehow missed the 19th century British Doctor part. Assuming it was the Bowlderized reference?)Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Yes, that’s a reference to the magnum opus of Thomas Bowdler, who blanched at the thought that his daughter might take inspiration from Lady Macbeth’s foul language (but seemed to not mind that same Lady Macbeth was an accessory to murder) and thus changed the “damned spot” to a “crimson spot” that would not wash away.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    Counselor, my counselor, this was a great essay.

    For the sake of trivia, my freshman required reading was a Joyce Carol Oates novel which was her take on Chapaquitic (sp and I am lazy) as told from the women’s prospective. IIRC there was supposed to be some sort of seminar or lecture on the book on some day during orientation but I don’t recall going or having anything officially done to make sure we did the reading.

    Again, I find myself having inadvertently grown up in a bubble. I was born in a blue suburb of a blue state and in a part of the country where Evagelism and Fundamentalism never really took hold. We were taught evolution without controversy or complaint at my public schools though I knew the issue was debated elsewhere. My parents made me watch Inherit the Wind as a child and it was very clear that they were on Team Spencer Tracy/Darrow/Darwin/Evolution. My undergrad alma mater was also to the left and secular. We had a small patch of Republicans (one of whom was a friend and did a 180 to the left by the time she graduated). A friend of mine did say that there was a small bunch of Evangelically raised students who met and commiserated with each other but I only know this as hearsay. Another hearsay story I know is of a young Mormon woman who allegedly left the church her freshman year. The story went that she got her parents to pay for college on the condition that the she would sit down with some Mormon missionaries every month (or maybe every week) and have them try and convince her to reenter the Mormon faith.

    My undergrad probably contained a very self-selecting bunch of students. I think you have to be self-selecting to want to attend a college with a low student population and one that is exclusively undergrads.

    My take on the whole Duke and Fun House affair is wondering whether this is a conservative gotcha game at the whole trigger warning debates. It just seems to me in our tit for tat and never ending culture war, we are going to have a “two can play at this game” kind of escalation as you note. I wish I knew how to stop it.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Whether or not the Fun House affair is a gotcha game on Trigger Warnings is irrelevant. It probably isn’t because conservatives leave a lot of tell tale signs around their pranks. We also know that sex in general and homosexuality in particular is an area where conservatives are very sincere on. I’m going to give the student the benefit of the doubt and assume he is sincere. Even if he was not sincere, his point would still stand. If x is worthy of trigger warnings than certainly y should be. Trigger warnings can not be only on things liberals care about. If we are to take the idea seriously than they should be for anything that could potentially pull a trigger.Report

  5. Maribou says:

    You know, I actually think self-Bowdlerization would’ve been a superior response from Mr. Grasso. “Hey, can you tell me which pages have naked people or sexual activity on them and I won’t read those?”

    He woulda missed mayyyyyyyyyyyybe half a dozen panels. So if it really is a straightforward religious belief (akin to an Islamic person objecting to depictions of Mohammed), problem solved.

    And the rest of the book is still pretty damn powerful.Report

    • Chris in reply to Maribou says:

      That’s a good point. In the internet age, getting someone to tell you which pages to avoid is remarkably easy.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Maribou says:

      That’s essentially a request for a trigger warning, which it would be kind of ironic if he turned out to support. But if he did, maybe he’s got a point?

      It actually a fair question: in light of this, should assigning Fun Home maybe come along with a trigger waring going forward? It doesn’t seem completely unreasonable to ask to be informed that a work has graphic depictions of sex, and to ask for a reasonable accommodation, such as not having to be responsible for a very few small parts of the work. Maybe?Report

  6. Michael Drew says:

    I will say that I am generally sympathetic to kids raised as conservatives who arrive on campus and find they face an immediate challenge in that they have to swallow what is unmistakably a lot of liberal orthodoxy (even if it’s also intellectually correct academic orthodoxy), internalize it, and spit it out in order to excel at college. I’m particularly sympathetic to the problem of having to constantly manage trusting that you are being graded for the quality of your work on the one hand, versus suspecting that you’re being graded for simply choosing the wrong response according to orthodoxy on the other. (Especially since that involves determining when it is that you should be graded exactly for producing the orthodox answer (say, in physics or math, to use the clearest kind of example), versus when you should be graded for producing a well-constructed response to a question (say, in an English class).)

    I found myself dealing with this once in a class on the First Amendment where the instructor was fairly clearly a bombastic free-speech absolutist (by my lights, though I didn;t really understand it in those terms at the time). (He was this guy, a former litigator turned political science professor, and was closely aligned with the plaintiff in this case, which was getting rolling in lower courts while I was at Wisconsin. At the time, I suspected I might have gotten a lower grade in the class for writing less-than-witheringly-critical things about this book. I no longer really suspect that very strongly.) But essentially that was once in my time at college. It would be very difficult to deal with that in just about every class.

    Which makes it weird that, like you, I’m not actually all that sympathetic to their complaints. It was unlikely that academia was going to evolve in such a way that it didn’t take on a certain set of cultural and intellect (and political) affinities, rather than another. (I’ve often wondered why it is that turned out to be a liberal rather than a conservative one). It was very unlikely that it would develop in some kind of a rigorously neutral fashion, and, critically, nor do I think it would be desirable to try to impose such a straightjacket on university culture artificially today. So you kind of have to understand what university is going in, in my view, and understand that if you’re a conservative, there is going to be a degree of just trying to hold up against a constant clashing with your worldview. Easy for me to say, I know. And I do end up falling on the side of the campus culture wars that would like to see the extremes of expression of liberal orthodoxy sanded down just a little to try to make things a little more comfortable for kids coming in from a different background. But broadly, I think you kind of just have to let it ride. And the necessity to come into college with an open mind in order for it to be a successful experience is one that’s incumbent on all students, though its particular requirements vary from student to student.

    Which is to say, I broadly agree with your take here, and nice essay.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Drew says:

      There was an interesting bit in Paying for the Party where the authors discussed lashing out. The farm kids who often grew up poor, were the first in their families (and maybe towns) to attend college, and also grew up in homogeneous and conservative communities; would direct all their rage at Jewish and LGBT students. Not necessarily from bigotry but those groups were just easy targets for all their incomprehension of college norms including middle class norms.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Michael Drew says:

      Historically, academia was usually more conservative than liberal. That mid-20th and early 21st century turned out liberal was something of an accident of history. Before the 19th century, universities weren’t really seen as creators of knowledge. They were supposed to be depositories of knowledge and trainers of clergy and some other professionals and scholars. Naturally this meant that universities were conservative spaces because they were trying to conserve knowledge and they were heavily associated with the elites.

      In the early 19th century, Prussian and other German scholars began to create the modern research university at the time because they thought that universities could be creators of knowledge. Academia was still a very conservative place because most universities were still only for the children of the elite and they were associated with state power. A lot of German far right thought originated in the universities of Late Imperial Germany. There were some radical students but they were a minority American universities had a broader student base but were basically conservative places because they had elite students, the students just wanted to study something practical, or they were associated with Protestant or Catholic Christianity. The football and fraternity culture of modern universities also started in late 19th century America, arguably as a way to reduce student radicalism by making college life fun.

      It wasn’t really until the expansion of university access after World War II that academia became associated with liberals and radicals. During the early Cold War, universities were some of the few places in the United States were Silent Generation and Boomer college kids could express leftist thought openly. As the students grew older, many of the more bookish radicals found academics to be an attractive idea because they could just teach and read their theories. Andrea Dworkin and others of the more radical and abstract 2nd waive feminists would basically have no other way of making a living without academia. Same with other radical boomers of either gender or area of liberal arts studies. Universities were also seen as hotbeds and home bases of the Counter-Culture. This is when academia became associated with liberalism and radicalism. Before the Cold War and the Baby Boom, it was a conservative place.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I didn’t have the specs on this, but this was roughly the kind of trajectory I had an inkling characterized the history.

        Again, it’s not clear to me there’s anything inherently political in a particular direction one way or the other about universities. But they were going to evolve some way (or ways) or other, so they did.

        Also interesting is why universities seem to have such uniform political and overall cultures across the country (with the exception of Christian colleges and self-consciously conservative universities a la Liberty). Probably a class analysis is useful here.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Michael Drew says:

          Teaching has always been a popular profession for minorities or working class majority people trying to get into the middle class. University level teaching has a much higher level of prestige than all other forms of teaching. During the post-World War II hey day, it also had a lot of good benefits. Professors always had a reputation of being on the eccentric side even when universities leaned conservative, so non-conformist and social misfits can hold jobs their easier than elsewhere and still earn a not bad living. This is why universities might skew left.Report

          • dhex in reply to LeeEsq says:

            the graduate school gatekeepers for most of specialties (but not all, econ is probably the biggest exception) skew heavily left, so it’s self-sorting as well. if you can’t at least play the game well enough, you’re not going to get very far. and given overproduction of humanities phds who want that brass ring of the tenure track, not playing the game is giving up before you’ve even played.

            my wife was told to include lenin in her thesis (about 20th century irish feminist writers) because it would play good with more traditionalist publishers and committee members. this example is not even remotely remarkable.

            such is life.Report

  7. LeeEsq says:

    The Roman Catholic Church never felt threatened by evolution or science like the Protestant Churches did because the Roman Catholic Church never believed in a plain, literary reading of the Bible. They always thought that Bible had to be interpreted with proper scholarship. One of the Roman Catholic Church’s more valid arguments against Luther and other early Protestants was that if you allow everybody to interpret the Bible and encourage a plain text reading of it than your going to get all sorts of weird and wacky notions of what the Bible says. Since the Roman Catholic Church never believed in a plain text reading of the Bible than they would naturally feel less threatened by science.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Biblical literalism is only indirectly the fault of the reformers. They weren’t literalists, either. This was not what Luther meant by Sola Scriptura. Literalism is more of an 18th-19th century phenomenon, in reaction to the Enlightenment and typically as run through semi-educated preachers. The Reformation was a necessary precondition for this to occur, but it wasn’t what the reformers were aiming for.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Catholic leadership was able to see where things were going to go though. A lot of the criticism of the Reformers was that many of things the Catholic Church saw as important like penance or the Church hierarchy were not in the Bible and they wanted a Christianity stripped down of everything extra-Biblical.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

          What the Reformers wanted is a moving target, as it depends on the individual involved, and where in the process he was. Luther initially wanted a reform within the church, but that didn’t go far.

          That being said, hierarchy was the big issue. Indulgences and the underlying premise of works righteousness were the proximate issues. Once things got rolling a bunch of other things were thrown into the mix.

          My tradition, the Lutheran, generally took the position of tossing out stuff considered contrary to scripture, but keeping stuff upon which scripture was silent. So there was (and is) no theoretical objection to the church being hierarchical, or even that the Bishop of Rome is the top guy. This also is why our liturgies are so similar.

          The Reformed tradition took the more radical position of throwing out everything it did not consider to be mandated by scripture. Hierarchy was part of this, though in practice they have their own forms of hierarchy. This is also why their liturgies, inasmuch as they have any, are so different.Report

      • The only Biblical literalists I know of are either really, really devout Protestants or really, really devout Atheists.

        Everybody else starts to wax philosophical about the Nature of Truth and Metaphor.Report

        • Richard Hershberger in reply to Jaybird says:

          I would modify this only to specify that we are talking about certain strands of Protestantism and Atheism. Other strands of Protestants roll their eyes at the whole thing. I find Fundamentalist Atheists particularly tedious in conversation.Report

        • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

          I have occasionally met very robust Roman Catholics who are probably of the same tribe as Biblical literalists, although that’s not the right term. it’s more like they seem to have a notion that the Pope is always right, except for the one from Vatican II and maybe the current Pope. I say “seem to” because I don’t really know them personally and haven’t asked what they believe. I just encountered them once at a book talk given by Garry Wills.Report

  8. Don Zeko says:

    Given that my freshman summer reading at my southern liberal arts college was The Kite Runner, which featured a graphic male-on-male rape scene, I wonder if a controversy like this was quietly going on without my being aware of it at the time.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Don Zeko says:

      My high-school freshmen honors class was assigned “Kaffir Boy”, which included a scene of male child prostitution alongside its other depictions of the horrors of apartheid South Africa.

      The assigned reading was cancelled, our books were confiscated by the school, and the teacher was let go at the end of the year.Report

  9. Michael Cain says:

    This is really outstanding, Burt.

    One of the things I noticed was that the reading suggestion you got was from the A&S school, not from the university. I have been unable to determine if the Duke reading went to all incoming freshmen, or only to their A&S freshmen (Duke has two schools, one A&S and one engineering). While this particular debate is about conservative students who find the material offensive, it is quite common to find similar complaints from engineering students who find such material irrelevant. Those arguments are, IMO, largely the result of confusion about universities that are doing two different things: there’s the traditional “college education” thing, and then there’s the four-year trade-school “engineering” thing. When the latter was becoming a thing, it looked enough like what colleges already did, and was so obviously lucrative, that universities went into that business.

    I’d be inclined to have incoming engineering students read Sobel’s Longitude, but that’s just me.Report

    • zic in reply to Michael Cain says:

      I’d be inclined to have incoming engineering students read Sobel’s Longitude, but that’s just me.

      This also reflects a distinction; the sorting hat, sorting ‘not all students need the same things to get to the same places.’ We’ve got some different houses to educate. There’s the house that fears to eat from the tree of knowledge, preferring the comforts of their already-revealed doctrines; a group hungry for learning, a group for the mechanically inclined, and first responders.

      They each need sympathy for others; but their educational needs might best develop that sympathy along different paths; Longitude is an excellent suggestion.Report

    • Longitude was a good story and an even better read. If Dava Sobel were to write a book about how the Tudors blew their noses, I’d read it.Report

  10. Oscar Gordon says:

    The things one misses when coming to university as a transfer student, rather than straight out of High School.Report

  11. Brandon Berg says:

    Maybe this is just my STEM bias showing, but is Fun Home, as a work of fiction, really copmarable to Dawkins in terms of educational value? I imagine that indoctrination was a goal behind the selection of both works, but my suspicion is that it was a much heavier factor in the choice of “Fun Home,” which doesn’t also have the advantage of teaching important scientific concepts.

    I mean, I’m sure Fun Home is a fine and worthy work of literature, but…does it actually teach students anything, or just encourage them feel the right way about certain issues?Report

    • The freshman class that came after mine was asked to read Cry, the Beloved Country. Whatever sin of indoctrination you wish to impute to the selection committee is surely magnified with such a choice as compared to Blind Watchmaker. As is noted above, sparking a degree of controversy is likely to be viewed as a feature rather than a bug.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I didn’t intend any particular moral judgment with my use of the term “indoctrination.” I just meant that they likely selected the works for the purpose of encouraging students to embrace their own preferred positions on certain issues.Report

        • nevermoor in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          they likely selected the works for the purpose of encouraging students to embrace their own preferred positions on certain issues

          I doubt it. I bet they select the works to give students a common easily accessible experience to discuss during the awkward “I no longer live at home but am instead surrounded by thousands of people I don’t know” phase. As @burt-likko says, being controversial/interesting is a good selection criteria for that. Being doctrinaire wouldn’t be.

          Not sure what the preferred position is on this. The book tells a biographical story, so at best the position is “I exist.” Heck, the closeted gay man has relationships with teenage boys he teaches. Anti-gay stereotype!Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          The idea that a book should be considered “indoctrinating” by virtue of having a Lesbian main character is a little bit silly when we’re talking about college students in 2015.

          Given that, as I understand it, the book focuses pretty intently on the way a Daughter’s relationship with her Father changes after she moves away to college and becomes more free to forge her own identity, I think its appeal as a choice for incoming freshmen is pretty obvious and not particularly connected with its Queerness.Report

    • Chris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I heard Saul’s head explode all the way from Texas.Report

  12. InMD says:

    This piece was an excellent read on a number of levels. Maybe it’s a part of my own Catholic baggage but I can relate to the difficulties of navigating that weird terrain where you recognize the inherently supernatural (i.e. hard for rational people to believe) aspects of the religion and try to square it with the passionate teaching of secular subjects by clergy and nuns.

    All that aside, I do agree with concerns about overly catering to students. I try not to believe reports I hear about things as extreme as not teaching rape in a crim class in law school. It caters too much to my own biases about political correctness run amok. If it’s really happening then the answer to any complaining student I think should be if you can’t handle this you aren’t fit to be a lawyer full stop. I only did crim very briefly at the beginning of my career but even outside of that as an attorney you have to deal with challenging subjects and even more challenging personalities in virtually all areas of practice. A lawyer can’t be trusted to appropriately serve a client if a tough subject in the class room flusters him.

    I’d say the same thing about people who think they should be exempt from undergrad assignments due to content. If you can find a way to pass without getting the credit then so be it, but again, I think the response is that college isn’t for everyone.

    All that being said, I do wonder how prevalent these attitudes are outside of certain groups on campus. Of those that do exist I tend to think that their views rarely survive first contact with the outside world.Report

    • Gabriel Conroy in reply to InMD says:

      All that being said, I do wonder how prevalent these attitudes are outside of certain groups on campus. Of those that do exist I tend to think that their views rarely survive first contact with the outside world.

      Added to that, I also wonder how much of this can really be attributed to the higher deference the law seems to be giving to religious beliefs. I read Burt as saying there’s some causal connection. (But that may be a misreading on my part. Maybe he’s just warning against the greater deference and using that undergraduate as an example.)Report

      • InMD in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        I’d defer to Burt on that question and I do not have any familiarity with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act so can’t really opine.

        I do think there might be some parallels to the debate over whether or not the state should recognize more positive rights (as oposed to negative rights).Report

      • You may want to re-read the first several sentences from part VIII, the conclusion, where I try to paint the micro-phenomena of the body of the essay on a larger canvas.

        The basic idea is that law and culture are in an endless mutual feedback loop: for instance, Title VII didn’t make people stop being racists in their hearts, but it did contribute to making racism be an attitude that is not socially acceptable to express.Report

  13. zic says:

    I had to sleep on this, @burt-likko; it’s a tour du force.

    I get some hint that you’re seeing the shoreline of Hobby Lobby that I detected in the fog: People can be expected to continue absent themselves from cultural things that they don’t like, citing religious belief. Which is a purely subjective and internal phenomenon.

    Absenting themselves is probably a lot more acceptable than imposing their beliefs. Not reading the book is a lesser evil than banning the book.Report

  14. This is an excellent post, with a lot I need to think about, but in the grand tradition of the internet, I’ll take a minor point and harp on it:

    I’m pro-canon. Subject matter experts have worked out, over the years, in every academic discipline, a constellation of works that convey the core of what a subject of study is about. I’m generally in favor of expanding the canon so it isn’t made up of only perspective of dead rich white dudes. That doesn’t mean expurgating the writings of those dead rich wide dudes — some of them had very important things to say, accomplished critical advances in knowledge, and these are things that we ought to study. We add to the canon to our intellectual enrichment; we delete from it at our intellectual peril.

    To me, one of the best things about a canon is that it sums up the minimum base of knowledge in a particular field. One learns a canon, and then one specializes in something. And maybe even that specialization has its own canon, but still, one learns ever deeper stuff through one’s own research or career or whatever. all this is to say, I believe any workable canon has to delete some things to make room for others, or no one would have time to learn the canon.Report

  15. LWA says:

    I was too crazy busy yesterday to give this the proper attention is is due. Like Zic, I need to digest this a bit.

    But I can say right now that the opening synopsis above the jump is best enjoyed by hearing it in Peter Falk’s voice, as he reads it to Fred Savage.Report

  16. LWA says:

    An outstanding essay, and I pair this with my recent reading of Richard Rohr where he speaks about the Franciscan tradition of emphasizing orthopraxy (correct doing) over orthodoxy (correct thinking).

    It strikes a chord with me, since I have been thinking for a while now that the just society is not going to be created through an ideology, regardless of how well thought out or considered it may be.
    We political types tend to think in fundamentalist theological terms, where issues such as “how to accommodate differing moral intuitions?” are seen as resolvable into universal theories of justice. Sort of like how fundamentalist religions emphasize adherence to doctrine as the highest and best outcome.

    I am thinking more how justice is reached through negotiation and compromise, where values are sifted and weighed, and some are privileged as universal while others reduced to personal preference.
    And there isn’t a theory that can predict always and everywhere how to discover the ideal compromise, since people themselves change over time, and value different things at different times. A just set of practices today can become unjust over time, as attitudes and values change.

    Which brings me back to Franciscan tradition that states that we are called, not to help our fellow persons, but to share their life. Our highest calling is to engage and develop a bond of communion with each other, even with those, and especially those, who are different and often objectionable.

    The RFRAas it is being used is a dangerous mix of that fundamentalist religious thinking together with a fundamentalist political thinking, where rights are absolutes, and the only solution is disengagement- not reading this book, not hearing those words, not associating with those people, not working for that company.

    In any case- this is still a work in progress.Report