Imagine this scene: An Arizona State University professor is conducting an American Literature 101 class.
“OK, today we’ll discuss the use of dialogue as executed in your assigned reading, ‘Tropic of Cancer,’ by Henry Miller,” he says. “Except for Jane, who will discuss this device as used in ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ ”
Soon, you may not have to imagine this. In fact, it may become common practice in Arizona’s college classrooms, thanks to a bill that is winding its narrow-minded way through the Senate. SB1331 would enable students to opt out of reading assignments they find objectionable.
This is an idea so boneheaded it could only emerge from the Arizona Legislature.
The legislation stems from complaints by Christina Trefzger who attended community colleges and ASU.
“A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education,” Trefzger told the Senate Committee on Higher Education on Wednesday.
One complaint came over “The Ice Storm,” a novel that deals graphically with sex, drugs, alcohol and suicide.
Sen. Thayer Verschoor, RGilbert, said he also heard complaints from a Maricopa County community college student.
“There’s no defense of this book,” Verschoor told Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. “I can’t believe that anyone would come up here and try to defend that kind of material.”
Verschoor seems quite the expert on books he has never read. In fact, among the books he has never read, “The Ice Storm” appears to be one of the more offensive books he has never read. In that sense, it is a book Verschoor may never read over and over again.
“The Ice Storm” does indeed graphically depict scenes involving sex, drugs and alcohol, but it hardly celebrates the behavior. On the contrary, it is a cautionary tale that powerfully conveys how reckless self-indulgence leads ultimately to despair.
Of course, to understand that would require a mature approach to the material. A college student might be expected to grasp that central theme. But an Arizona legislator — like some 12-year-old boy sneaking out behind the barn to read the “dirty parts” — probably misses the message altogether.
That aside, the most obvious flaw in this bill is that it creates chaos for instructors since it allows a student to demand alternate material based on what the student finds personally offensive, a claim that cannot be refuted. And it is at that point where you might as well close up shop if you are in the business of teaching literature to grown-ups.
And that is why, on this subject, Thayer Verschoor and his fellow legislators are far more dangerous than Henry Miller.