Pharyngula

I’m stumped

I’ve been racking my brains, trying to come up with a completely inoffensive college curriculum in case some tinhorn prissy-pants decides to pass a law allowing students to opt out of being challenged, and I just can’t do it. Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but I think I could turn any textbook and any subject into something both seditious and salacious without trying too hard.

Comments

  1. #1 djlactin
    February 23, 2006

    “personally offensive” … i.e. “it offends me because it contradicts my religious views to hear anything about this ‘theory’?”

    it’s yet another wedge tactic.

    maaan i’m glad i’m canadian!

  2. #2 Zeno
    February 23, 2006

    This is a peculiar new aspect of the old refrain “When I am ever going to need this?” My (usually) unspoken reply: “Next semester, when you repeat the course!” Quite a few students want a utilitarian approach (or claim that they do), saying they want to learn only those things that will advance their career goals. (Go to trade school, kid!)

    Now we have wacky politicians proposing that we refrain from offending students’ tender little sensibilities by trying to teach them things that will upset their fragile world views. One of my colleagues at school is an anthropology professor who prefaces every semester’s class with an advisory to the creationists on her roster: “You have a perfect right to believe whatever you wish to believe, but this is an anthropology class. When I give you exams, I expect you to have mastered the course material and be able to give answers based on that material. You can’t just skip a question on the mechanisms of evolution by claiming you don’t believe it. Understood?” Under the proposed laws, I presume my colleague would be hauled off to court.

    It sure seems the wankers don’t have enough to keep them busy these days.

  3. #3 Lord Chimmy
    February 23, 2006

    Some people are just too frail for this world…they’re offended way too easily. What a bunch of puritanical panty-wastes.

  4. #4 Cinatyte
    February 23, 2006

    I think these students are missing one of the core points of a college education: to be exposed to a wide & varied world of ideas, including those that might even be controversial! Ultimately, I think this places an unfair and unnecessary burden on professors, who must now take their students’ collective sensibilities into account when coming up with reading lists. Can you imagine if this policy spread to more issue-based classes like political science? If someone gets a wild hair that they don’t like what a particular book is saying, they can write it off as “morally unacceptable” and get a free pass. These folks need to lighten up and realize that college is not Disneyland. You’re going to be offended. You’re going to hear things you won’t agree with. You’re going to hear things you won’t want to hear. Put up or shut up.

  5. #5 Zeno
    February 23, 2006

    One of my good friends is a grad student in English. He was teaching a comp class in which the students were supposed to learn to write papers that effectively defended a point of view. One of his students wrote that no one could be moral without a belief in God (we’ve all heard that one!) and “proved” his argument with the biblical quote “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” The student was furious at receiving a poor grade: “But it’s God’s word!” Yeah, that sure clinches it.

  6. #6 Rose Fox
    February 23, 2006

    When correctly viewed, anything is lewd.

  7. #7 Republic of Palau
    February 24, 2006

    I was made to read a book at school that offended me so much I felt dirty. The book describes lewd acts by harlots, congress with alien beings and father-daughter incest, the smutty, nasty thing. And the language is almost incomprehensible.

    It really should be banned – or at the very least held hostage by a godless Minnesota biologist. Burning is too good for it.

  8. #8 JM
    February 24, 2006

    The student was furious at receiving a poor grade: “But it’s God’s word!” Yeah, that sure clinches it.

    Plagiarism? šŸ™‚

  9. #9 Ronald Brak
    February 24, 2006

    Call me crazy, but couldn’t we like tell students what they are going to be studying in a particular course and then if a student thinks they might be offended then they could opt not to take that course? I admit this idea is pretty far out and I’m probably just living in a dreamworld.

  10. #10 T_U_T
    February 24, 2006

    If they pass this catch XXII-like “law”, it’ll be just matter of time, till someone proclaims : “I’m offended by everything. Can I have my degree for free now ?”

  11. #11 djlactin
    February 24, 2006

    p.s. don’t we “wrack” our brains?

  12. #12 Caledonian
    February 24, 2006

    p.s. don’t we “wrack” our brains?

    Obviously it’s been a while since your last collegiate all-nighter. Thumbscrews are optional.

    On a serious note, I think the desire to cover only that which is necessary is really a reaction to the years and years of busywork foisted on students in grade and high school. Learning really is fun… and school consists mainly of teaching people that it isn’t.

  13. #13 Jim H
    February 24, 2006

    I think I could turn any textbook and any subject into something both seditious and salacious without trying too hard.

    That’s my kind of professor. I would have loved to take a class from a professor like you. I’ll have to make my kids check out UMM if you are still there in 10 years.

  14. #14 gravitybear
    February 24, 2006

    If you get through your college education without being offended, you haven’t done it right. IMHO, too many people view college as some sort of career training school, and miss that it is supposed to expand your thinking.

  15. #15 Johnny Vector
    February 24, 2006

    Let me get this straight. High school kids are mature enough to be able to hear “all the arguments for and against evolution” and make up their own minds, but by the time they get to college they’re too sensitive and impressionable to have to read about, you know, s–.

    Yes, I know those aren’t precisely the same issue, but at the resolution of my laptop screen the Venn diagram of the “teach the controversy” group and the “don’t teach anything controversial” group looks like one big circle.

    What I personally enjoy most about these kind of complaints is that the material in question invariably makes the point that the behaviors portrayed are very bad. Show of hands, who remembers the furor over Trainspotting, because it “glorifies drug use”? Yeah, swimming to the bottom of The Worst Toilet in Scotland is my idea of glorification.

  16. #16 Flex
    February 24, 2006

    It’s an interesting problem for me to analyze why I think this is a terrible law, while I liked the Wisconson proposal we discussed here a couple weeks ago.

    They do have similarities. They are both proposals where the legislatures are directing who has control over course content. (Which is, as far as I can tell, one of the points which Dr. Myers was making to explain his opposition to the Wisconsin proposal.)

    I suppose my dislike of the Arizona proposal stems from who gets the control. In the Wisconsin proposal, the legislature deferred to the experts. Those people who have spent their lives refining their understanding of the subject. In the Arizona proposal, the legislature is deferring to the ignorant, and in effect giving the students who are supposed to be in school to study the subject some control over the course content.

    The other reason for my dislike of the Arizona proposal has to do with the affect of the bill if it is passed into law. Beyond giving some control over the course content to the students, it also could add a considerable amount of work to the professors. The Wisconsin bill gives the school boards, teachers, administration, and other parents some backing to resist pressures from special interest groups. The Arizona proposal allows students to opt out of material which the instructor (hopefully) feels is necessary to understand the subject. Either the instructor has to research and assign equivalent material, or grade the students understanding of the subject solely on the material that the student studied. Which means either more work for the instructor or less education for the student.

    Dr. Myers’ other complaint about legislation to decide course content relates to the nature of understanding the content. I’m going to have to paraphrase, but in the previous thread about the Wisconsin proposal, I recall Dr. Myers indicating that he didn’t want his students believing in evolution because it is the law, but because they understand the overwhelming evidence for it.

    I’ve been giving this idea quite a bit of thought. I, in principle, agree with Dr. Myers. In practice, however, I can think of a lot of laws which are necessary for the safety of society but which we obey because of the law rather than reflecting on why the law is needed.

    An example of this is the 35 MPH speed limits in most residential areas. There is usually no physical reason why vehicles shouldn’t be allowed to go faster. I know that on my street it’s not uncommon for people to reach 60 MPH even though the speed limit is 35 MPH. A little reflection shows why a 35 MPH limit is a good idea. There are pedestrians, including children walking to school. There are numerous driveways and side streets where people will be entering or leaving the traffic stream. In other words, the 35 MPH speed limit helps to prevent accidents. But how many people using the street reflect on why the speed limit is so low? Judging by the average speed cars are traveling, about 40 MPH, the drivers are more concerned about getting somewhere than about neighborhood safety. The only reason they are not going faster is because there is a law preventing them.

    So, while I’d love to see a society where people reflect on their thoughts and actions, I recognize that many people don’t reflect and they rely on societal norms, sometimes codified into laws, to regulate their behavior. To close the point, I agree that students shouldn’t be convinced of the facts of evolution because of legislation. At the same time, if it takes legislation to keep the promotion of unscientific ideas out of science class, I’m willing to support it. In the same way I’m willing to support a 35 MPH neighborhood speed limit. Both the speed limit and the Wisconsin legislation provide a tool to restrict the behavior of people who have not fully considered the subject, or are deliberatly dismissive of the evidence.

    The Arizona proposal does the exact opposite. It gives a tool to people who are deliberatly dismissive of the evidence, or are ignorant of the material, to allow them avoid thinking about it.

    Sorry about rambling on for so long. My only excuse is that I’ve been pondering this subject for a couple of weeks now.

    Cheers,

    -Flex

    P.S. To djlactin, I thought ‘wrack’ was the better word too, but my dictionary corrected me. Both forms are correct, in the verb sense. My dictionary even admonishes me, saying that ‘wrack’ is the obsolete version. However, I think spelling it as ‘wrack’ is more poetic, so I’m probably going to continue to spell it that way even if people think I’m nutty. -F

  17. #17 BlueIndependent
    February 24, 2006

    Another move stemming from the right’s innate need to change a fact-based society into an opinion-based one. Why have a generally accepted version of reality when you can let each and every person live their own self-involved lie? It’s the greatest thing to happen to “rugged individualism” since the firearm!

    This is the kind of thing that allows people to walk into a sex ed class and claim the material is too risque for them. I bet we’ll soon hear that political science students want to ‘opt out’ of reading Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto because those books ‘offend their sensibilities’.

    And to think the right slammed people for inserting terms of respect into our language when speaking of those of other races. This opt-out thing is meant to do nothing more than make people dumber.

  18. #18 Jeff Jorgensen
    February 24, 2006

    Students have always had the option of dropping the class or not enrolling in it in the first place. The syllabus details the material and expectations, maybe it should also include a disclaimer that if the student has a problem with any of the material they should drop the class as soon as possible so as not to waste anyone’s time.

  19. #19 spencer
    February 24, 2006

    An example of this is the 35 MPH speed limits in most residential areas. There is usually no physical reason why vehicles shouldn’t be allowed to go faster. I know that on my street it’s not uncommon for people to reach 60 MPH even though the speed limit is 35 MPH. A little reflection shows why a 35 MPH limit is a good idea. There are pedestrians, including children walking to school. There are numerous driveways and side streets where people will be entering or leaving the traffic stream. In other words, the 35 MPH speed limit helps to prevent accidents. But how many people using the street reflect on why the speed limit is so low? Judging by the average speed cars are traveling, about 40 MPH, the drivers are more concerned about getting somewhere than about neighborhood safety. The only reason they are not going faster is because there is a law preventing them.

    I’ve actually done a bit of research on issues like this one, and I can tell you that the best way to get people to obey the 35 mph speed limit would be to build narrower streets. Setting arbitrary speed limits does not usually work, unless your local police force is able to dedicate significant resources to ticketing drivers going 5 mph (or less) over the limit.

    And it’s not that drivers “are more concerned about getting somewhere than about neighborhood safety.” It’s that the juxatopsition of a wide street in a quiet residential neighborhood presents sort of a mental contradiction – the sign says 35 mph, but this street is wide open. Many communities in my area do not permit on-street parking on their overly-wide streets, which means that sightlines are relatively unobstructed. Drivers feel more comfortable with their driving abilities in environments like this, and are therefore more likely to decide (often subconsciously) that they themselves are the best judges of how fast is too fast. And they act accordingly.

    So when you say that “the only reason they are not going faster is because there is a law preventing them,” I’d have to disagree.

  20. #20 UrsulaV
    February 24, 2006

    *sigh* And to think the thing I loved most about Arizona’s laws were the “Leave me the hell alone and I’ll leave you the hell alone,” attitude underlying them.

  21. #21 eggrott
    February 24, 2006

    djlactin dixit:
    “maaan i’m glad i’m canadian!

    Let us not forget that we Canadians have lumbered ourselves with a congeries of born again bargain basement Bush babies for a federal government. A minority government, admittedly; could this be described as the wedge strategy?

  22. #22 John M. Price
    February 24, 2006

    Yep. Stupid Law ™.

    I posted the entire text of the bill in the last open thread if you or anyone is interested.

    Here is the fact sheet for the senate:

    http://www.azleg.state.az.us/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/legtext/47leg/2r/summary/s.1331hed.doc.htm

    It has 26 (!) sponsers.

    (BTW, where is the help file for tags?)

  23. #23 Don Culberson
    February 24, 2006

    Jeff Jorgensen said:
    “Students have always had the option of dropping the class or not enrolling in it in the first place. The syllabus details the material and expectations, maybe it should also include a disclaimer that if the student has a problem with any of the material they should drop the class as soon as possible so as not to waste anyone’s time.”

    An excerpt from my syllabus for a “Biology of Sex” course (non-major college level) I teach:

    Disclaimer: This course presents diverse material on human sex and sexual behavior in a frank, honest, and non-judgmental fashion. Presentations will include photographic and/or videographic depiction of human anatomy and descriptions and/or depictions of sexual activities. If you are concerned that the material to be covered may be excessively controversial or objectionable, you are encouraged to speak with the instructor prior to continuation in the course. You are always encouraged to discuss your reactions to presented material with the instructor.

    Heh, heh, when I proposed to teach the course, the college’s lawyer advised me to insert the disclaimer… and STILL the department chair got a complaint about course content from an irate mom… of course, I cherish complaints like that!

    A thought… if I wanted an easy History major, perhaps I could start finding war and politics personally objectionable…
    Uncle Don

  24. #24 Flex
    February 24, 2006

    Spencer,

    I’ll retract the ‘only’ from my statement if you like. I didn’t realize that I put in an absolute, and I fully admit that I am not an expert on the reasons people speed.

    However, I think your knowledge supports my point. My street is straight, wide-open, curbed with no side parking, and is a fairly major route as well. It is also completely residential with the houses within 30 feet of the street.

    So drivers, as you state, decide (perhaps subconsciously) that their driving abilities are adequate for the street and they judge that they can go faster. So what prevents them from driving at 60 MPH? As I indicated, there are people who do drive this fast, probably because of the reasons you state.

    As a resident of the street, however, I think that the 35 MPH limit is appropriate for the safety of the neighborhood. I know that the majority of the traffic on my street are not residents, and have no personal involvment with my neighborhood.

    And yet, the majority of the people don’t go above 40-45. I’d like to be given a reason why they don’t other than because the street is posted as a 35 MPH limit.

    Finally, I’m not certain that this discussion does anything other than distract from my original point. Legislation is a tool which can be used to increase safety or to keep pseudoscience out of a science classroom. Legislation can also be used to force experts to defer to the wishes of those who are unskilled in the subject.

    I agree with Dr. Myers that legislation should be avoided whenever possible. Certainly, poor legislation should be fought at all times. But the tool itself has no morality associated with it. How, and when, to use the tool of legislation is part of the great consensus of society. The real proof of any consensus is that no one is completely happy with it.

    Cheers,

    -Flex

  25. #25 Nathaniel
    February 24, 2006

    Heh. “Jurassic Beaver.” Heh.

  26. #26 theophylact
    February 24, 2006

    And just look at the cephalopod smut in the thread above this one!

  27. #27 Harry Eagar
    February 24, 2006

    Knowing how much Professor Myers admires Powerline, I am not surprised that he did not pair this link with the similar events in Oregon. Similar except that those to be prevented from having to confront uncomfortable (to them) messages are liberals.

    Eric Hofer was so right.

  28. #28 Sastra
    February 24, 2006

    BlueIndependent was right to point out the blatent contradiction in sneering at “political correctness” yet backing a proposed law like this one. In fact, it occurs to me that actions like this might actually arm evolutionary scientists with a strategy which might have a lot of emotional appeal to religious conservatives — connect Creationism/Intelligent Design to the “children’s self-esteem movement.”

    In my experience, most fundamentalists absolutely loathe what they see as the sloppy-goony postmodernist liberal emphasis on making sure our schools protect delicate little children from having their feelings hurt or working too hard. Let them spell however they want, let them study whatever they want, let them believe whatever they want, it’s all about feeling good about yourself. They see this as anti-authoritarian as well as promoting relativism and undermining good education (and in many cases, they’re right.)

    So use it. Accuse the ID folk of pandering to a relativistic “feel-good” lack of discipline. Accuse them of underminding authority and teaching children that “they can create their own truths.”

    Pointing out that one of their values is directly contradicting another one of their values might possibly sway at least a few.

  29. #29 JP May
    February 24, 2006

    Once I taught self balancing binary tree data structures to my students using an analogy involving eating babies. There is also my Recursion-as-Leather-Pants analogy.

    Under this law, I would probably be in trouble.

  30. #30 CanuckRob
    February 24, 2006

    Do the folks prposing this dumb law think that peoples religous beliefs (because that is waht we are talking about, nothing else) are so feeble that they cannot withstand critical thinking and differeing viewpoints? If religous beleifs are so vulnerable then they deserve to be pushed aside and if not then why is anybody worried about what they read? If you don’t want to face diessenting views then what the heck are you going to cllege for?

  31. #31 Phineas
    February 24, 2006

    I’d just like to say that “Sen. Jake Flake R-Snowflake” is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a really long time. You can’t make that stuff up.

  32. #32 Faust
    February 24, 2006

    When I was in undergrad, the college repubs tried to introduce an “academic bill of rights” into the student government. Now, I know this is a common tactic of theirs, but the impetus behind the bill was completly ridiculous. A member of their organization had received an ‘F’ in a political history course for writing a paper extoling the virtues or Reagan. What they failed to mention, but came out when they couldn’t get a lawyer to sue, was that the assignment was to write about the New Deal legislation as the time period they were studying in the class was the 1930s. The other great irony of the whole episode was the belief that professors would rewrite their curriculums and change their grading policies due to a ‘bill’ passed by a college club and the student government.

    I now purposely try to include inflammatory readings into my courses, otherwise teaching the classes is just boring.

  33. #33 QrazyQat
    February 24, 2006

    Let us not forget that we Canadians have lumbered ourselves with a congeries of born again bargain basement Bush babies for a federal government. A minority government, admittedly; could this be described as the wedge strategy?

    Having just seen Rex Murphy fulminating on a CBC editorial about the Con minority goverment and their so-far refusal to do much talking to the press (itself an idea they apparently adopted at the suggestion of a US rightwing advisor) I have to say that I can’t imagine anyone on US TV giving the administration that kind of talking to. AS long as we see that kind of reaction, Canada has a protection that the US doesn’t — a half-decent press that knows its job.

  34. #34 DJ
    February 24, 2006

    This more “Let the kids decide!” nonsense.

  35. #35 Rey
    February 24, 2006

    Seeing as how it’s a strategy that’s worked for right-wing types for years, we should oppose this legislation by calling its supporters a bunch of weak-kneed namby-pamby Mama’s boys. That’s what they are. Education ain’t for wimps.

  36. #36 lt.kizhe
    February 24, 2006

    Just saw this at Recursivity: http://recursed.blogspot.com/

    Now if BC had had such a law, look at all the trouble it would have saved.

  37. #37 John C. Randolph
    February 24, 2006

    I’ve just decided that henceforth, I shall be Extemely Offended by The Peloponesian War, by Thucidydes. It’s full of violence, and mentions Lesbians many, many times.

    (Don’t even get me started on that King James Smut.)

    -jcr

  38. #38 Graculus
    February 24, 2006

    AS long as we see that kind of reaction, Canada has a protection that the US doesn’t — a half-decent press that knows its job.

    The press in Canada is used to making the occassional meal out of politicians. I doubt that they will give up their taste for blood that easily.

    Of course, being polite Canadian press, they use the correct fork.

  39. #39 John C. Randolph
    February 24, 2006

    Incidentally, of all the books I’ve ever read, the two most offensive ones were Mein Kampf and Das Kapital. I still consider it a good thing to Know Thy Enemy, but of all the things for which Hitler and Marx should have been shot, I’d place those books within the top ten.

    Someday, a very enlightened society will ciminalize simple, aggravated, and gross self-aggrandizement, and make them punishable by flogging, life imprisonment, and the death penalty, respectively.

    -jcr

  40. #40 Graculus
    February 24, 2006

    Mr Randall, what did you find so criminal in Das Kapital?

  41. #41 Jamie
    February 24, 2006

    so criminal in Das Kapital?

    Well, Marx’ writing style is rather tortuous to read. Don’t remember him ordering any genocides though . . .

  42. #42 RavenT
    February 24, 2006

    Someday, a very enlightened society will ciminalize simple, aggravated, and gross self-aggrandizement, and make them punishable by flogging, life imprisonment, and the death penalty, respectively.

    I hope Charlie’s already got his passport…

  43. #43 DominEditrix
    February 24, 2006

    The alphabet – I find the alphabet offensive! Why, one can make those sorts of words out of it. Ban the alphabet!

    The only consolation is that those who elect to opt out of an education will find themselves forced to repeat the offensive-to-nutritionists phrase ‘Do you want fries with that?’ for the rest of their ignorant lives.

  44. #44 SEF
    February 24, 2006

    This is unfortunately rather reminiscent of the BBC’s policy of allowing religious trolls to pretend to be offended whenever their offensive and inaccurate remarks about homosexuals (for example) are challenged by scary things such as evidence against their false premises in addition to pointing out the flaws in their arguments. The BBC moderators and staff will selectively remove such links and even entire posts, but often leave the defamatory religious nonsense intact! They apparently favour the arrest the police and let criminals go free view of the world, along with their standard shoot the messenger approach (in taking action against those who point out how poor the BBC standards now are, rather than against the actual trolls).

  45. #45 arensb
    March 7, 2006

    I think I could turn any textbook and any subject into something both seditious and salacious without trying too hard.

    “I could tell you things about Peter Pan and the Wizard of Oz, there’s a dirty old man!” — Tom Lehrer

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