Friday, March 10, 2006

So far, so good

Other states have similar bills before their legislatures - keep an eye on them, people! From the Arizona Republic:

Offensive-coursework bill shot down

Students can't refuse materials

Robbie Sherwood
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 10, 2006 12:00 AM
The Senate rejected a bill Thursday that would have allowed university and community college students to refuse assignments that they found offensive on religious or moral grounds.

Senate Bill 1331, introduced by Gilbert Republican Sen. Thayer Verschoor, failed by a vote of 17-12. That means students will not have an alternative to reading or watching important but controversial works of film and literature such as Schindler's List, The Invisible Man or The Color Purple.

But that is because there is no alternative to those great works and their lessons, said Sen. Jim Waring, R-Phoenix, who led an impassioned floor fight against the bill. Waring held up a copy of Ralph Ellison's groundbreaking novel The Invisible Man, which is still opening eyes to the pain of racism more than 50 years after its publication. The book contains a graphic eight-page depiction of incest.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, widely considered among the greatest American novels, but the subject of recent censorship debates because of the language it uses to depict Blacks.

"(Twain) was making a point about the South and about discrimination, about the treatment of people of color," said Allen, R-Scottsdale. "That book has been banned because some people were patently offended. I can find something patently offensive in a heck of a lot of things. Does that means students in college should not be exposed to what the world is?"

Verschoor and a pair of East Valley House members took on the issue after a Chandler-Gilbert Community College student complained that one of the books required for a class, The Ice Storm, offended him because of its sexual content. The student filed a grievance with the school, but the school denied it and offered him another class. The student refused and approached Verschoor about changing the law.

To demonstrate his objection to the bill, Waring also produced an e-mail from an Arizona State University student sent earlier this month to an instructor of a film class on Steven Spielberg. The student asked for an alternate assignment to watching the director's Oscar-winning Holocaust drama Schindler's List. The class also showed the R-rated World War II film Saving Private Ryan.

"I came to class yesterday but left early because I do not watch R-rated movies," the unidentified student wrote. "This being the case, I was wondering if you had some sort of alternative assignment that you would like me to do instead of the Schindler's List journal."

ASU officials reminded the student that the course syllabus warned that the films in the class might contain language that is considered obscene and denied the request.

"It begs the question why you'd sign up for a class on Spielberg if you don't want to watch Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan," Waring said.

While this discussion focused on moral objections due to depiction of violence or sexual content, you can imagine how us science instructors felt about this can of worms. We're keeping an eye out for reintroduction of the bill with changed language.


SarahP said...

Ugh, thought control!

At the same time, when I was teaching composition at the U of A and we read Conrad's _Heart of Darkness_ and watched "Apocalypse Now," I had to offer an alternate assignment just about every semester for a student who didn't want to watch the violent movie.

Dr. Lisa said...

Sarah, that just might have been your department policy. One of the scary things about this bill was how loose the wording was, and even worse, there was no provision saying that the students had to accept an alternate assignment.

Carl said...

Can you imagine trying to teach Cosmology if that had passed? Oof!

Dr. Lisa said...

Oh, yeah. Cosmology and solar system formation... it'd be rough. Sometimes it already is.

AaronJV said...

"I object to assignemtns that require me to work, or think, on religious grounds. Can you assign me to watch TV or play video games instead?"

Why is it when I say that the America is growing stupider, no one believes me?

Dr. Lisa said...

Stupider? Let's just say that it wasn't the kids who drafted the legistlation. But it's exactly that sort of abuse many of us were worried about, even ignoring the principle of academic freedom.

If it's any consolation, dude, most students who heard about this bill thought it was a horrible idea.