More Summer “Reading”

Several months ago I wrote a post called “The Summer Reading List” in which I suggested that agenda promotion in required reading was unlikely to generate much interest from its target (and captive) audience. Turns out it’s worse than that–it forces the beleaguered college student to wrestle with politicians and the American Civil Liberties Union, too.

The agenda at the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) for the current academic year–acceptance of “the gay and lesbian lifestyle”–may seem somewhat dated but, hey, things are slow down here. This is where a crowd of planters started the Civil War, and we’re still fighting it. The book chosen to begin the “conversation” (as the College would have it) or “indoctrination” (Republican legislators) is Fun Home, an “illustrated memoir” by Alison Bechdel, also the author of a long-running comic strip called “Dykes to Watch Out For.” As a result, the Budget Committee of the South Carolina legislature, concerned about the callow sensibilities of the College’s freshmen and hoping to forestall similar offerings, docked the school $52,000, the entire cost of its summer reading program.

Democratic politicians fret that the decision will lead to a loss of jobs because employers won’t tolerate legislators who “dictate what books people are going to read.” The ACLU has joined in: “[P]oliticians shouldn’t be in the business of dictating what we think.” The man who chose the book, though, got it right: “Our use of Fun Home . . . was aligned with our dedication to creating first-year students . . . and build[ing] habits of mind that improve their future success” (italics added). It’s not the legislature “dictating what books people are going to read,” it’s the College of Charleston. The good ol’ boys grandstanding for their constituents aren’t trying to “dictate what we think”–the College of Charleston is. Students are fully capable of having a discussion about homosexuality if they choose to do so, but the academics aren’t interested in “choice” (in this context)–they want a coerced “conversation” that guarantees a predetermined outcome.

There’s a pattern here. Another of our institutions of higher learning, USC Upstate (Spartenburg, SC), has lost funding because it required freshmen to read Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio, a book celebrating South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show. It’s unlikely that kids go to college these days without already having had a “conversation” about homosexuality, but our “educators,” fearful perhaps that the wrong conclusion was reached, insist on continuing it.

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