Friday, October 23, 2015

Can we pleez stahp?

Liberal education:  have the kids take classes in a variety of fields, encouraging them throughout to drink deeply from the traditions in each discipline, push the boundaries of those traditions, and seek their intersections.  Thus the students become learned, truly educated citizens who in addition to training in particular disciplines (Psychology, Education, Business, the arts, etc.) possess broad familiarity in other disciplines (the arts, religion, politics, etc.).

And the telos--the end towards which all this energy and study is directed--is that these learned individuals will go into the world, go their various ways, pursue various careers, meet with various levels of success, and yet maintain an understanding and appreciation of humane learning--that which makes us human.  The arts--visual and performative, politics, contemporary trends, historical awareness, FOOD, for that matter, and yes even religion.

So the first question;  what should the kids read?

The second question stems from this first:  Do they need to read that?

It turns out Duke University required its 2015 freshmen class to read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home:  A Family Tragicomedy.  As expected, some students protested, calling it pornographic.  As also might be expected, others leapt to defend Duke's required reading.  It's not pornographic, the students protesting are just close-minded, precisely the people who needs their minds opened by such reading.  Thus, an impasse.

So what's the hubbub about?  From, the Publishers Weekly review:
This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys).Fun Home refers both to the funeral parlor, where he put makeup on the corpses and arranged the flowers, and the family's meticulously restored gothic revival house, filled with gilt and lace, where he liked to imagine himself a 19th-century aristocrat. The art has greater depth and sophistication that Dykes; Bechdel's talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man's secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter's burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. The recursively told story, which revisits the sites of tragic desperation again and again, hits notes that resemble Jeanette Winterson at her best. Bechdel presents her childhood as a "still life with children" that her father created, and meditates on how prolonged untruth can become its own reality. She's made a story that's quiet, dignified and not easy to put down. 

Reproduced here without any claim to ownership.

So let's get this "straight" (bad pun, I realize):  Duke University, one of the nation's premier private education institutions, required its entire in-coming first year class (approximately 1600 students) to read a lesbian's memoir of her funeral-parlor-operating, closeted homosexual father.  Quite frankly, instead of decrying "pornography!" the students instead should have questioned the relevance of having to read this at all.