I should have realized but confess I had no idea there was an entire conference devoted to what books college freshmen should be required to read. The Annual Conference on the First Year Experience is, according to a New York Times piece Sunday, “a convocation held every February at which publishers pitch various authors’ books for adoption by colleges and universities as part of freshman reading programs.”
The author of the piece, Jennifer Finney Boylan, is a professor at Colby College and the author of She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, one of the books college administrators may order by the thousands. Or perhaps they won’t. And Boylan seems already quite defensive about that prospect. She reports: “I did see one dean look at my book . . . and then run, as if her clothes were on fire.”
(Really? Was it the dean of Bob Jones University? Because I can’t imagine too many college administrators are really shocked by a transgender memoir these days.)
At any rate Boylan believes that when parents (or taxpayers) have objected to the books that universities use for their “first year experience” programs (as when UNC Chapel Hill chose Approaching the Qur’an, in 2002, and then Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America the following year), it is because they don’t really understand the true purpose of education:
What we’re arguing about is what we want from our children’s education, and what, in fact, “getting an education” actually means. For some parents, the primary desire is for our sons and daughters to wind up, more or less, like ourselves. Education, in this model, means handing down shared values of the community to the next generation. Sometimes it can also mean shielding children from aspects of the culture we do not approve of, or fear.
For others, education means enlightening our children’s minds with the uncensored scientific and artistic truth of the world. If that means making our own sons and daughters strangers to us, then so be it.
The condescension is dripping. If you oppose the use of controversial books as part of the first year experience—books which are only picked because they are controversial—then it is because you want your children to become your clones. But if you think, like Boylan does, that education is about enlightenment and truth you will support the use of Barbara Ehrenreich’s book as required reading.
Boylan manages also to drag into her argument people who object to the Common Core Standards. They too apparently want to shield their children from difficult truths. (I don’t know what she concludes about all the liberals who object to Common Core.) At any rate, here’s her assessment of these people who disagree with her:
It occurs to me that what enemies of a Common Core — by any name — have come to fear is really loneliness. It’s the sadness that comes when we realize that our children have thoughts that we did not give them; needs and desires we do not understand; wisdom and insight that might surpass our own.
According to her biography, Boylan is the mother of two adult sons. But I wonder whose experience this describes. How many parents out there are really afraid of their children acquiring too much wisdom and insight? How many of us become lonely when we realize our children have thoughts that we didn’t put in their heads? If you want to get a glimpse of the distorted view that liberal academics have of American parents, you won’t want to miss Boylan’s piece.