Brian Grasso, a freshman at Duke University, is taking a public stand against reading “Fun Home,” by Alison Bechdel, as part of his course studies. The depictions of lesbian sexuality conflict with his moral conscience:
After researching the book’s content and reading a portion of it, I chose to opt out of the assignment. My choice had nothing to do with the ideas presented. I’m not opposed to reading memoirs written by LGBTQ individuals or stories containing suicide. I’m not even opposed to reading Freud, Marx or Darwin. I know that I’ll have to grapple with ideas I don’t agree with, even ideas that I find immoral.
But in the Bible, Jesus forbids his followers from exposing themselves to anything pornographic. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he says in Matthew 5:28-29. “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.” This theme is reiterated by Paul who warns, “flee from sexual immorality.”
Response has been mixed among Duke students, with some expressing support, and others noting that the point of an education is to learn through looking beyond one’s own experiences and expectations:
Many first-year students responded to the post, expressing their thoughts on Grasso’s discomfort with the novel. Some defended the book’s images as having literary value and said that the book could broaden students’ viewpoints.
“Reading the book will allow you to open your mind to a new perspective and examine a way of life and thinking with which you are unfamiliar,” wrote freshman Marivi Howell-Arza.
I’m not familiar with the content of “Fun Home” (though I do think that college age students should be mature enough to handle some sexuality without it searing their eyeballs), and don’t know whether it should be mandatory reading. But to a point, I’m actually with Grasso: he has the right not to learn. This is a bit of a consent issue, in my thinking.
That said, one can’t claim a right not to learn about something like evolution and then still receive full course credit for learning the subject. There’s a trade-off that’s already been long-established. The right not to learn comes with a responsibility to accept the consequences of not learning.
Don’t be surprised, though, if this public stand metamorphosizes into something more though, such as a campaign to have “Fun Home” removed from the course, or perhaps even banned from the library or accepted reading material lists.
Because often the right not to learn is co-opted and exploited by those who wish to have the right to deny others the right to learn. And that’s where things get particularly objectionable.