August 31, 2010

"Brooklyn College said it was 'regrettable that Mr. Bruce Kesler misunderstands the intentions of the Common Reader experience and the broader context of this selection.'"

Reports The Daily News, picking up the story that we were talking about here yesterday.

Hey, now we get to check out the Daily News comments. Continuum says:
I guess if you can't physically burn the books yourself, you can burn the school financially where they're allowed to be read. 
"Allowed to be read"? (Yes, ’n’ how many books can exist in a school/Before they’re allowed to be read?) It's an assigned text, one book for all. It's the book we want in your head, the school says to the incoming freshman, who, presumably, were chosen for their diversity.

Continuum continues:
It's his money, so he can do with it as he chooses. This won't be the first, nor will it be the last time, that some rightwinger will try to prevent an opposing view using his money or lack thereof . . . . . 
Prevent an opposing view?

Joezoo says:
The gentleman misunderstands the purpose of a college education - to be exposed to a wide variety of ideas, and learn how to be critical of them. 
Yet, ironically, Kesler is being critical of a book — and teaching a lesson in criticism.
I wonder what books he read while at Brookly College were high on the list of books-to-be-burned by donors at that time.
Where did this "burned" concept come from? Kesler never said the book shouldn't be available in the library and assigned in some courses where it has some relevance. He objected to its being chosen as the one book to give to freshmen to create a sense of "common experience." That's a much stronger statement by the school of how it sees itself. And the book is assigned in the required freshman English course. Imagine a set of transcribed interviews with young people as the text to be studied in an English class. Think of the rich pool of English literature... and weep.

StoutKraut says:
Its about time someone has the 'pair' to stand up and be counted. With freedom comes responsibility and NOT radicalism. Besides its his money and he can do whatever he wants with him.
Alumni provide an important check. Look at what happened at Harvard Law School:
In 1987, our last year as students at Harvard Law School, we formed a group called NOPE. No matter how rich we became, even if we could credit Harvard for our careers, we vowed to never contribute anything of financial value to its endowment: Not One Penny Ever. NOPE...
That's a long side track that I won't travel down today, but Elena Kagan is in that story. In the 80s, I worked at a Wall Street law firm (Sullivan & Cromwell), hearing Harvard alumni partners fretting over what was happening to their law school. Suffice it to say that radical politics were a big problem... and the alumni were not powerless.

It's a marketplace of ideas, and there are powerful buyers and sellers in that marketplace. The professors have market power, but they aren't the only ones.
You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known
Ah! There was a time when the professors at least saw fit, when imposing a book, to impose an exemplar of great writing.


"Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss."


Scott M said...

So...withholding your own funds due to a book you disagree with is tantamount to burning it?

MadisonMan said...

My daughter starts College next year, at some to-be-determined location.

I will encourage her to push back against all these share-a-common-experience goals that Colleges have, all instituted because some Education PhD somewhere twisted statistics at some point to show Common Experiences enhanced Learner Success. Bleah.

The Daily News comments are pretty typical. Put words in someone else's mouth, and then criticize those words.

ndspinelli said...

Hyperbole and dissembling are two common tactics of propagandists. You see it @ both ends of the political spectrum.

Shanna said...

So...withholding your own funds due to a book you disagree with is tantamount to burning it?

Indeed. Ridiculous.

Did I read this correctly...they are reading this for English class? Why? (although we read at least one book I thought was ridiculous in freshman english). I can't remember what it was, though.

LouisAntoine said...

This article about sums it up

The Onion: Man Already Knows Everything He Needs To Know About Muslims

Did anyone read the monstrous indoctrinating book?

Anonymous said...

Did anyone read the monstrous indoctrinating book?

Not I, said the red hen. Care to make reading it mandatory, in the name of free speech?

Word verification: flape.

Richard Fagin said...

I cut MIT off when then chancellor John Deutsch (yeah, the CIA nincompoop) made generally threatening noises to kick ROTC off campus when two gay students revealed their sexual orientation only at graduation time. This was after the military paid for their entire education, and then demanded the money back and did not grant their commissions because all was obtained by fraud. Somehow in Deutsch's warped little mind an MIT policy took precedence over a condition of receiving government money for a college education.

I don't agree with the military's policies concerning gays, but....fraud is fraud. A university official who uses the power of his office to assist in completion of a fraud is nothing but a crook. They'll never get another penny from me.

That and I took a thermodynamics class from then Prof. Deutsch in 1975 - he was an asshole even back then.

Shanna said...

Gentries explained that it "didn't take long" to find out as much about the tenets of Islam as he needed to. He said he knew Muslims stoned their women for committing adultery, trained for terrorist attacks at fundamentalist madrassas, and believed in jihad, which Gentries described as the thing they used to justify killing infidels.

Wow, that guy in the Onion is pretty well informed!

Scott M said...

I don't think the content is really the issue. It's a new book, isn't it? One that has yet to prove it's worth in terms of critical review and academia in general. In other words, I believe what he was getting was that he considered it extremely light sauce, not necessarily fail and unworthy of being named as required reading...unless there was an agenda at work.

X said...

We only had to purchase and read a feminist tome written by a friend of the English professor. It was a learning experience, but not the one the professor intended.

roesch-voltaire said...

Yes we should be open to all kinds of "criticism" including burning books. But I want to point out that requiring a common reading is not indoctrination if it is subjected to critical inquiry which should take place at the university level. For example last year at the UW our common reading was In Defense of Food, by Pollen and it produced a objections from some as well as a lively pro/con debate in the classroom and in panel discussions. Some of us pointed out his weak and incomplete use of references, while other folks questioned gaps in its history of the family meal. Eventually 8,000 folks, from both on campus and off, attended a lecture by Pollen! This year the common reading is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Skloot and I am sure it will produce conflicting views and keep our intellectual life lively.

Kevin Walsh said...

Also cf. comments at Gothamist.

Kevin Walsh said...

That gothamist link was cut up by Blogger. try this

Sofa King said...

R-V: Agreed given your stated conditional. Would you also agree, then, that there are reasonable grounds to be skeptical that this condition is consistently met?

The Drill SGT said...

Education PhD

More likely a Doctor of Education, which as you know, MM, isn't even close to being the same thing :)

Sixty Bricks said...

seems a very stupid book for an English class, debate class yes and I know what side I am on and it would basically be to show a pic of a very dead black guy chained to a tree with a bunch of smiling crackers around it admiring their work

GMay said...

r-v said: "But I want to point out that requiring a common reading is not indoctrination if it is subjected to critical inquiry which should take place at the university level."

And if you think a book like this is going to be subjected to criticism, you're pretty naive.

Then again, you are a college student. Which also explains the infatuation with Voltaire.

KCFleming said...

"...requiring a common reading is not indoctrination if it is subjected to critical inquiry which should take place at the university level..."

And this "critical inquiry" is taking place at our overwhelmingly leftist universities, right?

That's hilarious, or evil, depending on whether you were serious or not.

KCFleming said...

I cannot rule out stupidity as a contributing factor, of course.

Unknown said...

Had the same thought as Scott M. For the Lefties, restricting books allowed on college campuses is de rigeur, but it's considered book burning if anyone else does it.

The idea that, having donated to the university makes the money no longer his but the university's, of course, stems from the Democrats' notion that all wealth really belongs to them through the power to tax. Refunds do not return the people's money to the people, it's government largesse.

roesch-voltaire said...

Sofa - yes there are some grounds to question the conditional, but when you have a large group of folks reading the same book this multitude of different perspectives forces critical debate. Frankly I advanced this notion of common reading, because I found, except for the Harry Potter books, this x and y generation has little reading in common, yes this is because of a change in required readings at the high school level, and spends most of their time using social media. As pointed out by some posters, the challenge is to pick a contemporary text of "merit" that will connect to the students-- and that is always open to debate.

Michael said...

Would it really be too much for a school to ask its incoming students to read Huck Finn or Emerson or Melville? I realize that having a great debate about Pollen can be fun and all, but in the scheme of things, understanding that life is limited, does it make sense to squander the opportunity to give students something first rate? Do we have to consciously chose books that are manifestly second rate? Surely faculties know the difference. Don't they? Don't they?

MadisonMan said...

I would say that the difference between Brooklyn College's book selection and the UW's is that the UW chooses books that incorporate a lot more science, and a lot more Wisconsin-y tangents. For example, Pollen's book should be of interest to the many farmers' kids on campus. The book on HeLa is interesting to all the bio science people on campus.

I suggest that the people who would find the chosen book at Brooklyn College interesting is a very very small number.

Sofa King said...

MadMan -

More to the point, the issues it discusses are so incredibly toxic that nobody in their right mind will dare take a controversial position.

Michael said...

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? That is what the UW asks its incoming Freshmen to read? That is appalling. So the UW has chosen to ignore the entire Canon of literature in favor of The Immortal Life.... Right.

Shanna said...

From's study of Freshman Common Reading Programs: "Books about multiculturalism, immigration or racism were the most prevalent (60 colleges), followed by environmental issues (36 colleges), the Islamic world (27 colleges), New Age or spiritual books (25 colleges), and issues related to the Holocaust or genocide (25 colleges). Only 6 colleges assigned classics. The study also looked for other patterns in the selections, and reported that 46 of the choices have a film version, 29 are about Africa, 9 are related to Hurricane Katrina and 5 are about dysfunctional families."

From one of the other comment sections. Very interesting. Too bad about the classics but one hopes they will have to read them in a class. Perhaps most colleges use this to address more current issues?

Michael said...

Shanna: Thank you for your post. It is worse, much worse, than I imagined. Note this article: "Study Finds Freshman Summer Reading Lightweight and Leftist"

Lightweight and leftist. redundant but accurate.

KCFleming said...

I hope some enterprising young men arrange a large book burning bonfire for these leftist tomes, but under the auspices of Burn Your Books For A Free Palestine, while wearing keffiyehs over their faces.

Heads would explode at the cognitive dissonance.

KCFleming said...

Until then, there ain't much to do except go full metal Alinsky, staring a long march through the institutions for conservatism or libertarianism.

jungatheart said...

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks sounds very interesting:

'From a single, abbreviated life grew a seemingly immortal line of cells that made some of the most crucial innovations in modern science possible. And from that same life, and those cells, Rebecca Skloot has fashioned in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks a fascinating and moving story of medicine and family, of how life is sustained in laboratories and in memory. Henrietta Lacks was a mother of five in Baltimore, a poor African American migrant from the tobacco farms of Virginia, who died from a cruelly aggressive cancer at the age of 30 in 1951. A sample of her cancerous tissue, taken without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom then, turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive--even thrive--in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, their stunning potency gave scientists a building block for countless breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Meanwhile, Henrietta's family continued to live in poverty and frequently poor health, and their discovery decades later of her unknowing contribution--and her cells' strange survival--left them full of pride, anger, and suspicion. For a decade, Skloot doggedly but compassionately gathered the threads of these stories, slowly gaining the trust of the family while helping them learn the truth about Henrietta, and with their aid she tells a rich and haunting story that asks the questions, Who owns our bodies? And who carries our memories? --Tom Nissley'

KCFleming said...

It is interesting.
But why that book for all to read?
It's fluff sociology-political science. Summer "nonfiction". Seasonal work at best, then gone.

How about The Road To Serfdom?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

But I want to point out that requiring a common reading is not indoctrination if it is subjected to critical inquiry which should take place at the university level.

There is the big IF. IF the students are encourage to be critical of the liberal idea d'jour and not punished or berated for being critical.....THEN it might me a worthwhile exercise.

However, that is not usually the case. The book is intended to indoctrinate and promote a certain world view or idea and any ANY deviation from that world view is not tolerated.

jungatheart said...

'How about The Road To Serfdom?'

As if.

I've never read it, but it's on the list of books I'll never get to because of my internet addiction. :)

Any incoming freshman read needs to be 'readable,' that is no dense or dated prose, relatively short, etc. Not considering the conservative bent, does 'Serfdom' meet those requirements?

Michael said...

"Any incoming freshman read needs to be 'readable,' that is no dense or dated prose, relatively short, etc."

Yes, please, nothing challenging and certainly nothing, like, long. And nothing dated, for the love of God, like anything from the last century or even before that. No dense prose, has to be crisp and mainly easy to understand.

We have lost our fucking minds.

jungatheart said...

Michael, my point was that in order to have an entire incoming class read the same book, it has to be relatively short, readable by current standards, and, I didn't mention it above, interesting and thought-provoking. Not all college entrants these days are the type that can get through George Eliot, etc., but that doesn't mean I'm talking about assigning dreck.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

my point was that in order to have an entire incoming class read the same book

I don't see the purpose of having everyone in the incoming class read the same book.....other than indoctrination.

Engineering students are likely not in the least interested in the same things as Political Science majors or Art Students.

It seems like a gigantic waste of time to me and must be some sort of new phenomenon since I was in college (in the dark ages).

The materials and required reading have to be relevant to your major or forget it. I worked my way through college and my time was to important to me to be someone's guinea pig or political correctness indoctrination subject.

Seriously, if I had been given a book that wasn't related to any of the classes I was taking and told that we ALL had to read it, I would tell them to shove it.

chuckR said...

You need to understand Deborah's position in the context of Freshman Year as Remedial High School. You can't give them a significant and difficult work because they simply can't be counted on to have the tools to appreciate and analyze it.

dbq - the only interest I - as an engineer - have in Political Science is pointing out that it ain't science, unless you are a follower of Marx. May I suggest a book to be read - John Paulos' Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, or maybe the follow-up - A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper.

AST said...

I thought education, especially liberal (from Latin for 'free') education was supposed to expand your horizons, not channel you into some kind of zombie teacher's pet.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I thought education, especially liberal (from Latin for 'free') education was supposed to expand your horizons

You can expand your horizons on your own time.

Paying for an education, in my opinion, is to equip you to be able to "do something". You know get a job. Learn a topic that will help you in a career path.

Education for education's sake, learning for the sake of learning is all well and good and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, having a coordinated effort on the part of the school to try to channel 'expanding your horizons' into approved politically correct paths, is a complete waste of time and money and is INDOCTRINATION.

If you just want to sit around and read books for fun (which I do all the time) or indulge yourself to no purpose, you don't need to pay $35K a year to expand your horizons.

Want to really expand your horizons, get a job as a cocktail waitress in a country western/biker bar.

former law student said...

Yet, ironically, Kesler is being critical of a book — and teaching a lesson in criticism.

I feel that the works of Stephen King (e.g. Carrie's menstrual bleeding at the big dance} and John Irving (tragic fellatio accident) are worthless, and will never donate to a college where they are, have ever been, or will ever be part of the curriculum.

There, I'm glad I got that off my chest.

Martin L. Shoemaker said...


Thanks for the book recommendation! I'm looking forward to it.

I don't remember where I read it, but I once read a rule: if you have to add "science" onto the name, it's not a science. We don't say "physics science", "chemistry science", "biology science", or "geology science". And as a programmer, I laugh at "computer science": some tiny fraction of practitioners are doing actual science in the field, but most are doing engineering (on a good day).

And sure there are some counterexamples. Neuroscience comes to mind (pun unintentional). And collectives like "physical sciences" and "life sciences". But I think the word "science" in the name is a strong indicator that it's opinion, not science.

MadisonMan said...

Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

That would be a great book for incoming freshmen to read. Or how about Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences

Thanks. I'll read it.

I was joking today in a post about math but I've found that among the most valuable things I learned in high school (other than typing) were Geometry and Algebra. I use those skills almost daily in one way or another.

former law student said...

Did the professor link to Bruce Kesler's blog? He details his reasons for rejecting the book and disinheriting the College in his 08/27 post.

chuckR said...

madison man - another excellent choice

Its a shame that these might be the first and last exposure to math and science in most liberal arts majors' college careers. All the more reason to suggest them in favor of some grievance-based book. Plenty of time for those in the various 'Studies' courses.

dbq - I didn't mean that you specifically should read Paulos' book, but I'll bet you'd like it.

Bonus for Althouse - his PhD is from Wisconsin.

wv - seressi - an inhabitant of Venice

Ben Morris said...

I think this whole question turns on how the book is treated in the English class, which I haven't seen any reporting about. If they teach it with a critical enough approach, it could just as well be the Bible, or Ayn Rand, or the Communist Manifesto, or Mein Kampf -- the "shared experience" would be of deconstructing the work, and the subject shouldn't matter.

Joe said...

Mandatory reading like this could be beneficial if the students were instructed to write a paper critical of the book. Instead, if students don't write papers lauding the book, they will likely get a lower grade.

I'd prefer mandating two well written books arguing opposing viewpoints. Then require students to write a paper on why both books are wrong!

jungatheart said...

'Seriously, if I had been given a book that wasn't related to any of the classes I was taking and told that we ALL had to read it, I would tell them to shove it.'

Now, why doesn't that surprise me?

I'd never heard of this college mass-reading exercise before, either. I can see how indoctrination would be a big factor on many campuses, but there are other possibilities, such as a sort of team-building, debating-skills honing type of agenda. Engineering students are very different from art students, for example. Having read the same book would facilitate seeing things from the perspective of others. When UW does the Harriet Lacks story, the social science students will be saying...'oh, the humanity,' while the scientific students will be saying 'scientific progress,' while the philosophy students will be saying, 'utility, normative ethics,' or whatever it is phil students say. It would be a tool to aid in the development of interpersonal communication.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Now, why doesn't that surprise me?

LOL Deborah.

team-building, debating-skills honing type of agenda. Engineering students are very different from art students, for example. Having read the same book would facilitate seeing things from the perspective of others.

If they would use the mass/coerced reading of the book that way, it could be a very good and horizon expanding exercise.

However, I don't think that is the goal. The aim is to get everyone to think the "same" and "feel" the same thoughts......the "correct" thoughts.

Plus, unless it is a required GE course, the engineering and economics students don't generally hang with the art and philosophy students. Never the twain and all that.

The Hela cells story is fascinating! I'm all about the science and what it means for researchers....but cells...if cells can be imortal...why do we age and die.

jungatheart said...

And, gosh darn it, it would be fun!

jungatheart said...


Thanks for your thoughts, DBQ.

former law student said...

I wondered about Brooklyn College -- it was a branch of CCNY! Here I thought it was some exclusive private school that lived off the alumni donations.

Wikipedia provides a list of the most obscure notable alumni I've ever seen. But it does include Alan Dershowitz, Oscar Handlin, financier Bernie Cornfeld (of the IOS debacle), Barbara Boxer and Shirley Chisholm, and Frank McCourt (MA).

paul a'barge said...


These are The Liberal Attributes.

How can these mutts get up in the morning when they have to go through their entire day being so predictable and contemptible?

dick said...

I am a little older than most here but our common reading book for freshman year at a small liberal arts university was Moby Dick. We studied and wrote papers on various aspects of that book off and on all freshman year. Fascinating book and really expanded my horizons.

Kirk Parker said...


"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"

A perfectly wonderful selection. For one thing, then everyone would understand what I was talking about when I made references to "Feynman in Brazil"; as it is, too often I have to laboriously explain myself.

Robert Burnham said...

Their long, unchallenged dominance in the media and elsewhere has left Lefties completely unable to argue their positions in the face of an articulate opposition. All they can do is fall back on a few threadbare tropes, such as "people on the right are crazy, substandard in intelligence, uncool, unsophisticated, yadda yadda yadda." We've been hearing this garbage all our lives.

For a long, long time this broadbrush scorn and disdain, as deployed through the media and academe, has been sufficient to keep their dominant cultural — and political — role intact.

I think, and sincerely hope, that period is nearing an end.