Mary Frances Pipino, Ph.D., Director of the Ursuline Studies Program
The semester is coming to a close, and with it my course, WS 201 Introduction to Gender Studies. It’s been an amazing journey for me, with 19 bright, opinionated, inquisitive, hard-working young women for travelling companions.
On the first day of class, I asked the group (by show of hands) who considered herself a feminist. Only one student raised her hand. I expected this response—as Lisa Maria Hogeland wrote in a 1994 article for Ms. titled “Fear of Feminism: Why Young Women Get the Willies,” young women distance themselves from that identity for a number of reasons, noting that “fear of feminism is fear of consequences.”
“Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined”—this simple yet profound observation comes from French novelist and existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. I return to this quote often in my work as a scholar and as a teacher; it reminds us that true education is not merely the accumulation of facts, nor is it simply training to become “something.” Rather, the goal of education is to put ourselves face-to-face with ideas, experiences, and viewpoints that challenge us to examine our values and beliefs. And as Camus’ observation suggests, this process can be risky, frightening, and downright dangerous. However, to run away from or cover up ideas that appear to threaten our comfort and certainty diminishes us intellectually, morally, and spiritually. This past week we celebrated intellectual freedom with a Read Out of books that have been challenged, restricted, or outright banned in the interest of protecting social, political, and religious values. The fact that we have reason to celebrate Banned Books Week http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/ actually cheers me—for all of the supposed irrelevance and uselessness of literature, art and the humanities in our culture, the fact that year after year challenges and objections arise to “dangerous” books demonstrates clearly the tremendous power of literature, of words, and of the creative mind. The event was a great success; we did field one complaint about inappropriate material, and, interestingly, we also had one passerby become irate thinking we were advocating censorship through our display! (but once the purpose of the Read Out was made clear, all was well!). And best of all, Captain Underpants made a special guest appearance!
Andrews Osborne Academy students Read Out!
So don’t be afraid to open yourself to ideas that run counter to your own beliefs —you may learn something unexpected, see the world in a new way, let of something you thought unshakeable. You may also come away with your values all the stronger for having engaged in the difficult, risky and always rewarding work that real thinking requires.
BTW: The title of this post is a mashup of several titles from the list of most challenged books for 2012-13. Check ‘em out!