One of my graduate students has objected to two particular titles in Materials for Young Adults on religious grounds. I thought I would post some of my thinking and some of my responses to her to this blog for my colleagues. Please know this is a work in progress, and the situation is still in a fluid state. It is of course entirely possible that it will remain so throughout the semester.
This is an online class. The community of the class is crucial to its success and function, and the student’s choices will have a deep impact on that community. I have asked her to examine the rest of the book list (which she has had in its entirety since before the beginning of the semester) to see if contains anything else that presents an obstacle. We read and discuss titles across the universe of YA literature, and include books with language, sexual situations, homosexuality, and nonbelief. She cannot pick and choose her reading list: she can create an independent study if she wishes, but not out of Materials for Young Adults in this program.
The student has been told this is not a private, personal issue: it concerns the class, and what was requested puts a great strain on the community of the class. A class represents a community, and an online class particularly needs to become a community in order for the work online to proceed. Materials for Young Adults online is constructed in such a way as to make that happen, but it needs the participation of every student.
Materials for Young Adults is a course in Young Adult Literature. One of its central characteristics of YA Lit is that it is edgy, pushing the envelope in matters moral and sexual. The course covers material for young people ages 12 to 18, and is given in the MLIS program. Students who take this course are affirming they have been exposed to and contemplative of the wide range of materials available for teens, from the most innocent to the most ambiguous. The university does not prepare students for a specific position: its degree represents that the student has mastered certain knowledge and skills. We are not in the business of making ideas safe for students (to paraphrase a famous quote) but in the business of making students safe for ideas – all ideas.
I strive mightily to create a community in the online class. We read some books together and some by choice, but the heart of the coursework lies in our wrestling with these titles, and discussing them with each other. There is an arc to the course and a community we make online in these discussions, and if a student absents herself from them she is removed from the heart and soul of the coursework.