Teaching controversial classes for conflict’s sake


Matt Firpo

Opinion Editor

When a class is taught for the sake of controversy, is it truly successful in exploring new concepts while tactfully covering controversial content?

Noel Harold Kaylor, a professor in the English department, is offering a Selected Topics course titled “The Seduction of Women in Literature.” The flyer advertises that the class can be  seen as “a ‘how to’ course, ‘why not to’ course, ‘women’s issues’ course or a ‘literary genre’ course.”

This class seems like a half-hearted attempt at teaching feminist discourse in literature, and is more like an instructional course in objectifying and dehumanizing women.

Considering that the works listed on the course have literature such as Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” which is featured on Time magazine’s list of 100 best novels, the class seems to be a provocative discussion of gender roles in romance.

However,  summaries of those works make it seem that each plot is solely focused on the function of male domination and manipulation in romantic relationships.

“Lolita” details the obsession of a literature professor with a 12-year-old girl and his subsequent predation on the minor.

In 2018, where the feminist movement continues to thrive, it seems inappropriate and downright regressive to offer a class that teaches an outdated model of romance, especially advertising the vulgar content as a “how to” in seduction.

Making such stale jokes doesn’t provoke thoughtful consideration. Rather, it only provokes strong protest.

It seems an intellectual waste to teach a class for the sake of provocation and controversy by misconstruing the meaning of seduction in a negative light.

Seduction, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the action or an act of seducing (a person) to err in conduct or belief.”

Seduction doesn’t necessarily carry the connotation of sexual predation or violence. However, the type of seduction found in the content of the class overwhelmingly deals with sexual violence and predation.

If anything, the class should be called “The Seduction of Men,” as the materials deal with men being led to take advantage of and manipulate women.

Professors are challenged with the task of dealing with controversial content constantly, but this class, rather than reinterpreting the content to understand gender issues, chooses to approach seduction through a reductive definition, which flips the blame on the victims in these works.

It is the duty of scholars to review history and understand the cultural contributions of authors, but this purpose should not be skewed to immortalizing outdated ideas for the sake of honoring the original purpose of the act. Rather, it should be analyzed through the lens of understanding both the qualities and flaws of the act.

The class is misleading in its content and intent, and it doesn’t offer a proper understanding of seduction and its relation to gender issues. Such misinformation leads to questioning the purpose such content has in the pursuit of higher knowledge.

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