Like a growing number of colleges, Ohio State University at Mansfield has decided to ask all freshmen to read a common book, in the hope of creating a more unified intellectual experience for new students.I was unaware of such a trend, but what a terrible idea. Expecting a single book to "unify" the intellectual experience of an entire class--young men and women who are coming from different backgrounds and who are heading in different directions--strikes me as hilariously naive. For starters, how and by whom should such a book be chosen? And how will the educators ensure that every freshman will not only read it, but derrive some intellectual benefit from the exercise?
Things have been getting ugly in Mansfield, Ohio because one of the books proposed as the "unifier" has been called anti-gay. I have no opinion on that, being unfamiliar with the book, but Scott Savage, the college's head reference librarian, suggests that many of the books under consideration are “ideologically or politically or religiously polarizing.”
Many of them are polarizing? I'd have guessed that every single one of the proposed books would be bound to ruffle somebody's feathers. One book might tick off Christians, another might offend Democrats, and still another might insult those who opt for plastic bags instead of paper at the grocery store. If it's even possible to find a book that doesn't rub somebody the wrong way, is it likely that such a book would be worth anyone's time, let alone everyone's time?
The problem with any let's-all-read-the-same-book program is that it can't guarantee a shared experience on any level other than the superficial. This was a dumb idea from the get-go.