An argument that was purely academic — and uneducated

File/Grace Beahm/staff Some lawmakers were up in arms last year after “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel was assigned to incoming freshman at the College of Charleston as reading material. A year later, the Legislature’s action on the matter has changed little.

Last May, the South Carolina Senate was carrying on with all the paranoia and fear of a witch hunt.

That’s a reference to Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” for all you students who, as lawmakers worry, aren’t getting a proper education.

Our state senators in particular were shocked that the College of Charleston had assigned students to read Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel “Fun Home,” an illustrated memoir that chronicles her struggle with her homosexuality.

A few politicians claimed they’d had complaints from parents, questions about a state college forcing “pornography” on students. That, they said, is not what a proper education is all about. They were ready to round up all copies of “Fun Home” and fire up the furnace.

That’s a nod to Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” a novel about book banning.

Instead, the Senate passed a proviso requiring the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina-Upstate, which had also assigned students a book with gay themes, to spend just as much money on learning about the Constitution. Those two schools were singled out, practically marked in red.

You know, sort of like what happens in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.”

Of course, most people realize that — if they’ve had a well-rounded education.

In 2014, the Senate decreed that the College of Charleston had to spend at least $52,000 teaching the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers to its students.

That’s because the college spent exactly that much on the program that assigned “Fun Home.”

Well, earlier this year, C of C Provost Brian McGee sent a report to the Legislature that detailed how the school had spent well in excess of $100,000 on courses that included instruction in our hallowed old documents.

“We were happy to give the Legislature an accounting,” McGee said. “We think those things are important to teach our students, and we’ve been doing it for generations.”

The College of Charleston is older than said founding papers, established in 1770, so perhaps they even taught the Declaration of Independence in a current events class at one point.

The fact that the College of Charleston does include instruction on the founding of this country is a good thing, and not surprising to anyone with an education.

The Declaration, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers are all very important. It would not be an insult to Bechdel to say that, in the grand scheme of things, they are more important than “Fun Home.” They are.

But even in the 18th century, the College of Charleston was a liberal arts school. That doesn’t mean it indoctrinates anyone with a particular political philosophy, as some people apparently think. It simply means the school provides instruction in many disciplines.

You know, for people who don’t simply have a one-track mind.

A liberal arts school offers instruction in history, biology, astronomy, or music, sociology and the arts of English literature.

That’s where “Fun Home” came in. It was a look at a culture that many people know little about. It was literature, but it was also something to discuss in sociology class.

Students didn’t have to love it, or even agree with it. See, education is about opening up people’s minds to knowledge they didn’t have before. That’s why then-Lt. Gov. (and now C of C president) Glenn McConnell opposed that proviso punishing the two colleges last year.

“I think it chills academic freedom,” he said.

He’s right. We don’t need institutions built to open minds controlled by people with closed ones.

The good news is that even when these people get their way, it might not work out the way they’d like. It would be great if the hundreds of students who learned about the Constitution this year pay particular attention to that First Amendment, then use that knowledge to make smarter choices when they walk into a voting booth.

So, a year after our own Salem witch trials, the Legislature has learned that all those hysterics were much ado about nothing.

That’s Shakespeare, for all those politicians who aren’t all that learned.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com