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Offensive Does Not Mean Inappropriate

Offensive Does Not Mean Inappropriate

Many things in this world are offensive, but this does not make them inappropriate for educational use. Indeed, their offensiveness can often be a powerful tool for education.

For example, the movie Schindler's List displays some of the most horrid and reprehensible actions ever shown in film, and yet has been a critical part of many classes on the Holocaust over the last few years. And a political science class discussing the Chinese government may be shown horrible films of the Tiananmen massacre.

When students are directly exposed to something personally offensive, they become more aware of how real it is than if a professor simply speaks of it. Only after offensive material is presented directly can students know how they really feel about this material.

In the case of the 6.001 lecture, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Harold Abelson PhD '73 believed that students should be aware of the problems of pornography on the Internet, which is freely available to minors and sometimes difficult to avoid even for those not looking for it. Had James S. Miller '76, the lecturer that day, instead opted to make a few comments about pornography at the beginning of lecture, those few students actually paying attention might have understood his point, but most of the class would have missed it entirely. Because Miller presented his demonstration in this direct (and offensive, to some) way, students now have a greater understanding of the problems of pornography on the Internet.

While I sympathize with those students who were offended, I also think that they should try to understand Abelson's point. The world contains a great many things that are offensive, and if one cares about them, then one must try to change them. Ignoring them and pretending they don't exist is certainly easier, but hardly ideal. If people are offended by the free availability of pornography on the Internet, they should first accept that it exists and then act to change the situation. Hiding one's head in the sand has never helped the world.

Aidan N. Low '9