Required reading

Not being able to make their own choices can be jarring for teens in the heady days of summer before they start college. So it's not surprising that some freshmen headed for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are griping about being required to read a book on the Koran before they arrive.

During the '90s, after all, campuses were all about options. Students began to be treated like customers who would be happier, say, if hot tubs and TVs were installed in some dorm bathrooms. (Michigan State actually did that.)

In contrast to being offered such creature comforts, the Koran assignment may seem like a lump of coal. For one thing, it's not an easy bridge into college-level reading. It also hits a nerve by bringing up images of extremists whose prayers include hopes for the destruction of America.

But starting college off with homework that prompts such mental wrestling isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some eager UNC freshmen are probably already enjoying this challenging transition. Even hesitant students may someday soon encounter a professor who inspires them so much they'll happily study required books they would have never thought to read on their own.

After college, adults sometimes seek out book clubs or other ways to force themselves, in effect, to reach beyond personal inclinations.

Being willing to go by someone else's choice need not feel threatening. We can probe each page – and can come to the table prepared to heap on the criticism or debate ideas we find offensive.

Those are good skills to hone in college, since life is a collective endeavor, one filled with detours off the paths we might choose for ourselves.

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