I went to my son’s high school open house Monday night. I haven’t been to open house in a few years, but having been the most vocal parent voice in opposition to the school’s handling of a recent book challenge, I felt I had to show up this year.
The vibe of a large high school and the caring, articulate faculty members I met almost lulled me into a “maybe I overreacted” state-of-mind about the book challenge.
However, it’s precisely the fact that the school has returned to business as usual which reminds me that vigilance is key in keeping the pipeline of free access to literature open and solidifies my intent to use this book for my Banned Books Week Virtual Readout Video this year.
When a Book Challenge Hits Home
At the end of last school year, all students were advised that the school was requiring one book (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) for summer reading. The school introduced this idea as a way for the entire student body to experience one book together.
Like many high school students, my son is no advanced planner when it comes to getting his summer reading and the related assignments done. Consequently, he was just fine with the school’s announcement on August 4 that the assignment was being transitioned from “required” to “optional.”
I was not just fine with this change in the summer reading assignment.
Why it Matters
While I would have supported a change to allow students to read alternative assignments, I simply continue to bristle at the fact that the decision, and the way it was made, constituted a “never mind.”
When I spoke to our principal, he said approximately 20 parents of incoming freshmen had objected to the language in the book (there are “F bombs”) and he did not feel that set the right tone.
In the first newspaper article about this controversy, a parent was quoted as being offended by the book’s “taking the name of Christ in vain” in addition to the language. (To be clear, this parent requested an alternate assignment; although I disagree with her, I support that request. It was the administration’s decision to revert the entire assignment to optional that I object to.)
Although I have been diplomatic and factually accurate in every public statement I have made (and in MULTIPLE responses to commenters on blogs worldwide who called this a “ban”), the ultimate fact of the matter is:
The way in which A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was challenged by my child’s school ignites an anger that is almost impossible to contain.
It is an anger fueled by:
- A seven-year-old who devoured Nancy Drew books, a full book at a time.
- A pre-teen who learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust (and the infinite resilience of hope) from The Diary of a Young Girl.
- A teenager who was amazed her parents would let her read a book with a title such as, The Bastard, but who got the message that “you can handle information that may be considered “adult” and we are here for you if you have questions.
- A college student who had a whole lot to figure out and an unlimited array of books available to help her do that.
- A communications professional who draws upon a lifetime of reading all kinds of books when looking for the perfect turn of phrase AND when understanding a coworker, client, or customer who has a different world view
Would I automatically have chosen book with multiple F bombs? No.
Would I, a Christian with deep spiritual beliefs, have chosen a book that contains religious skepticism?
Reading a book where the character doubts the existence of God no more turns my child away from what I have tried to teach than reading Romeo and Juliet is going to make him suicidal.
Christopher, the protagonist in “Curious,” has an Asperger’s-like condition. The book did a masterful job of portraying the inability of someone who sees the world in extremely concrete terms to grasp a deity they cannot see, touch, or hear.
I just don’t understand why the administrator did not tell the objecting parents, “but my well-educated, professionally competent faculty chose this book based on its literary merits. Your child has to read it (or choose an alternative).”
Why “Never Mind” Constitutes a Challenge
The best way I can characterize the decision that was made is: “never mind.” It’s kind of a “wink wink” if you parents REALLY want to let your children read this book with its obscenity and religious skepticism, go ahead.
But in turning it into a “never mind,” the ability of teachers to hold robust discussions, to guide students through the intricacies of obscenity and religious skepticism, was erased, leaving kids adrift to figure it out on their own and without the school’s endorsement.
Is this Censorship?
Visit this link for the American Library Association definitions.
I still can’t definitely say that the actions taken constitute censorship. The “access status” of the material was not changed; parents are still able to buy this book for their children (of course) and the school district has assured me copies are available in all high school libraries.
On balance, I would have to classify the school principal’s statement by email as a public attack.
It was incredibly frustrating for me to see the way the information spiral went CRAZY in response to this public attack. The misinformation, the assumption that the book had been banned, the silence of the faculty (who may have felt they could not safely speak up—I don’t know), the assumption that every single Floridian is a backwater narrow-minded moron.
Because raising a backwater narrow-minded moron is precisely what I don’t want to do, which is why I support exposing him to books which may differ from his point-of-view, but make him think, books which keep him…