Well - Kansas (my next-door neighbor) has done it again. Not only are there raging debates continuing across the state (or is that the buckle of the Bible belt) over teaching the theory of evolution in public schools (they teach creationism - in PUBLIC SCHOOLS), now one of the wealthiest (and one would think most educated and enlightened) suburbs' school district (Blue Valley) has a huge bruhaha going on about required reading for honors-level communications classes (English). They had a huge public meeting the other evening covered by all the TV stations and I couldn't believe what I was seeing in 2005!
So-called well-educated, well-to-do adults pissing and moaning about the vulgar nature of the literature being assigned. They've even set up a Web site www.kcclass.org trying to gain support for their witch hunt. Check out the reading list these folks thinks is so horrible http://classkc.org/badwords.php . (I've read many, many of these books both as part of literature classes in high school and college, as well as for personal enjoyment. Many of them have been featured on Oprah's book club and the New York Times bestseller lists. And many others, like Catcher in the Rye are considered classics.
Meanwhile - they have a list of "good" books the kids will "miss out on" while reading the trash listed above. http://www.classkc.org/goodbooks.php
Yes, there are some excellent pieces of literature in the "good" books list. There are also some abjectly Pollyanna, out-of-date and irrelevant titles too, that most kids today would find boring, stupid and completely out of sync with what they experience. I personally believe literature ought challenge and grow our knowledge our beliefs, etc. I have the same "moral" objection to people who homeschool their children to protect them from the evils of the world. What happens when those kids have to make a life in the evil (real) world? What kind of values do they have about people and ideas different or contrary to their own? How do they handle the workplace where there is a vast diversity of people?
My other belief, having a 20-year-old who went thru the public schools and a 13-year-old currently attending is that none of the words in these books are foreign to kids. Even kids who attend private, religiously-affiliated schools hear and often liberally use curse words of all types. Even dropping the "F-bomb." Indeed, standing in the average high school hallway during passing time would probably challenge even my liberal sensibilities.
I guess the reason I hate this kind of thing so much is that I fear it creates generations of narrow minds. I also find myself somewhat embarrassed (as a person who loves words and literature) that this kind of protest by supposedly intelligent people just reinforces the country's view of Kansas City as some backwater, one-horse town full of ignorant boobs. Certainly I respect the rights of individual parents to have a say in their child's education. However, it scares me when I see people jump on the bandwagon of some misguided effort by a few to shame educators, their children and the parents of other children by making pronouncements on what is proper for every child.
And finally - my guess is that in this particular suburb, most parents are college educated. They should know that for high school students who are college-bound, exposure to literature and subject matter of this level (honors classes) will help prepare them for higher education. They themselves probably read many of these books - and if they didn't, my sympathies go out to them. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was an amazingly enlightening and empowering book to me - and I read it just for pleasure during a summer break when I was in college.
The Blue Valley school board won't ban the books during the school year. Instead they will decide during the summer. And as a final FYI - even kids who are alumni of the school and now in college or recent college grads testified how much exposure to these books and the classroom discussions helped them immeasurably in college.
So - what do you think? Burn 'em, ban 'em or read 'em?