Saw this on Twitter this morning. A parent was arrested for disorderly conduct at a school board meeting where he was protesting a book his daughter was reading. Let me get this out of the way first — I think having this man arrested was ridiculous. There is certainly a news story in his arrest because of how utterly ludicrous it was to arrest him. That being said, I wish that someone (and I know damn well it won’t be Fox News despite how “fair and balanced” they are) would pick up the sub-story, which is censorship.
The novel being questioned, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, is one of my favorite books. It is the first book I read by her and it knocked the wind right out of me. As a teacher of junior high aged students and as someone who is active in the anti-bullying work in my district (for me, specifically I work on cyberbullying education), I was riveted by the topic of the book and the issues it raised. It is a great companion book to another novel I loved the moment I read it, Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser.
Nineteen Minutes is a book written for adults; it is a mainstream novel. Give a Boy a Gun is considered a young adult novel, written more for teens. I’m not sure there is an agenda in Nineteen Minutes beyond realizing that there are always many facets to any story; there is a clear gun control agenda in Give a Boy a Gun. I taught Give a Boy a Gun to my 7th graders for many years; I did get parental permission because I was working with 12 and 13 year old students. All parents except one allowed their children to read the book. When I taught my own daughter in 7th grade, she read Give a Boy a Gun. Until I started teaching the novel House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Strasser’s novel was the students’ favorite and it generated some of the best discussions about bullying I’ve ever had with students. I suggested to many of my students who got a lot out of reading Give a Boy a Gun that they read Nineteen Minutes, but I also cautioned them that it is a grown-up book and that they shouldn’t read it of their parents preferred they didn’t read adult books yet. Because remember, I was dealing with 12 and 13 year olds.
High school kids are a different breed. Many controversial books with adult content get read in high schools because the novels have value and worth in their theme or purpose. Just check out this list of the most challenged books of the 21st century. High school is where social consciousness in students — who happen to be on the brink of adulthood — really starts to flourish, and reading novels that raise awareness of issues helps this social consciousness develop. Nineteen Minutes is definitely a book that can help students become more aware of themselves and their behavior and their treatment of others as well as find ways to help others who need some care, concern, or assistance.
I’m betting neither Megyn Kelly, Trace Gallagher, nor the parent at the board meeting bothered to read the entire book. Instead, they chose to focus on page 313 and take that one page and that one snippet from the scene that is on page 313 and castigate the entire book. In fact, Gallagher encourages people to read just that one page and make their own judgment on the value of the content of the book. Why should I be surprised that people are so willing to lift something small from a larger work and take it out of context to twist it to fit their own personal agenda? People love doing this.
If the student wants to opt out of the book or the parents want their student to opt out of the book, I’m betting the teacher would be fine with that and come up with an alternate assignment. That’s what I did for the one student who wasn’t allowed to read Give a Boy a Gun (my favorite thing about that incident was how the parent told me what a dreadful, harmful mother I was for allowing my own daughter to read such filth). I have no issues with opting out; however, I would have had an issue if that parent wanted to remove the book from the curriculum. This makes me think of what Captain Beatty said to Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451:
“Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it. Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them, too. Five minutes after a person is dead he’s on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man’s a speck of black dust. Let’s not quibble over individuals with memoriams. Forget them. Burn them all, burn everything. FIre is bright and fire is clean.”
Let’s get rid of anything that offends anyone. Once we do that, there won’t be anything left to read.