More Censorship

Check out how this challenge to Grendel by John Gardner was unsuccessful. Or was it?

Students who choose not to read the book now may have an alternative, and notes must be sent home for permission to read the book in class. I would take issue with both of those conditions.

First, I do not want to teach two novels at once. The amount of preparation time, vocabulary work, and discussion time, and more needed to teach a single novel well is enough. Why would I want to add to my workload? I was asked to have a student read a novel apart from the rest of my class, and I said “no.” I’m not going to teach two different courses within one, and allowing this once will lead to more down the road. I will not set the precedent.

Also, sending permission slips home opens the door to having the parents approve or disapprove of the school board-approved and teacher-designed curriculum. This is another precedent I would not want to set.

Maybe I’m being a bit stubborn, maybe even arrogant, with this issue, but I truly feel that the literature chosen for classes should not be dictated from without. Choices are not haphazard or random.


4 thoughts on “More Censorship

  1. mrschili

    I’ve TOTALLY got your back on this one. I had a student tell me she didn’t want to read Brokeback Mountain in my class. I told her she was welcome to take the zeroes for the assignments that pertain to the story.

    I once DID give an alternate reading for that story, but it was, as you describe here, a logistical nightmare. Never again. My administration gets a copy of my syllabus well before the start of class; if they object to a reading, they can bring it up with me. If I hear nothing back, I assume a green light and I run with it. I can justify EVERYTHING I put on a curriculum. Besides, as they say, it’s not for the monkeys to run the zoo…

  2. drpezz Post author

    I wonder what that zoo would look like. I like monkeys. 🙂

    We have to submit our syllabi ahead of time, too. So far, I’ve been backed every time a conversation like this has even started. If I listened or adhered to every objection, we’d read nothing at all.

  3. thehurt

    I can certainly understand your desire to have some control over the curriculum (it’s an issue we’ve been having in our district). However, it seems (as you say) stubborn to not acknowledge the family’s input in their child’s education. By insisting that a potentially offensive novel (whether it has great literary value or not) should be taught in class, you either force a family to do something that goes against their conscience, or you force the student to simply not take your Honors English class. That doesn’t really seem like a fair choice to most people.
    I was struck by one quote in the story: “There are many books … that can be used to teach the human condition.” This seemed to encompass some of the discussions we’ve been having as a department – that many different novels can cover the same thematic topics and/or skills we are teaching. For example, instead of “Grendel,” you could read Hobbes’ “Leviathan” if you wanted a really good discussion of the human condition.
    As you say, “choices are not haphazard or random.” You seem to have made a decisive choice, but making a choice implies that you had alternatives you could have used instead, but for some reason you chose the book that might end up bothering people. Why not choose the less-objectionable alternative in the first place?

  4. drpezz Post author

    I agree with you to an extent, but ultimately we have decided (as a department) that we have made careful decisions, decisions approved at all levels of our district, and we will not change them. Now that’s not an absolute rule. There are very special occasions when an exception may be made; however, we have not done this for a long time.

    We do not use any literature with gratuitous scenes or language, so we feel comfortable where we are right now.

    The last two objections we had were to Of Mice and Men because of the “God damn” spoken a couple times and with Fools Crow because of some references to sex. We just don’t want to set precedent, and we provide all of our parents with the book lists ahead of scheduling time.

    I think the different levels of offense preclude us from continually making exceptions. There’d be no end.

    You’re right, though. I am being stubborn, but I feel comfortable with it. So far.


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