Resident Horn Book movie reviewer Anita Burkam alerted me to a new "parents-rights" group, Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools, in Kansas, concerned with the curricular reading choices of high schools in the Blue Valley School District. Their website is singularly unfocused, taking a more-is-more approach to the problem at hand that leaves the reader more overwhelmed than enlightened. Here's what I can figure out: they don't want books with profanity, sexual references or "occultism." They really don't like Toni Morrison. Their lists of recommended reading are heavily weighted with the middlebrow classics of three generations ago (The Good Earth, and Act One, for example), as well as Dickens, Eliot, and Cooper. The one ringer on their list is Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which stands out by virtue of being published in the last thirty years. I wonder if the Citizens actually read it, though.
I would dearly love to give these Citizens a pop quiz based on their recommended books. My guess is that they are not readers, and that they approach reading with equal amounts of awe and superstition. As they do the internet--blogging is another of their concerns, and their grasp of how it works is about on a par with their grasp on felicitous writing: "As long as young eyeballs spend time on the Internet, there will be Web sites whose sole purpose is to capture big chunks of their time and attention." If this is a demonstration of literary standards, give me Toni Morrison.