Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Practice before you preach

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.

7 comments:

Elizabeth, proud fan of Moss "Middlebrow" Hart said...

Roger! We could have a field day posting just about the Citizens for Literary Standards link you provided. But here's one of my favorite bits. Hamlet is on the required list and marked as "approved" with a note, which says "Shakespeare's works contain neither a pervasive nor gratuitous amount of sex, violence, or vulgarity...Shakespeare's characters do not go through undeveloped, implausible, unresolved, vulgar, sexually charged, and otherwise morally repugnant storylines." Really? Hamlet not violent, sexually charged, vulgar? And it's plausible that a ghost would appear saying he was murdered by his own brother? AND HAS THERE EVER BEEN A MORE UNRESOLVED CHARACTER IN LITERATURE? I'm just making your point...evidently these people don't read ANYTHING.

I AM impressed that they have Act One on their recommended list, though, as it will surely encourage more young adults to move to New York and become show queens. (And it hurts to see my favorite book being referred to by you as middlebrow, Roger! It's the greatest autobiography since St. Augustine.)

Chris Abouzeid said...

It looks like Kansas's fight against evolution includes literary evolution--though, in this case, they seem more concerned with the content and destination of the species than with the origins.

Anonymous said...

What timing!

Roger, right before I read your blog, I sent a letter to the Blue Valley Board of Education on behalf of AS IF! (Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom!). It was in response to the board voting to keep BELOVED on the shelves.

Part of the letter reads: "As authors, as Americans, as responsible citizens, as parents, we feel it is a fundamental right for our youth to be afforded access to our country's rich and diverse literature. And for your support of
literature and freedom, we applaud you."

We were going to send a letter to the newspaper, but we didn't want to bring any more attention to that ridiculous Citizens for Literary Standards website. Although, we told the board that if a letter to the editor would help, we'd be happy to write one!

(For more information on AS IF! check out asifnews.blogspot.com)

Lisa Yee
www.lisayee.com
www.livejournal.com/users/lisayee
AS IF! member

Anonymous said...

I'm getting awfully bored by the culture wars on almost every level: politically, intellectually, maybe even athletically. I'm happy that the Concerned Citzens are against casual beastiality and that Better Readers avoid misplaced modifiers. But what I want now is for both sides to accept portions of the other's argument (yes, Jane Austen is way better than Toni Morrison; and no, we won't inflict Last of the Mohicans on innocent children) and then disarm. The rest of us are quite busy with more urgent matters.

Anonymous said...

My favorite thing about the CLSS website is that those "young eyeballs" could use it to find all the sex and violence in literature without going to the trouble of actually reading the books. I imagine there are plenty of readers who are doing just that.

rindambyers said...

I did not grow up in the American gradeschool system and never had any adult restrain or restrict my reading matter during my gradeschool years. So, I'm not expert here to address the situation for American schoolteachers. But I am terribly shocked at this:

I had NO idea that current American children and young adults are being FORCED and REQUIRED to read certain books in classrooms throughout this country in order to complete their gradeschool and high school educations and that moreover some of these young folks are furthermore being FORCED and REQUIRED to read such books out loud in classrooms. FORCED to read? REQUIRED to read. It's a hideous thought in every way to me, a lifelong compulsive and addicted reader to all sorts of books.

I am SO sorry for these young folks when I think of my own experience as a young person reading. Don't these young folks get a right EVER in class to say, no, I don't like this book, and yes, I'm bored with this book or disgusted with this book, and I don't want to finish reading this or that book that you are requiring and forcing me to read? No wonder, children don't read at all and don't want to read literature in partiuclar. What a hideous invasion of personal privacy, personal freedoms for children and young people.

Again what a humiliating, demeaning invasion of personal privacy for a child to be FORCED and REQUIRED to read literature in classrooms, literature, the one arena surely where books ought to be a free place where one can wander with pleasure and freedom at any age? If I were a parent, I'd be plenty upset. A child can't be allowed to expert in what he or she likes or dislikes to read? Doesn't have a right to choose what he or she wnats to read, wants to study?

Or have we adults forgotten all about what literature is created for in the first place...to tell stories, to entertain, to give PLEASURE and enjoyment....Perhaps, we need to go back to cavemen days when folks sat around a fire on winter nights and told stories TO eager and consenting audiences of all ages.....for the PLEASURE of it all...with some sly bits of wisdom slipped in wihtout any body compolaining.

Shouldn't teachres be talented, educated, and wise enough that they can entice,woo, encourage, and convert youngs folks to read without this reprehensible forcing of them to read certain books Or are the words themselves without enough quality these days to lure young readers?

How glad I am that MY parents, evangelistic, fundamentalist parents that they were, homeschooled me with such a differnt kind of attitude, with real respect for the privacy of my soul and my mind in what I read...theirs was a differnt problem than teachers in American schools seem to have...they could buy or find or borrow books enough for me...indeed, out of concern for my physical helath including my eyes, they practiced did only one form of reading restriction on me....they had to restrict at times my hours of reading...

Again, I am so DEEPLY shocked.

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