The book Laura Murphy wants removed from Fairfax County classrooms is considered a modern American classic. It is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a masterpiece of fiction whose author’s 1993 Nobel Prize in literature citation said that she, “in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”
But Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Murphy said, depicts scenes of bestiality, gang rape and an infant’s gruesome murder, content she believes could be too intense for teenage readers.
“It’s not about the author or the awards,” said Murphy, a mother of four whose eldest son had nightmares after reading “Beloved” for his senior-year Advanced Placement English class. “It’s about the content.”
The Fairfax County School Board voted Thursday against hearing Murphy’s challenge, but she vowed to continue her quest. She said she plans to take her complaint to the Virginia Board of Education, where she will lobby for policies that will give parents more control over what their children read in class.
I would be the first person to agree that we don’t just set adult themed books like Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” out on the shelf with the general population of books. It contains very adult topics. However, do we ban it?
Ms. Murphy is quick to assure us that she has no agenda, telling the press:
“I’m not some crazy book burner,” Murphy said. “I have great respect and admiration for our Fairfax County educators. The school system is second to none. But I disagree with the administration at a policy level.” (WaPo)
Well, yes you are if you want a book banned. Perhaps the better approach would be to work towards better communication between school and home. For instance, Fairfax County requires permission, sought 2 weeks in advance, for R rated movies. Perhaps a similar policy would work for books with graphic content such as “Beloved.” Or, perhaps a list of books being covered could be sent home to the parents and students during the summer with warnings next to books that might be intense for some people. The parents could then share their concerns at that time. Another book could be selected for sensitive students.
I do believe in age appropriateness. Just today, Elena and I were discussing the Lion King. When it first came out I went with a friend who had a younger child. My kids were grown. All over the theater little kids were screaming bloody murder when Scar killed Mufasa or when any of the characters were in danger from menacing hyenas. The film was too intense for pre-school kids, obviously. How many of us still bear scars from The Wizard of Oz monkeys or Captain Hook? Parents should have been discouraged from bringing pre-school children to a Disney film with so much violence.
Books should contain warnings also. Students should be given opt out options if content is too intense or horrifying. In lieu of that, students should be allowed to opt out of certain passages and be allowed to read a summary of events rather than the actual graphic description. “Alex had relations with his goat” gets the point across without having to read detailed descriptions of such an encounter. (I just made that up….it isn’t from “Beloved.”)
Entire curriculum shouldn’t be compromised because of one parent. There are simply too many ways to protect books and kids. An AP class, one’s senior year, is not the time to go wimp. School systems assume that those students are headed to college and will be reading far more disturbing material. Good literature doesn’t always make us feel good. In fact, it generally disturbs our comfort level.
I can remember reading Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, and a few others in class and having Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, God’s Little Acre on my reading list for outside reading. Back in olden days, those were pretty risque books. At the end of the term, my mother said she threw them out in a brown bad so the garbage collectors wouldn’t see the trash I was reading. She probably did, to make a point. Actually, I think she didn’t want them on the living room book shelf. My mother was a librarian by profession so who knows.
Good for Fairfax County for voting to not hear Murphy’s case.
In a letter to parents referencing the challenge, Lake Braddock English department officials wrote that society must address troubles the world faces.
“Reading and studying books that expose us, imaginatively and safely, to that trouble steels our souls to pull us through our own hard times and leads us to a greater empathy for the plight of our fellow human beings,” the letter said.
Murphy’s challenge reached the school board in late December. In a 6-2 vote announced Thursday, the board decided against hearing Murphy’s case and upheld Superintendent Jack D. Dale’s decision to retain “Beloved,” in the AP English curriculum. (WaPo)
Should schools ban books on parent request? Do parents get the right to determine what your kid reads and doesn’t read in school? What is one person’s pornography might be another person’s art.
Further reading: Fairfax School Board must read “Beloved” before ruling.Further reading: