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Banning Classics Shortchanges Students

Here we go again: All it takes is one parent to complain that a book contains offensive language and school officials back down ("Why a Virginia school considers banning two American classics," Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 3).  It matters not one iota that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are classics.

We hear so much talk about teaching students to be critical thinkers, and yet when the material involved offends one person or another we don't have the courage of our convictions. When I was teaching an American literature course in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the 1960s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was on the approved list.  Nevertheless, I vividly remember that the downtown office issued a two-page, humiliating apology for including the classic after someone complained.  It was then that I lost all respect for the district.

When school officials are so easily intimidated, it opens the door for banning all books that attempt to deal honestly with controversial issues.  We forget that students today are far more sophisticated than ever before as a result of the images and information they are routinely exposed to on the internet. They can handle such material when it is taught by gifted teachers.  In fact, I submit that these two books, as well as others dealing with sensitive issues, constitute an invaluable teaching moment.

Yes, we can assign expurgated versions of books in order to avoid the possibility of offending someone's sensitivities.  But then we wonder why students are bored to death.  I'm not proposing books that are the equivalent of tabloid newspapers.  They would certainly grab the attention of students, but they have no redeeming literary value.  I'm talking about classics that have withstood the test of time and have something inherently invaluable to teach students.  It's time for schools to stop walking on eggs.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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