Dumb me down
Latest news on the That’s Outrageous! I’m Outraged! Harrumph Harrumph front:
n April, at an otherwise mundane meeting of the school board here, Brittany Hunsicker, a 16-year-old student at the local high school, stood up and addressed the assembled board members.
“How would you like if your son and daughter had to read this?” Miss Hunsicker asked.
Then she began to recite from “The Buffalo Tree,” a novel set in a juvenile detention center and narrated by a tough, 12-year-old boy incarcerated there. What she read was a scene set in a communal shower, where another adolescent boy is sexually aroused.
“I am in the 11th grade,” Miss Hunsicker said. “I had to read this junk.”
Less than an hour later, by a unanimous vote of the board (two of its nine members were absent) “The Buffalo Tree” was banned, officially excised from the Muhlenberg High School curriculum. By 8:30 the next morning all classroom copies of the book had been collected and stored in a vault in the principal’s office. Thus began a still unresolved battle here over the fate of “The Buffalo Tree,” a young adult novel by Adam Rapp that was published eight years ago by HarperCollins and has been on the 11th-grade reading list at Muhlenberg High since 2000. Pitting teachers, students and others who say the context of the novel’s language makes it appropriate for the classroom against those parents and board members who say context be damned, it is a dispute illustrative of the so-called culture war, which, in spite of its national implications, is fought in almost exclusively local skirmishes. The board was set to meet the evening of June 1 to reconsider its decision.
Miss Hunsicker, who is sixteen, is having problems with a book that, according to the School Library Journal is intended for grades 7 and up:
From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up. The brutal world of a juvenile detention center is the setting for this compelling story of survival and redemption, re-created through a 13 year old’s inventive use of language.
Why is this happening now? It’s a sign of the times:
According to the American Library Association, which asks school districts and libraries to report efforts to ban books – that is, have them removed from shelves or reading lists – they are on the rise again: 547 books were challenged last year, up from 458 in 2003. These aren’t record numbers. In the 1990’s the appearance of the Harry Potter books, with their themes of witchcraft and wizardry, caused a raft of objections from evangelical Christians.
Judith Krug, director of the library association’s office for intellectual freedom, attributed the most recent spike to the empowerment of conservatives in general and to the re-election of President Bush in particular. The same thing happened 25 years ago, she said. “In 1980, we were dealing with an average of 300 or so challenges a year, and then Reagan was elected,” she said. “And challenges went to 900 or 1,000 a year.”
…and the evangelicals are feeling their oats (if that’s not a sin, of course):
Muhlenberg is a township of modest homes and 10,000 people or so, a bedroom community for the city of Reading, in the southeastern quadrant of the state. It is conservative politically and almost entirely white, and there are a growing number of evangelical Christians. Miss Hunsicker had just returned from a two-week church mission in Honduras when, encouraged by her mother, she made her public complaint.
..and what follows is the local columnist who is ‘agin’ it…even though he hasn’t read it:
In May a column appeared headlined “The Upside of Censorship,” by a regular columnist, John D. Forester Jr., who wrote that after reading only “passages” of “The Buffalo Tree,” “I am actually applauding the efforts of parents to have books banished in their school libraries and classrooms.” A few days later, an editorial took the opposing view.
…and another one of those dreary well-meaning sensible mothers who wants her babies to remain babies:
Several students spoke with more reasonable passion about the value of the novel, and one high school senior, Mary Isamoyer, offered to replace the missing library copies of “The Buffalo Tree” with her own.
“Do not insult our intelligence by keeping this book from us,” she said.
Tammy Hahn, a mother of four and perhaps the most outspoken of the book’s opponents, responded that the students’ view was irrelevant. She was not about to let her daughter take part in a classroom discussion about erections, she said, adding that it amounted to harassment to subject a girl to the smirks and innuendoes of male classmates who would have no sympathy for her discomfort.
“This is not about a child’s opinion,” she said of the students’ defense of the book. “This is about parents.”
Congratulations Tammy, you’ve just opened the door to making your daughter the Erection Queen of Muhlenberg High School. When she slams her door on you while screaming “I hate you! I hate you! You fat drunken cow!” you can look back on this moment and be proud.