Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Godless Brouhaha

"After numerous parent complaints, administrators at Oxford High School are asking teachers to consider removing the book Godless by Pete Hautman from their summer reading lists."
That's a quote from a February 3 article in the Oxford Eagle, an Oxford, Mississippi newspaper. Here's a link to the article
This is the first time, to my knowledge, that Godless has been challenged in a public (or any other) school.  I wrote a respectful and polite letter to the principal of the school early last week, but I have received no response from him.
What I find sad and disturbing about this sort of thing is the message it sends to teachers, parents, and students.  When a school administration kowtows to small group of parents (I'm guessing it is only two or three), they are telling the teachers that they do not trust their judgement, and that a few strident voices can control what books are appropriate to assign to their students.  The parents of all the other students, who rely upon the school administration to moderate those fringe voices, get the message that a few extremists are calling the shots in their child's education.  The students get the same message, with the added embarrassment of being "protected" from a book that hundreds of thousands of middle school students have read.
The other thing that bothers me is this: I strongly suspect that the parents who objected to Godless have not read the book.  Because if they had read it, I do not think they would find it objectionable.  We see this over and over again in cases of book banning.  One activist finds reason to object to a book and they inflame a bunch of other parents who read, at most, a few selected, out-of-context passages.  
Oxford High School, I should mention is a large, progressive public school with no history of book banning that I can find.  I hope that this problem with Godless is an isolated incident, and that it does not spread to other books in the school district.


Arthur Willoughby said...

When I was an adolescent, the big thing in my church was "exposing" rock music as the devil's tool.

"The Number of the Beast" was frequently cited as a glaring example. Never mind that it was a fairly accurate musical representation of the Book of Revelation, the finale of the very Holy Book we were expected to revere.

The biggest chink in the armor of critics is when they haven't actually been exposed to the work they're criticizing. I was raised Evangelical and loved "Godless." It's a great representation of the doubts most people of faith experience.

Pete Hautman said...

Yes, it is rather sad when people condemn books (or whatever) that they have not read. But I guess we all have our blind spots. I find it interesting, however, that Godless has been embraced my many Mormons.