My youngest sister called me the other day. She was furious. She wanted to know how textbooks are chosen. Why? Because her 14-year-old daughter had been required to read a story where "one man cut up another man and put the body parts under his floor boards!" Yes, she was referring to Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Tell-Tale Heart." She planned to go to the school district’s superintendent to complain.
Soon after school started, she called to tell me how her daughter’s English teacher required them to read a book written by a teacher and students a few blocks from the World Trade Center after 9/11. She was outraged because the book was filled with the word "fuck." An Amazon search-inside-this-book showed me the word was in there about three times. She complained to the teacher and got her daughter an alternate assignment.
She was sure the problem is the eighth grade teacher her daughter has. First the teacher exposed the kid to "fuck" and now it’s Poe. She’s convinced the teacher is just warped and just not be around children. I explained the textbook adoption process. I explained how important Poe is to American literature. I tried to discuss theme. But all she could see was the dismembered body. Her daughter, she said, "was very disturbed" by the story.
And then, the teacher had the kids answer the questions after the story and one of those questions asked the students to compare Poe’s story to a horror movie they’ve seen recently. My sister does not allow her children to watch horror movies. Seriously. No horror movies. Not even something as tame as The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Lord knows I’ve tried to rectify that sad situation. The poor girl had no frame of reference for Poe’s tale.
My niece is very smart. Obviously, she’s very sheltered, too. She’s in all the advanced classes at her school. I explained to my sister that very soon the girl’s going to be exposed to a lot of literature with mature themes. The poor girl is going to be shocked when she gets into pre-AP and AP classes and realizes that there is a whole different world out there.
I sometimes wonder if I picked up all the available common sense as I was coming out of the womb.
My own 14-year-old daughter just recently finished reading Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s Tantalize. She asked for another book the other day. It just so happened I’d just received the ARC I’d won of Carrie Jones‘ new novel Need. She took it. I cannot imagine what my sister would do if I tried to give my niece one of those books, or a copy of Twilight or a Harry Potter book or, God forbid, one of my books. Vampires? Werewoves? Magic? Sex??? hahaha Yeah, I might just try that for Christmas. I do what I can to make the holidays memorable.
Oh, back to the topic at hand. During the brief time I was the Enid bureau chief for The Oklahoman newspaper the school board up there had to consider a parent’s complaint about the high school teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was decided that the teacher could not force the child to read this staple of American literature, that she had to offer an alternate assignment. And now my sister might try to do the same thing to Poe. At least she’s married and has a different last name than me now.