Friday, November 28, 2014

Complaints About Sexually Inappropriate Reading Material In High School Part 2 - Garbage In - Garbage Out

Though Part 1 of this post has been viewed over 15 thousand times, I have been very disturbed to see the amount of comments making excuses for the material described by the mother's letter. I tend to believe few people have actually read her letter - which explains the comments about wanting to burn or ban books - but many commenters have read the book and still felt it appropriate reads for their children.

People who believe we're for book burning or banning or censoring, etc., please note the following points about the first post:

  • The mother was responding by trying to educate her school board that it was breaking their own 'rule' about how books are adopted for students.
  • The mother never suggested that the books be 'banned', or 'burned' or anything else, she merely provided information to suggest that these books were not written in a style appropriate for HIGH SCHOOL children.
  • The mother approached the school board of this particular district in order that they understand her concerns - which is not only well within her rights as a taxpaying citizen - but her duty as a parent.

The themes of these books (The Kite Runner and The Glass Castle) are difficult to be sure, and yes, there are difficult situations all around us in the world today. Should kids understand rape? Certainly - in order for them to be able to protect themselves. We start at the earliest ages telling our children they should allow no one but their parents to touch the parts of their body that clothes are meant to cover.

Here's the rub. What kind of language do you use to convey that message? What kind of imagery do you invoke to create this level of understanding? NOT that found in these books. NOT for high school students.  I'm going to publish some parts of the books below. This is not WRITTEN (note I say 'written' - I'm saying nothing about the difficulty of the 'theme') in a manner appropriate for young students to read - college aged and above, fine.

I'm going to print some of the more concerning passages from these books in order that readers understand exactly the issue at hand.

These passages are from the Glass Castle:

p. 82 - Empty beer cans and whiskey bottles and a few half-eaten tins of Vienna sausages littered the floor. On one of the mattresses, Billy’s father was snoring unevenly. His mouth hung open, and flies were gathered in the stubble of his beard. A wet stain had darkened his pants nearly to his knees. His zipper as undone, and his gross penis dangled to one side. I stared quietly, then asked, “What’s the funny thing?” “Don’t you see?” said Billy. “He pissed himself!” Billy started laughing...

p. 86 – Billy smushed his face against mine, then grabbed my hair and made my head bend sideways and stuck his tongue in my mouth. It as slimy and disgusting, but when I tried to pull away, he pushed in toward me. The more I pulled, the more he pushed, until he was on top of me and I felt his fingers tugging at my shorts. His other hand was unbuttoning his own pants. To stop him, I put my hand down there, and when I touched it, I knew what it was, even though I had never touched one before.”

p. 103 – One night when I as almost ten, I as awakened by someone running his hands over my private parts. At first it was confusing. Lori and I slept in the same bed, and I thought maybe she was moving in her sleep. I groggily pushed the hand away. “I just want to play a game with you,” a man’s voice said.

p. 146 – Erma [the grandmother], who’d been drinking since before breakfast, told Brian [approx. 9 year old brother] that his britches needed mending. He started to take them off, but Erma said she didn’t want him running around the house in his skivvies or with a towel wrapped around him looking like he was wearing a goddamn dress. It would be easier for her to mend the britches while he was still wearing them. She ordered him to follow her in to Grandpa’s bedroom, where she kept her sewing kit. They’d been gone for a minute or two when I heard Brian weakly protesting. I went into Grandpa’s bedroom and saw Erma kneeling on the floor in front of Brian, grabbing at the crotch of his pants, squeezing and kneading while mumbling to herself and telling Brian to hold still, goddammit. Brian, his cheeks wet with tears, was holding his hands protectively between his legs. “Erma, you leave him alone!” I shouted. Erma, still on her knees, twisted around and glared at me. “Why, you little bitch!” she said. 

p. 161 – Of course I went. I’d never gotten inside the Green Lantern, but now I’d get an up-close look at a genuine prostitute. There were lots of things I wanted to know: Was whoring easy money? Was it ever any fun, or was it just gross? Did Kathy and her sisters and her father all know Ginnie Sue Pastor was a whore?... Ginnie Sue offered us seats at the table. She had heavy breasts that swayed when she moved, and her blond hair was dark at the roots...

These are excerpts from the Kite Runner:

p.7 – “Hey you!” he said. “I know you.” We had never seen him before. He was a squatty man with a shaved head and black stubble on his face. The way he grinned at us, leered, scared me. “Just keep walking,” I muttered to Hassan. “You!  The Hazara! Look at me when I’m talking to you!” the soldier barked. He handed his cigarette to the guy next to him, made a circle with the thumb and index finger of one hand. Poked the middle finger of his other hand through the circle. Poked it in and out. In and out. “I knew your mother, did you know that? I knew her real good. I took her from behind that creek over there.” The soldiers laughed. One of them made a squealing sound. I told Hassan to keep walking, keep walking. “What a tight little sugary cunt she had!” the soldier was saying, shaking hands with the others, grinning...

p.72-76 – “Whatever you wish.” Assef unbuttoned his winter coat, took it off, folded it slowly and deliberately. He placed it against the wall. I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost....Assef motioned with his hand, and the other two boys separated, forming a half circle, trapping Hassan in the alley...”I don’t know,” Wali was saying. “My father says it’s sinful.” He sounded unsure, excited, scared, all at the same time. Kamal and Wali each gripped an arm, twisted and bent at the elbow so that Hassan’s hands were pressed to his back. Assef was standing over them, the heel of his snow boots crushing the back of Hassan’s neck...Assef knelt behind Hassan, put his hands on Hassan’s hips and lifted his bare buttocks. He kept one hand on Hassan’s back and undid his own belt buckle with the free hand. He unzipped his jeans. Dropped his underwear. He positioned himself behind Hassan. Hassan didn’t struggle. Didn’t even whimper. He moved his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face. Saw the resignation in it. It was a look I had seen before...

Ironically, there is also this passage:

p. 116 – My mind flashed to that winter day six years ago. Me, peering around the corner in the alley. Kamal and Wali holding Hassan down. Assef’s buttock muscles clenching and clenching, his hips thrusting back and forth.

The author of the book himself, makes plain that what he saw, he can't unsee. It haunts him even in his waking hours. How do you then justify allowing children (they are under 18) to read such clear word pictures as to give them the ability to 'see' things they can't 'unsee' from reading such explicit writing? You really believe the world is such a horrible place that most kids are going to be exposed to this kind of thing? I don't. I think kids take in what you give them. If it's garbage, you get garbage out, if it's light, you get light. If you don't believe me, look at Ferguson Missouri - look at how the instances of rape, aggravated assault and murder of children by children have increased as the availability of porn and explicit video games have cornered the market.

Here's the worst part - these passages are needlessly graphic. I will convey exactly the same 'theme' below:
My mind flashed back to that winter six days ago. Me, peering around the corner of the alley, watching in horror, as Hassan was cruelly raped.
You're telling me the words I used above don't convey the feelings of the author on page 116? Absolutely they do. We can still feel his self-loathing, his disgust, we just don't have to have the mental picture associated with the act.

Unfortunately, we're seeing this kind of thing more and more. Just recently, it was found that several of the books on the Common Core ancillary list were replete with this kind of imaging - books like The Bluest Eye and Dreaming in Cuban - have come under fire recently for the imagery invoked by this same style of writing - a style that many find inappropriate for underage youth.

Readers are certainly entitled to their opinions - and they certainly have the right to address their school boards on this issue - but society has become decidedly more coarse in near direct proportion to the amount of non-light-bearing forms of entertainment available today. There are ways to educate children in the 'ways of the world'. Providing them with such graphic images is not the way to do that and produce healthy children for a healthy society.