Now, I'm not sure how many of you've read Brave New World or Stranger in a Strange Land, but if you get sexually aroused by those books, you likely should not breed.Four parents of Science Academy sophomores are determined to protect their children. From books.
The board of directors for the South Texas Independent School District is expected to decide tonight whether to ban two books — Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land — from the high school’s 10th grade English Advanced Placement curriculum.
The books, part of the class’ summer reading list, may lead to “inappropriate sexual arousal of young teens,” parent Julie Wilde wrote in her complaint to the district.
“We feel this is inappropriate for the ages of the students at (the) Science Academy or at any South Texas ISD High School,” she continued in her letter, specifically citing Brave New World. “This is pornographic literature and we do not feel it has a place in any school funded by taxpayer dollars.”
Under school district policies, parents have the right to object to their children’s reading materials, and to obtain alternatives to those materials.
However, “A parent’s ability to exercise control over reading, listening, or viewing matter extends only to his or her own children,” the policies state under the section Guiding Principles. “When instructional resources are challenged, the principles of the freedom to read, listen, and view must be defended as well.”
As part of the district’s grievance process, the Science Academy’s principal first addressed the complaint. He formed a committee to reassess the materials — all of which have been in use for at least a decade at the district.
The committee found that the books help to develop SAT vocabulary and Advanced Placement analytical skills for students who attend the eighth-best high school in the nation, according to Newsweek magazine.
“This book enriches and supports the curriculum and presents various sides of controversial issues so that students have an opportunity to develop, under guidance, skills in critical analysis and in making informed judgments in their daily lives,” the committee of five wrote in the June report.
Each of the titles has received praise from teachers, professors and critics alike. Stranger in a Strange Land — which Wilde said she did not read — is a 1962 Hugo Award winner about a boy raised by Martians who returned to Earth as a true innocent without knowledge of sex or religion, and is viewed by many as a science fiction masterpiece. Brave New World has been called one of the most brilliant satires written in English, about a dystopia where babies are born in laboratories, people pop “happy” pills like candy and sex is a casual act.
“The references to sexual behavior which the complainants cited as leading to sexual arousal are non-explicit attempts by the author to engage the reader in critical thought about human values and societal codes of conduct,” the committee wrote in its report on Stranger in a Strange Land. “The book addresses sexuality and portrays groups with radically different approaches to sexuality than that generally accepted as our societal norm. The book does not promote these lifestyles as desirable. The book does not give graphic descriptions of sexual acts.”
It is important to view language and sexual situations in the books in context, wrote Charles Suhor, field representative for the National Council of Teachers of English, in a letter to the board of trustees.
“The ethical and literary value of a work is distorted if one focuses only on particular words, passages, or segments,” he wrote. “An author’s broad moral vision, total treatment of theme, and commitment to realistic portrayal of characters and dialogue are ignored when protesters focus only on aspects that are offensive to them. Unfortunately, there is shock value in isolating and listing selected passages from a book; but this does not reveal anything about the fundamental message or theme in the work, and it does not provide insight into its teachability or its literary quality.”
Neither group of parents could be reached by deadline.
After failing at the high school level, the parents took their grievances to the superintendent, who backed the committee’s decision. Next, the complaint went to the board of trustees. At its August meeting, the board chose to table the item.
It is expected to address it tonight — which, ironically, is right in the middle of Banned Books Week.
“It is not only the right of parents, but their responsibility to be involved in what their kids are reading,” said Beverley Becker, associate director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which sponsors awareness of banned and challenged books.
“But there’s a line that they cross when they ask that in addition to their kid, that nobody else have access to that book. When they go that next step that nobody else can have access, that’s when we come to a problem.”
The American Library Association reports more than 7,000 challenges to books in the last decade — more than 60 percent of them from parents. In 2002, people issued 515 book challenges— though that may be as little as 25 percent of that total number of challenges made, Becker said, because people voluntarily report the challenges to the association.
“It’s an individual decision of what you want to read — it’s not through a majority rules,” Becker said. “If you’re going to be a well-informed citizen and consider different ideas, you need to look at them all and make an educated decision for yourself. Look at the argument from all sides — even the side that you don’t agree with.”
At South Texas ISD, dozens of educators, students, parents and alumni have written the school or spoken before the board of trustees in defense of the books and curriculum.
“In our experiences with school curricula, we have found that there are few instructional materials that do not include something that is offensive to someone,” Suhor, of the National Council of Teachers of English, wrote. “If literary works that are duly selected by English teaching professionals are removed because the works offend particular individuals or groups, there will soon be little or no literature left to teach in our schools.”