Book Challenges Strike Close to Home

January 15, 2008 at 7:50 am Leave a comment

I don’t think I ever posted about Kathy (of course, not her real name). Bespectacled, a year younger than her peers, and crankily, über-conservatively Mormon, she first caught our attention with her lengthly diatribe against the summer novel, Ishmael. It started out with a not-uncommon level of disagreement with the book’s philosophy, but quickly escalated into a full-out launch against DR’s personal state of grace. Memorably, she called Daniel Quinn the Antichrist.

And then, as bad as all this was, what followed was just inexcusable. About two-thirds of the way through the reading response, it became painfully clear that her father had taken over the keyboard. (I assume the male parent based on the tone and my experiences with a certain type of LDS male.) Not-Kathy proceeded to spend the rest of the paper lecturing us on the tenets of the LDS faith, reading very much like a particularly unpleasant variety of religious pamphlet, with a clear tone of condescension and disapproval. There was no mistaking the fact that a second person had taken over the paper and that Kathy had little, if anything, to do with the work bearing her name.

We were pretty disconcerted, and together crafted a response to the paper that challenged some of Kathy’s less well-thought-out assertions. We also asked that she come and see DR to discuss the paper (and Kathy’s less-than-stellar grade). Kathy never showed up; nor did her parents attend Parent-Teacher Conferences.

Throughout the semester, Kathy has caused us minor little problems. Maybe it’s because she’s a year younger, or maybe it’s because she’s being raised in a very protected environment, but she just hasn’t been at the maturity level of her peers. As a result, she misses subcontext and takes unnecessary offense at every turn. Her papers are stilted, heavily laden with religious themes, and often return to the idea of “DR, you are a heathen, you ought to listen to me so and join my church so that I can save your dirty soul.”

On Monday, Kathy and her mom came into DR’s classroom unannounced and demanded a meeting. Mrs. Kathy wanted to know what books would be on the curriculum for spring semester; when DR replied, Mrs. Kathy launched into a lecture about the dirty, sinful nature of the books read during the fall. Siddhartha bore the brunt of her disapproval, and the discussion quickly turned to the fact that all these books were filled with sex and how dare the school expose her child to the concept thereof.

DR responded that the accelerated sophomore English class was taught at a senior (or higher) level, and that the texts chosen were appropriate to that level of comprehension. She also said that sometimes there were adult themes in the novels, but that they were not gratuitous and were there to help illustrate points or teach important lessons.

Mrs. Kathy responded that she was sure there were other texts – less filthy texts – that could be used for this purpose.

DR replied that she respectfully disagreed. She then added that all books were chosen and determined acceptable by a committee that included parents. She also pointed out that all books had been announced at the beginning of the semester, in a letter to the parents, and so Mrs. Kathy had had ample opportunity to review texts and request alternatives.

With a smug look on her face, little Kathy asked, “Mom, are you going to tell her the other thing?”

Mrs. Kathy didn’t answer, so Kathy continued. “I’m going to drop out of this class and take second semester correspondence through [Mormon University].”

Astonished, DR asked, “Why did you ask me about next semester’s books, then?”

The answer, apparently, was that Kathy had younger siblings and her parents wanted “to know what to expect.” (For those of you familiar with the sort of people who challenge books, that’s code for “to rally the troops and collect a bunch of torches and pitchforks.”)

The problem, however, falls beyond our religious differences or even our perceptions of the qualities and justifications of our novels. You see, for all her immaturity, Kathy is a bright girl – the sort of girl who will do very well in school, graduate with a 4.0 in accelerated classes, and be accepted to Mormon University. But she’s going to want to go into AP English next year – DR asked – and you need a certain foundation in your tenth grade English in order to succeed in AP. Unfortunately, the curriculum for the Mormon University 10th grade English correspondence course is equivalent to the 8th grade English curriculum in our district, which means that Kathy will spend next semester reviewing much-too-easy material and gaining none of the tools she needs to cut it in AP.

Sigh.

We’ve told Kathy about the disparity in curricula, but the decision has to be hers and her family’s – and ultimately, their spiritual objections to the mention of sex in a novel will likely trump the benefits of challenging coursework. I guess this is just one of those times when you have to know when to let go….

On the bright side, if Kathy does go through with it and leaves the class, we won’t have to be constantly reminded of what sinful heathens we are. That might be a nice improvement.

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Entry filed under: BAD DAY, TALES FROM SCHOOL. Tags: , .

Teaching: Nature or Nurture? Oh Good Grief.

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The Bee’s Knees

This is the teaching journal of a student first-year second-year THIRD-YEAR (!!!) English teacher. I am writing this blog as a reflection for myself, a way to keep friends and family updated, and a sharing-ground between other educators online. I love comments!

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