Common Indecency

** Warning!  The links embedded in this article mostly lead to articles containing excerpts from a literary work.  These excerpts are sexually graphic and explicit in nature.  If you do not wish to view this material, do not click on the links! **

Thanks to Becky for sending me a link to this blog post regarding part of the new national academic standards being rolled out, known colloquially as the Common Core (this link is safe – no explicit content here).   The Common Core is required for any school wishing to receive Federal educational aid.  This news story summarizes some basic information about the Common Core.  

There is growing concern (careful, graphic content there!) because some of the literature approved for use in junior and senior level literature courses includes graphic sexual content.  Specifically, the book The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.  I have not read this book.  Based on the excerpts in the blog post above, I don’t have a desire to, either.  
Others support teaching this book in class.  They assert that the controversial nature of the book is what makes it ideal material.  They argue that kids need to be more challenged in their reading, and books like this accomplish that goal.
I’ll agree that a book of this nature probably fits the bill for controversial and challenging reading.  The author’s own stated intent of not giving value judgments on the descriptions of rape and pedophilia is intentional, so that the reader empathizes with the characters more, appreciating widely divergent points of view.  
Sexual material in high school classrooms is nothing new.  I well remember the controversy over showing the 9th grade advanced literature class Zeffirelli’s film presentation of Romeo and Juliet, because it included some brief bits of nudity.  My parents gave their permission.  I was excited to be introduced to mature material, and yes, the naughty bits were a topic of conversation for a few days.
But the point of the sexuality in the play and in the movie was decidedly secondary to the overall literary themes.  I was not being asked to empathize with pathological behavior.  Neither the play or the movie were graphic, describing the physicality of the acts.  Of the many meaty topics that could be discussed in the play (the nature of parent/child relationships, the power of hate, the power of love, the role of religion in the family or even civic sphere, the impetuousness of youth, differences in cultural/historic treatments of love and marriage, etc.), sexuality isn’t one of them.  The point is not to make me think about sex (something that high school students don’t have a problem, by and large, receiving plenty of stimulus from other quarters, as the recent Miley Cyrus/MTV Video Music Awards debacle demonstrates.  No, I’m not going to provide you with a link to that).  
Arguing that The Bluest Eye is simply a literary work like any other in a culture in the throes of major shifts in moral understandings is hogwash.  I will trust that it provides other challenging topics of discussion.  But for the high schoolers (if not their teachers), the sexual content is likely going to predominate.  
I seem to recall reading more than a few books that are challenging and engaging without being sexually explicit.  I continue to be amazed that in public schools, which in the not-so-distant past were devoid of sexual material of any kind, sexuality is now the conversation topic not just between students but in the curriculum and extra-curricular activities.  Homosexuality related campus groups are more and more the norm.  I can’t imagine a principal ever approving a club supporting heterosexual individuals.  Can you imagine what that might have been like?  
Youth are steeped in sexual images, lyrics, and expectations from a shockingly early age.  This is not accidental, it is intentional.  To continue to attempt that extending this assault into the curriculum of the classroom is actually good for them intellectually is ridiculous and dishonest.  Do you want to challenge adolescents in their reading comprehension?  Assign them to read Camus.  Assign them to read Shakespeare.  Have them read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for a fascinating exploration of the roles and relationships and responsibilities between creator and created.  What about reading philosophers?  What about reading any number of hundreds of great books that can challenge students in their vocabulary and composition analysis and reading comprehension without focusing on aberrant sexual practices and experiences?  
Isn’t it reasonable for us all to agree that our kids should receive the best education possible, and that we can do this without pushing yet more sexually-charged and explicit material at them?  I can pretty much guarantee that no teacher is going to want to facilitate a conversation on the sexual parts of the book to begin with.  Those sections can’t even be read in the classroom – they are mandated to be read only at home!  So the sexual material and the ramifications isn’t even going to be dealt with.  So why insist on having it there in the first place?
Once again, under the guise of education, our children are going to suffer so that the agendas of a tiny minority of people can be advanced.  I continue to find this not only intellectually dishonest, but morally reprehensible.  

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