Censor-tivity Training in Texas?

From the Associated Press (via the First Amendment Center):

Texas teacher could face criminal charges over challenged book

TUSCOLA, Texas — A popular English teacher has been placed on paid leave — and faces possible criminal charges — after a student’s parents complained to police that a ninth-grade class reading list contained a book about a murderer who has sex with his victims’ bodies.

Kaleb Tierce, 25, is being investigated for allegedly distributing harmful material to a minor after the student selected Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God off the list and read it.

Tierce, a third-year teacher and assistant football coach at Jim Ned High School, has not been arrested, but his case has caused an uproar in this West Texas town of 700 people. Last week, more than 120 parents and students crowded into a meeting where the school board voted to keep Tierce on paid leave.

Most parents say Tierce should be reinstated, regardless of whether the book is too graphic for teens.

“He’s a great teacher and coach and motivates the kids like no one else can,� said Chris Garcia, whose daughter was in one of Tierce’s classes. “If you’re trying to protect your kids from things in books, you may as well turn off the TV and video games. You try to protect them as much as you can, but these days kids are just exposed to so much.� [...]

In Tuscola, south of Abilene, Child of God was on a list of titles compiled by all of the high school English teachers for a pre-Advanced Placement class.

Although administrators’ approval was not required for the list, school officials have since removed the book because they deemed it inappropriate for ninth-graders.

The book tells the story of a town’s outsider who is falsely accused of rape, then begins killing people. The character ends up living in a cave with his victims’ decomposing bodies. The 1974 novel “plumbs the depths of human degradation,� according to its back cover.

The parents of one ninth-grade student filed a police report on Oct. 1 with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office earlier this month. Before contacting law enforcement officials, they complained to the teacher and principal, said district Superintendent Kent LeFevre, who declined to reveal their discussions.

The superintendent placed Tierce on administrative leave on Oct. 9.

Sheriff’s Sgt. John Cummins said the case would be turned over to the district attorney once the investigation was complete. Distributing harmful material to a minor is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. [full text]

Gee, I wonder if the same standards would be applied—or affront taken—to military recruiters who distribute material promoting enlistment to students. I suppose “harmful” is in the eye of the beholder. In any regard, some parents and school administrators would seem to need censor-tivity training. Or at least remedial instruction in civics and mathematics, i.e., to learn that taking offense ≠ criminal offense, at least not in this case, and that protecting ≠ coddling or pandering to the uber-sensitive.

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2 responses

  1. As a writer and librarian, I’m always simultaneously depressed and heartened when I read about books being censored. Depressed, because it shows the small-mindedness of so many of our fellow humans. Heartened, because it shows that books are still powerful enough to be feared.

    On the other hand, I’m still trying to figure out how to even deal with a co-worker’s proud comment that he had sold his entire set of Harry Potter books after J.K. Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay. The idea that someone’s sexual self-image is so precarious that a gay fictional character could cause such consternation is pretty sad. But I’m sure it’s neither the first nor the last of many such reactions from those who claim to wish to “protect” our children from exposure to anything potentially disturbing, thought-provoking, or world view-questioning.

  2. 9th Grade is old enough for such discussion with the students. Hey, if the Maine school system believes in giving 11 year olds the Pill which promotes the idea of youngsters becoming sexually active and accepting this as okay behavior, is totally sad that 9th graders cannot read a book which is most likely Thursday night’s movie at 8:00pm.

    Good grief!

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