Highland Park's Book Fight Is About Ideology, Not Sex
From its beginning last fall, the narrative of the Great Highland Park Book Ban -- and I think all spectators can agree that it's been great -- has been about sex. This is understandable. Almost all great book-ban fights are about sex -- about when kids should be exposed to it and by whom and in what form, and whether the objections of a few puritanical moms should be allowed to dictate educational policy for an entire classroom/school district/state. Plus, if there's anything the media enjoys more than controversy, it's controversy about sex.
As it turns out, though, the Highland Park fight isn't just about sex. It's about using sex as a pretext for purging the high school curriculum of works that would be ideologically objectionable to a devotee of Ayn Rand. Case in point: the ongoing challenge to David K. Shipler's The Working Poor: Invisible in America, one of the seven books whose brief suspension from the Highland Park High School curriculum last fall ignited the current fight.
The book is basically an ethnography of the modern American working class, a chronicle of people who have jobs and work hard but can't make ends meet. It is, by nature, an indictment of societal attitudes and government policies that have fostered what amounts to a permanent underclass, but it's carefully researched and even-handed written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times reporter.
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The complaint against it, which is embedded below, was filed by University Park mom Meg Bakich. Ostensibly, her objections are about sex: "Sexually explicit, anal sex, depiction of abortion and aftermath of body parts, degrading and offensive to women portraying them as weak, pathetic, ignorant, sexual objects and incapable beings," she writes in summary.
The first half of her complaint pretty accurately describes some of the bad things that happen to the poor people featured in Shipler's book, minus the adjective "explicit"; the language in the book is frank but not prurient. The second half of that summary could be dismissed as a misreading of Shipler's narrative. The women he describes don't come across as weak or ignorant so much as screwed over by life, but that's probably giving Bakich too much credit. Read further and you'll start to sense that her real objection isn't to the sex but to the unvarnished look at poverty.
Is requiring a student to read about the sexual abuse, rape, sexual molestation, anal sex and abortion the best means for learning to write prose and sufficient richness and complexity to communicate effectively with mature readers, which is the overarching objective of AP English 3 as stated in the Rationale authored by Rand Nelson? Are there not better books from which to teach our students how to write and communicate effectively in an English class?
"The objective of the class is to address global poverty and economic inequality issues as desired by HPISD." Does this sound like an English class curricula or a government/social issues, Humanities or Sociology course? This is how Rand Nelson describes HPISD AP English III. I propose the course objective be rethought to fit the training and wheelhouse of an English teacher as opposed to a political science teacher. I propose a political science class be created to read this sort of material.
If HPISD English III is intent on teaching "social issues" and addressing global poverty and economic inequality issues as referenced by Mr. Nelson, this can be accomplished by so many better choices such as; "Out of the Dust" Karen Hesse, "We the Living" Ayn Rand, "America the Beautiful" Ben Carson and "Nothing to Fear" Jackie French Koller. "The Working Poor" is not a great work of literature or an example of rich writing we want our students to emulate. One must ask, is this the best piece of literature our students can read to learn to write? Let us seek the highest quality of literature for our HPISD students.
If the recommendation of books by Ayn Rand and Ben Carson and the objection to the introduction of "social issues" into an English class aren't a clear enough indication that Bakich's complaint is ideologically driven, then perhaps her surrogate at last night's HPISD board meeting is. From The Dallas Morning News' recap:
Alice Linahan of Argyle, who spoke on Bakich's behalf Tuesday, said Highland Park High School's book selection is the latest sign of "a fundamental shift in education" from teaching subject areas to teaching "based on attitudes, values and beliefs."
Linahan said it reflects the negative effects of the Common Core, a national curriculum standard that has not been adopted by Texas but that some say has a left-leaning political agenda.
Linahan is one of the area's more strident and visible Tea Party activists. If anything, the Morning News' paraphrase of her remarks downplays the absurdity of her views on education, which are described in detail on the website of her consultancy, Voices Empower. Basically she thinks there's a conspiracy in which Bill Gates, the Clintons, the United Nations and Barack Obama have teamed up to brainwash kids and "erase state and individual sovereignty."
So is Bakich mad about a passing mention of anal sex? Or is she fighting to stop a liberal takeover of education that will destroy the American way of life? In either case, the solution is simple: Ignore her.
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