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McCarthy's Child of God

Submitted by the admin on 27 October, 2007 - 15:41

Saturday's library link of the day is to an ABC News Story, no longer available, about an English teacher in Texas who has been suspended for giving a 9th-grade student a novel featuring a murder with necrophilic tendencies. The free-speech-at-any-cost crowd is rallying to the teacher's defense. I have not read the book in question. From what I have seen in this article, I do not intend to. When I think back on my high school English courses, some things come to mind. One day in my sophomore year, the teacher wanted to show us Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. We had to bring in permission slips, since it was an R-rated movie. The next year, in a class where I was the only junior among seniors, I took a class called Survey of Modern Literature from a third-year teacher. I had a free period in my schedule, and I basically decided to take a class from that teacher, who had taught me the first semester of freshman English. Our titles included In Cold Blood by Capote; Johnny Got His Gun; Winesburg, Ohio; The Stranger by Albert Camus (although I read L'Étranger); Soul Catcher by Dune's Frank Herbert. The final work was Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf. As I recall from works read when His Daddy was president, most of these works did have some sort of a sex scene in them. In In Cold Blood, one of the murderers tried to stop the other one from sex with a teenage girl. Johnny Got His Gun featured the last fling before going off to war, with the approval of the girl's father, as well as a scene after our hero main character has suffered severe injures. Soul Catcher featured a woman trying to disqualify a young teenage boy from the innocence required for a human sacrifice. Yes, these works had scenes that would earn the work an R-rating if directly adapted to the silver screen. But none of these seemed to feature content as bad as McCarthy's novel. One difference that people seem to forget here: The work in question is not merely sitting on a library shelf, waiting to be checked out. The work is part of an assignment that the student is required to read. Granted, there may have been some choice as to what books the student could read. If all the student knew about the book was the title, no one could blame him for having been shocked. Also, it is possible (I do not know whether this is the case or not) that by the time this student chose the book, there were not as many choices left. There were three sections of Modern Lit the semester I took it; however, there was only one classroom set of books for each title. Once we finished In Cold Blood, we returned those books to the teacher who passed them on to the other class. There is, or may have been, less choice involved in the reading of this book than in others. Consider the reaction that would have occured with a different type of book that is challenged just as often. Suppose, instead of reading the diary of a sex-crazed serial killer, the student had been required to read the Bible. Or suppose the Bible was one of several choices available to this student's class. The teacher may well have been suspended, but would not be facing the possibility of criminal charges. It is more likely that he would find difficulty in finding another job in the public school system. One other question: Is the suspended teacher in this case merely a scapegoat? He has only been teaching for 3 years; he's barely out of college. I suspect many of the titles on that list for pre-AP courses were selected without his input. It's not like the title in question is less than 3 years old. He may not have been the one to choose that particular title. It is possible he had not even read that book before assigning it to his student. But if they had gone after the teachers who had actually put the book on the list, well, tenure would prevent them from disciplining those teachers.