Illinois Parents Freaking Out Over ‘Smut’ Like Maya Angelou

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Some people have far too much time on their hands.

A group of parents in Illinois are on a crusade to stop “smut” books from being taught at Lemont High School. Laura Reigle, a mother of a student at the school, recently posted a blog post about stopping “pornography” from being taught in English class. She is worried about books that:

“…Contain sex, murder, suicide, homoeroticism and show that this concern is not of a one-off instance taking place in public education today.”

One book, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, has already been been removed from the approved reading list. Reigle targets several other books that she deems unacceptable as well, including:

  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • After the First Death by Robert Cormier
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  • Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

Reigle argues that these books are problematic in high school classrooms because students are not mentally prepared to handle these weighty subjects. She seems to miss that the point of literature is to make people challenge and question their beliefs and to think about uncomfortable topics and injustice.

As a high school English teacher myself, I see the fear of literature from parents fairly often. But there are a few things about high school students that fly in the face of this hand-wringing approach.

High school students have unprecedented access to nearly any type of information and media they want. If a high school student is getting their “pornography” from Maya Angelou and John Knowles, parents should be extremely happy about what they are getting.

More importantly, students need to be challenged with difficult, uncomfortable, and unknown topics. High school students either experience, hear about, or witness sexual assault, suicide, discrimination, and other scary topics in their daily lives. It helps them to have a safe place, like an English classroom, to discuss these topics and help to better understand how to cope with and stop them.

Depriving students of literature that concentrates on difficult topics will only further stunt their emotional growth. Nearly all literature taught in public high school contains controversial topics: otherwise there is little to learn from it. Just recently, schools in Virginia banned both To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn due to controversial content.

Angelou’s books are frequently challenged in schools. However, a true story of hardship, loss, and redemption should be on everyone’s reading list.

Featured Image via Flickr User York College ISLGP / CC 2.0 Generic