Government Preparation for Adulthood

This story is almost two weeks old, but it still has value.

A two-page oral sex encounter by an awkward teen at boarding school in the coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska was deemed too racy by Sumner County schools last week.

The district banned the book from its assigned classroom reading list, becoming at least the second in the state, after Knox County in March, to keep students from reading it together in class.

The teen novel is the first in several years to be stripped from Sumner classrooms. Wilson, Rutherford and Williamson county schools say they haven’t banned the book or any titles in recent years. Metro schools didn’t have information on the book as of Monday.

In this case, he said, the value didn’t outweigh the controversy. The book was not pulled from any district library shelves, [Sumner County schools spokesman Jeremy Johnson] said.

I oppose censorship. This is clearly a form of censorship, although not quite as bad as removing the book from the school system entirely. A public school board prohibiting a book from the classroom curriculum is insulting to both teachers and students. It also provides excellent support for a libertarian rant against public provision of education. The argument against home-schooling seems centered around the willingness of some parents to avoid facts. This is no better, since the government engages in the same behavior. It’s also unnecessary. In high school, I had to seek parental permission to read The Catcher in the Rye for an essay because it featured adult language and themes. That’s an imperfect, reasonable solution which leaves discretion to parents and provides a learning opportunity for all students.

The school board’s decision is awful, and especially so because the book is part of a high school curriculum in which students are presumably being taught to think critically. Still, this strikes me as worse:

“Kids at this age are impressionable. Sometimes it’s a monkey see, monkey do,” said parent Kathy Clough, who has a freshman and a senior at White House High School, where the book had been assigned reading. “I’m going to trust that my school board made the right choice. … If they feel like this book is a little too graphic, I’m all for it.”

Or she could read the book and decide for herself. Just an idea.

I don’t understand that kind of parental abdication. Of course her concern is probably quite appropriate, given how willing she seems to turn over the raising of her children (who are nearly adults) to a government body. But this is infuriating because she assumes all parents are as incapable of teaching the idiocy of “monkey see, monkey do” as she implies she is, and therefore, no parents should have the choice for such books to be a part of their teen’s education. If she thinks a “child” 14 or older isn’t aware that oral sex is a thing, she’s mistaken. If a child teen between 14 and 18 hasn’t learned enough to distinguish literature from a directive, the school system is worse than just a censoring band of thugs. It’s an incompetent, censoring band of thugs. All parents should be vehemently opposed to ceding more control to that school system, as Ms. Clough is happy to do.

Here’s the author, John Green, explaining this scenario when it occurred elsewhere in 2008:

Via John Green on Twitter.

Update: Post updated because I found evidence that I had to ask permission to read The Catcher in the Rye.