Skip to comments.Schools Ban Classic Novels As Much For Laziness And Ignorance As Politics
Posted on 11/27/2020 10:44:50 AM PST by Kaslin
Removing time-tested classics and assigning easy fiction with leftist themes fails in cultivating any love of reading in the students that need it most.
Burbank Unified School District in California recently made headlines with its decision to ban the classic novels “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Cay, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” District leaders apparently responded to several complaints from parents who took issue with the purported racism of the books as well as incidents of white students taunting their nonwhite peers with racist language from their assigned reading.
Yet, in an effort to limit the controversy, removing these books from their approved reading lists only brought even more attention to the matter. Many people, including members of PEN America, expressed outrage at rejecting well-known classics because of a few parents who were offended and a few students acted stupidly.
These are good novels that take a sympathetic view of minorities with well-developed characters and realistic stories. And, a rarity in most classic novels, they also happen to be age-appropriate in their language and subject matter. For this reason, these books serve not just as good, but ideal resources for discussing sensitive issues.
While this is all true, it misses the real reason behind removing these titles. Sure, BUSD clearly hopes to quell the complaints of angry parents and avoid a negative image, but their long-term goal is part of a much larger trend in education: eliminating the very idea of classics and turning assigned reading into a form of indoctrination.
Usually, however, such a move as this would be excused as fostering a love of reading by engaging with relevant issues and challenging norms. A good example can be seen in the Read Woke Challenge, a nationwide campaign by school librarians encouraging adolescents to read the latest titles of social justice young adult fiction.
Verily, it is this long-term goal that makes the books in question problematic. Despite the handful of slurs one finds in it, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is not a racist book; quite the contrary, it is actually an “anti-racist” book that explicitly condemns racism while preaching tolerance and fairness. The problem with the novel is the time it was written and the person who wrote it: a white person growing up in a white world that writes from a “white perspective.” By today’s standards, where even a famous actress’s identity must exactly match the identity of the characters she plays, Harper Lee’s classic has become a racist perpetuation of oppressive narratives.
The other problem with a book like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I suspect, is the fact that it’s been, in a sense, overexposed. By now, generations of English teachers have taught it, year after year, often using the very same materials that were created decades earlier.
True, this indicates that the book has withstood the test of time and proved its merits, but this makes it a harder sell for today’s students. The book challenges them and thus doesn’t immediately appeal to their sensibilities. Instead of doing the difficult work of teaching such a book, most educators will pick another book that’s easier and more relatable. If labeling the book racist is a way to make this happen, so be it.
So what, if anything, replaces these supposedly racist and outdated classics? Usually, an underwhelming assortment of mediocre novels capitalizing on today’s identity politics. They usually feature protagonists from niche communities who struggle with realizing their identity and dealing with an unequivocally bigoted antagonist. The dialogue is “raw” and often features far more racial slurs and profanity than any banned classic. To add even more interest among today’s young readers, most of these books will pack in as many adult themes and explicit scenes as possible.
Ironically, for all their attempts at authenticity, these books are oftentimes completely artificial and utterly trite. The characters are flat; the language is unnatural; the settings and situations are exaggerated and unrealistic; the plots are predictable and boring; and the themes are preachy and annoying.
It’s obvious, even to semi-literate students in middle school and high school, that the writers of these books are pushing an agenda and pandering to a target audience. That’s why the only ones who really enjoy books like “The Hate U Give” are usually young progressive teachers wanting to “connect” with their minority students.
Fortunately, the obviousness of these texts tends to negate the strength of their propaganda. In most cases, students simply won’t read them. As with any assigned reading, they’ll watch the movie, read the summaries, or read the back cover of the book, hoping to glean the bare minimum required to barely scrape by in the coming testing.
After all, in most classes, the English teacher will hardly bother to hold them accountable for their reading. Most assessments will be done with discussions, written responses, and creative projects — all of which make it relatively easy to dodge the reading.
In truth, it’s this attitude about reading, in general, that should most concern parents and educators. If school districts updating and diversifying their assigned texts actually resulted in students reading more, it might be worth it. Instead, it most frequently does the exact opposite. Students start to associate literature and reading with insufferable political correctness and never actually acquire the necessary skills (such as logic, empathy, critical thinking) that come with reading assigned texts.
It’s worth asking, then, what exactly would help students become better readers who loved reading. In my experience, it would be assigning age-appropriate texts that are challenging yet relevant and engaging. In other words, it would mean bringing back today’s banned books that worked so well at helping young readers develop and mature.
Good books make good readers. And, as one might imagine, good readers like reading more than bad readers do. As “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua says in her brilliant article about Chinese parenting, “nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” That’s why the whole approach of removing classics and assigning easy fiction with leftist themes fails in cultivating any love of reading.
Rather, school districts should welcome the difficulty of the classics, seek to add more of them to their lists, and implement real demands on students (and teachers) in English classes. The politics and propaganda will have to wait until the students first learn to read and think for themselves.
Literacy is racism
Somebody banned “Little Black Sambo” because, even though Sambo is an intelligent black boy, it’s pure fantasy to think one can turn a wonderful and beautiful tiger into butter...
Intellectual challenge, logic and reality are racist.
Get with the program or end up in the camps.
I recall reading an article in National Review (during the WFB era when I subscribed) and it discussed how beginning in the 1960s, even university degrees began to be dumbed down to that extent as to increase numbers at state run universities and thus get more public funding, etc. That’s why nowadays in California and elsewhere, one can study rap music as opposed to the genuine classics (literature, art, music, etc) as you’ve got many people in such places who would likely not be able to pass grade eight exams in language and math proficiency from two generations back or so.
Therefore, it is of course an easy thing to ban To Kill A Mockingbird or The Merchant of Venice and numerous other titles when you have the dumbing down taking place at the top.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Of Mice and Men” are simply the enforced public school shlock of an earlier era.
Dunno ‘bout “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” but I would not ask the kids to read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Cay,” or “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.”
After all, I want them to ENJOY reading and not think of it as chore or punishment.
Critical thinking requires the ability to speak truth to power. Today, as James Russell Lowell put it, truth is on the scaffold and wrong is on the throne, so critical thinking is the last thing the Left wishes to teach young people.
“Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
I find most commercial rap music to be worthless, but I have heard some more interesting music played on the local university radio station, with rap style vocals but with jazz accompaniment, including good percussion parts. Better lyrics than commercial rap too.
“Schools Ban Classic Novels As Much For Laziness And Ignorance As Politics”
Pure BS. We’re fools to call these people lazy. They busy termites working overtime finding everyway to undermine our culture and traditions. For them it’s 100% politics.
We are the lazy one who simply sit back and watch it happen without even a whimper.
After I retired 10 years ago, I heard the next librarian threw out many of the classics. I don’t imagine there are any left there now, and teachers don’t require reading them anymore.
As a history major with a degree in humanities from the University of Chicago and a law degree from CU Boulder, I find this one of the most depressing threads I have ever seen.
BTW, no criticism meant for you, Kaslin.
School libraries are pitiful. I think I had more books than local elementary or middle school library.
They should let the Kids read Fahrenheit 451 to see if they can figure out the Irony.
I thought Little Black Sambo was Indian? Maybe it was a earlier edition.
I’m a teacher in a public school located in a remote Alaska bush village, where the reading and writing scores for most students are far, far below the average for the rest of the United States.
When I was an English teacher, my students read “Of Mice and Men” as high school sophomores. They loved the story, they appreciated the themes presented by Steinbeck, and many of them cried at the end. When you are growing up in one of the poorest census districts in the country, you can identify easily with poor men walking the landscape looking for work. (I think the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota is more impoverished.) Not one student mentioned race when reading the story, even though there is a black character in the story who is shown as stoic and suffering, in a foreshadow of the current cult of critical race theory, and practically all of my students are Alaska Native. Good stories transcend skin color, and even culture.
I’m glad that I’m retiring in a few years. I can see critical race theory and its associated lunacy like a tsunami on the horizon, even out here, ready to crash into my community and destroy it down to its foundations. Already there are a few people here and there who are speaking out using the catechism of critical theory, and our staff had this shown boldly when we had an online workshop with an Ivy League school about managing meetings which started every gathering with a Maoist struggle session about racial oppression and white privilege. Many staff members spoke out about being exposed to critical theory as the bullshit it is, but I can see the day coming when those of us who speak out will be silenced in our careers, and worse.
I’m still speaking out with students and their families about my desire to focus on actual skills, like reading comprehension and grammar, and using time-honored classics to do so. I’ve even used “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” to inoculate my students against socialism and communism when they are exposed to it outside the village. Gramsci once exhorted the communists to make “the long march through the institutions” to change culture and turn the West into a communist enclave; little did they know that I’m taking the same long march through THEIR institutions. Maybe I’ve saved a few hundred young men and women from being enslaved under totalitarian rule. As long as I’m breathing, I will stand against the tyrants, in my own way. Your prayers are appreciated as I watch the wave move onto shore.
Ernest Hemingway stated :
“ All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”
I love reading this book.
(Hint) read the WHOLE thing
‘(Hint) read the WHOLE thing’
another hint; read John Seelye’s book the True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn...
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