WHAT SCHOOL BOARD SAID IS ‘NOT SAFE FOR WORK’ OR CLASSROOM
Trigger warning: The following passage of American literature that was recently part of required reading for an English class in the Mat-Su Valley District Schools (and is part of curriculum in Anchorage Public Schools) may upset some readers and may not be appropriate for minors:
“Because of a need for stability, children easily become creatures of habit. After the third time in Mother’s bed, I thought there was nothing strange about sleeping there.
“One morning she got out of bed for an early errand, and I fell asleep again. But I awoke to a pressure, a strange feeling on my left leg. It was too soft to be a hand, and it wasn’t the touch of clothes. Whatever it was, I hadn’t encountered the sensation in all the years of sleeping with Momma. It didn’t move, and I was too startled to. I turned my head a little to the left to see if Mr. Freeman was awake and gone, but his eyes were open and both hands were above the cover. I knew, as if I had always known, it was his “thing” on my leg.
“He said, “Just stay right here, Ritie, I ain’t gonna hurt you.” I wasn’t afraid, a little apprehensive, maybe, but not afraid. Of course I knew that lots of people did “it” and they used their “things” to accomplish the deed, but no one I knew had ever done it to anybody. Mr. Freeman pulled me to him, and put his hand between my legs. He didn’t hurt, but Momma had drilled into my head: “Keep your legs closed, and don’t let nobody see your pocketbook.”
“Now, I didn’t hurt you. Don’t get scared.” He threw back the blankets and his “thing” stood up like a brown ear of corn. He took my hand and said, “Feel it.” It was mushy and squirmy like the inside of a freshly killed chicken. Then he dragged me on top of his chest with his left arm, and his right hand was moving so fast and his heart was beating so hard that I was afraid that he would die. Ghost stories revealed how people who died wouldn’t let go of whatever they were holding. I wondered if Mr. Freeman died holding me how I would ever get free. Would they have to break his arms to get me loose?
Finally he was quiet, and then came the nice part. He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go. I felt at home. From the way he was holding me I knew he’d never let me go or let anything bad ever happen to me. This was probably my real father and we had found each other at last. But then he rolled over, leaving me in a wet place and stood up. “I gotta talk to you, Ritie.” He pulled off his shorts that had fallen to his ankles, and went into the bathroom. It was true the bed was wet, but I knew I hadn’t had an accident. Maybe Mr. Freeman had one while he was holding me. He came back with a glass of water and told me in a sour voice, “Get up. You peed in the bed.” He poured water on the wet spot, and it did look like my mattress on many mornings.”
– “Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
The Mat-Su School Board made a difficult call last week, one that they knew would upset liberals, and they were not disappointed in that regard. On a vote of 5-2, five books were crossed off the high school elective English coursework:
- “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
- “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
- “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
- “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
- “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
All of them have issues — mostly graphic depictions of a sexual nature, rape, violence, or racist stereotyping.
The response from the Left was that the books were banned and that this is typical right-wing censorship one should come to expect from the Mat-Su Valley. That’s what folks are reading in the mainstream media:
The books in question were not banned. They’re still available in the school libraries, but are not required reading in classes. Teachers will need to look for other works of literature to teach. There are hundreds of years of books to choose from that do not describe child rape.
Did the school board do teachers a favor? Quite possibly.
The passage above from Maya Angelou’s classic is the kind of prose that if read aloud in a classroom by a teacher, could draw a lawsuit.
It’s not the kind of passage that one could read aloud in the lunchroom at work.
In fact, it may not be the kind of passage that could even be read into the record at a school board meeting without the reader being called out of order.
Must Read Alaska readers, what are your thoughts? Are high school students mature enough to consume these graphic descriptions of horrific child abuse? What would you have done if you were a school board member making the decision?