Skimming for the Dirty Parts – Book Censorship In Public Schools, The Enders Game Controversy, and The False Allure of Public Decency

Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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33 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    They only lived together six months of the year?Report

  2. Rose Woodhouse says:

    Don’t have much to add, but I really liked this post, and agree.

    My parents, who were way liberal (probably too liberal) on letting me see and read sophisticated stuff at a very young age, only ever forbade one movie. Blue Velvet. Guess how long it was before I got my hands on it!Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    “The great irony, of course, is that the self-appointed protectors public morality’s attempts to ensure I never read authors like Huxley actively ensured that I did.”

    Have you ever seen The Fantasticks?

    If I wanted to make sure that kids didn’t read books, the *FIRST* thing I’d do is put them behind glass and hide the key to the cabinet.Report

  4. BSK says:

    Help a young’n out… What is the second TV show you referred to?Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to BSK says:

      “Soap” I’d imagine.Report

      • Tod Kelly in reply to Rufus F. says:


        And the first is Three’s Company.  Which, by the way, I saw an episode of on TV land several years ago, and decided the show absolutely should have been banned for being so god awful unfunny.Report

      • FridayNext in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Yes and the character Tod is referring to is Jodie played by Billy Crystal. I would like to take a small exception that he was only gay because he occasionally said “I am gay.” Now, it was a 70’s sit-com so no one should expect great leaps forward, but he did date and have boyfriends. In fact I recently watched some episodes from the first season and there was a pretty decent story arc of Jodie dating an NFL player with a few decent conversations about masculinity, the prevalence of gay men in sports etc. One particular fight about being in the closet even took place in the locker room. Anyway, not the point of the post I know, but I feel credit where it is due and I take my 70’s television very seriously. Again, I am not claiming this was some breakthrough moment for equal rights, there was no PDA between Jody and his boyfriends that I recall, but he did have boyfriends and went on dates and he did pursue other men. I’d take Jodie for a gay role model over Jack or Will any day.Report

  5. MikeSchilling says:


    Which wasn’t particularly salacious, but could be really funny in a dumb, slapsticky way.Report

  6. DensityDuck says:

    Charlie’s Angles were pretty acute.


  7. BSK says:

    Very interesting stuff here.

    A disclaimer: I work in an independent school that does not have the same types of policies described here.  Which is not to say that we have no policy or that independent schools are de facto policy free.  However, generally speaking, independent schools are less likely to have policies and, when they do, they are generally easier to navigate, if only because of the size of the schools/bureaucracies involved.  (None of this is intended to say that independent schools are better, only different… for some reasons, the entirety of this disclaimer seems necessary when wading into conversations about schooling from the independent end of the spectrum).
    ANYWAY, my school has no policy.  At least if it does, I’ve never been informed of it.  In much the same way we have been given autonomy across a variety of decisions, we are trusted to use our best judgement, to ask permission when we are certain, to ask forgiveness when we err, to be prepared to delicately defend our positions when challenged, and to try to head off storms whenever possible by taking preemptive steps.  As I said on the other thread, something that goes a long way to alleviating such situations is close relationships between teachers and parents.  Not only does this allow opportunities for preemptive steps (e.g., my daily emails allow me to give a heads up about any potential controversial work coming up and allows for dialogue before, not after), but parents are more likely to deal one-on-one with teachers if there is an established, working, collaborative relationship.  This is far from a panacea… all it takes is one parent to cause a firestorm.  But it helps.  A ton.

    To your point about indoctrination in schools… schools are SUPPOSED to indoctrinate.  We want them to!  We need them to! The question becomes, what should they indoctrinate?  John Dewey, the father of progressive education, made this point very clearly (which is interesting giving that the bastardization of modern progressive ed is one of the biggest proponents against “indoctrination) when he said (paraphrased): Do you think it is just by chance that American students tend to embrace democracy and Russian students tend to embrace communism?  Of course not!  American schools teach democratic ideals and they ought to!  And Russian schools do (or did) teach (taught) communist ideals and they ought to (have)!  Of course, there is a big difference between teaching and promoting the ideals of democracy in the context of a conversation about other  perspectives of governance and teaching that democracy is the one and only way.  But even that presumes critical thinking and open-mindedness, itself a choice to value which we might take for granted (but, trust me, there are plenty of folks right here in suburban NY who think that such things are silly for kids to learn).  So, yes, schools should indoctrinate, but they should be careful about what they choose to and choices should be made mindful of the knowledge of best practice, the demands of the community (micro, macro, and in between), and the needs of students.  To claim that you are not indoctrinating is simply to be indoctrinating something less explicit.

    Sorry this was so disjointed… such are the ramblings of a teacher on day 11 of a 16 day spring break.Report

  8. Will H. says:

    Two thoughts:

    I was involved in a story that ran on the evening news for about a week. Every local TV newscast got the facts straight a lot better than the newspaper.
    I had always thought it was the other way around. I lost a lot of respect for the paper after that.

    I don’t trust teachers enough to let them get past without a tight line to walk. I’ve known too many of them, and some of them are pretty screwed up people. Honestly though, most of the ones I know or knew taught at the college level. I think most of them are ok; just a few jackasses about.
    It’s because of the horrible ones that the good ones have some elaborate procedure to follow. But I think we would be better off to recognize that attentiveness to procedure isn’t what makes a good teacher good.Report

    • BSK in reply to Will H. says:

      “It’s because of the horrible ones that the good ones have some elaborate procedure to follow. But I think we would be better off to recognize that attentiveness to procedure isn’t what makes a good teacher good.”

      I’ve long argued that any true education/teacher reform movement needs to come from within the body of teachers. The good teachers need to stand up and demand to be shaken loose of the shackles that the bad teachers themselves are. I used to be bothered by the lack of respect for teachers. While there still is a tendency to engage in hyperbole and scapegoat them, I realized the unfortunate truth that much of the skepticism, mistrust, and criticism is deserved, considering the lot of us on the whole. This may be true in other fields but seems particularly true in teaching. Rhee, for all her many flaws and failed executions, realized this and attempted to enact some change in DC before (rightfully, probably) being chased out.Report

  9. Dara says:

    Was I the only one for whom I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings seems not to belong on that list? My (very liberal) mother prohibited me from reading it for a very long time, not because of what it says about race but because of the relative prominence of the rape scene. Far be it from me to say that Texas schools aren’t racist, but unlike the rest of the books on the list there’s a legitimate argument that the sexual content makes it a risky book in a way that isn’t true of the sexual content in, say, 1984.

    If you’re arguing that schools ought to be comfortable confronting rape-as-symbolism, that’s one thing. But I don’t know that it’s fair to assess intent.Report

  10. Kyle Cupp says:

    A fine post here, Tod.  I taught middle school and high school English for a few years. Never got in trouble with the administration for the books I chose, but I did have one parent corner me and complain that her son had learned about rape from A Tale of Two Cities, which I had assigned.  He hadn’t, of course.  The student learned of the word in Latin class, spotting the title The Rape of Lucretia in his textbook.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      I learned about rape from the Hades/Persephone/Ceres myth when I was in 8th grade.
      I sort of took it for granted that marriage was the proper thing to do after having raped someone.
      A valid form of courtship for the Olympians.
      Frankly, I was a lot more interested in Apollo.
      He was the cool one.Report

  11. James Hanley says:

    Brave New World was my first foray into the dystopia sub-genre that I now so love.

    And The Hunger Games opens at midnight tonight at your local theater!  (Number 1 daughter and I are waiting until after school tomorrow, although she would like to go at midnight.)Report

  12. Kimmi says:

    My parents let me read some books that I’d describe as kinda pornographic… when i was 8 or so. Not that they knew what I was reading (they had bought them for me from a children’s library)Report

  13. rexknobus says:

    My mother handed me “Catcher in the Rye” when I was eleven. And “Cyrano.” The closest thing I can remember to difficulty or trauma in reading stuff that might have been too mature for me was at the age of 9 when “Huckleberry Finn” confused the hell out of me with a simple syllogism:

    1. Slavery is evil.

    2. Abolitionists hate slavery.

    3. Huckleberry hates abolitionists.


    Long conversations with the parental unit to iron that one out.Report