High School Literature Choices Reflect Beavis & Butthead Culture
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is required reading in at least one 9th grade classroom in the Sikeston School District. If you look the book up on Amazon you can find comments, even among its fans, questioning the author’s use of profanity, obscenity and the main character’s disability as a source of humor. One parent had these observations of the main character on his Facebook page,
“Junior’s conversations and narrative are laden with sexual discussions and insinuations. For example, he thanks God for his thumbs saying that if God didn’t want people to masturbate, he wouldn’t have given them thumbs. He lusts after his friend Penelope and gets an erection when a teacher hugs him. His friend Gordy tells him a good book should be sexually arousing. Junior’s dad makes a sexual joke about his mother and Penelope’s father tells Junior to keep his “trouser snake” in his pants. Junior praises his grandmother’s tolerance of homosexuality.”
True Diary is a National Book Award winner. The purpose of the NBA is “to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” Many reviewers questioned whether this book really was an example of “great writing.” It is supposed to be written from the perspective of a 14 year old boy and is interspersed with cartoons. The sentence structure is overly simple making it less challenging for a high school reader, but the subject matter is too advanced for a middle schooler. Most protagonists go unnamed and sometimes are barely described. It lacks any kind of story arc and coherent plot structure.
There are multiple uses of the following words: b–tard, a–/a–hole, balls, boner, nuts, sh–, d–kwad, pu–y, f-g, f–k, j–k off. The use of such words doesn’t appear to have any purpose other than to shock some teens and get them to think, “This book is cool, man! Shakespeare never uses the f-word!!”
A reviewer who is both a parent and a teacher wrote,
“In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, it promotes inappropriate, immature, unethical behavior. It glorifies stealing by making it seem funny and quirky. It encourages the attitude that “cursing is cool.” And, worst of all, it exploits people with disabilities. An author is not free to get laughs at the expense of individuals suffering from disabilities simply because the hero of his novel is physically disabled.
Supporters of this novel, and young adult literature in general, insist it provides accessible and relevant platforms for teenagers to grapple with their most pressing existential issues—issues relating to identity, sexuality, longing, and loneliness. As an educator who is now also a parent, I would never discourage young people from engaging in close examinations of themselves and the world around them. But, why must this be done in the most irreverent, flippant, “Bevis and Butthead” kind of way? Aren’t teenagers capable of more? As a young reader, some of my darkest and most enthralling forays into the human condition were made possible by classic literature, which also exposes young people to beautiful writing and complex characterization.”
What this book is is edgy. It “gets kids’ attention” and makes them want to read more. Unfortunately it is only likely to make them want to read more of this kind of book which will keep their thoughts locked in teen mode. Isn’t the job of school to expand their thought processes?
What makes the appearance of this book in a Sikeston classroom so problematic is that the school board asserted, after a presentation about Common Core, that parents would never see books like this or “The Bluest Eye” about a pedophile rapist, which is in the Common Core Appendix B, as recommended reading in Sikeston. Yet here it is.
The justification for reading such books is that they “open the door to meaningful dialogue” or can be used to teach children critical thinking about the human condition, but such justifications can be used for any work of quality such as Catcher in the Rye or The Law by Bastiat. Why the need to focus on the basest of subjects provided in mediocre literary quality?
If the goal is merely to start a dialogue and think critically, why not look at the portion of the Naked Communist which was read into the Congressional Record by Representative Albert Herlong Jr. on January 10, 1963. It was a list of 45 communist goals, compiled by sometimes controversial author Cleon Skousen who served as an analyst in the FBI in the late 1950’s. Some people write off his list as a work of fiction, right wing propaganda. Strange though, how many of his predictions/warnings have come true in America, as if there were some concerted effort to do so. Note numbers 24 through 26
24. Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them “censorship” and a violation of free speech and free press.
25. Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio, and TV.
26. Present homosexuality, degeneracy and promiscuity as “normal, natural, healthy.”
How about #41 “Emphasize the need to raise children away from the negative influence of parents. Attribute prejudices, mental blocks and retarding of children to suppressive influence of parents.” Is this not the reality under common core and the associated education reforms?
Selection of The Absolutely True Diary certainly seem to promote numbers 25 and 26. And any parental objections can be handled by #24 and 41. Congratulations to the Sikeston high school teachers for helping further the Communists’ goals in America.