Regarding last week’s decision by school officials to remove a book from the eighth-grade reading list at John Long Middle School because it contains written content of a sexual nature, allow us to offer a couple of observations.
According to a news report, district officials were alerted to the offending passages in the novel “Paper Towns” by John Green by the outraged mother of a Long Middle School eighth-grade girl. The book makes references to masturbation and contains related content that provoked a “holy cow” from Assistant School Superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson after she read a few of the offending passages. The girl read the word masturbation in “Paper Towns” and asked her mother what it meant.
Without a hint of sarcasm we would suggest that a contemporary middle school student not knowing the meaning of the word masturbation falls somewhere between charmingly quaint and a minor miracle. Thanks to Internet-connected devices like computers, tablets and smartphones, the average middle-schooler not under pretty tight supervision can view, in high definition, people engaged in acts only the Emperor Caligula or Marquis de Sade could have imagined.
We say “holy cow” over one of today’s students actually reading a book. It’s a rare teacher who doesn’t have tales of woe about trying to get their students to read books or anything else, even as a class requirement. This antipathy to reading — which in many cases has its roots in homes in which books have little or no place — has as much or more to do with the poor performance of many students as the supposed ineptitude of their teachers.