Last week, a British Columbia father lodged an official complaint with the local school board with concerns that The Perks of Being a Wallflower, an assigned novel in his son’s tenth grade English class, is too vulgar and inappropriate for students.
Taken on its own, this is a relatively minor incident, but this sort of complaint is surprisingly common. There are many cases of parents challenging the inclusion of books in school curriculums, or even their placement in school libraries.
The most common complaint is that the material in various books is found to be inappropriate or offensive. In the case of Wallflower, the BC father has concerns about the sexual situations and the use of drugs in the novel.
And these sorts of criticisms extend to all corners of the literary pantheon. Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged due to its use of racial slurs. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has faced many controversies for an enormous number of different reasons. If you can think of a book that high school or elementary school students are required to read, there has probably been a parent who has tried to ban it.
Is that not their right, though? If a parent sees that a book their child is reading for school contains something inappropriate, something that makes them uncomfortable, they should certainly make the school board aware of the offensive content of the book.
But there is a problem with this reasoning, a problem that I’ve seen in almost every challenge or ban based on a parent complaining to a teacher, administrator, or school board that a book contains profanity, sexual situations, or anything of the like.
The parents seem to assume that the teachers, administrators, and school boards do not already know about the book’s contents.
Curriculums take time and effort to be created, and generally undergo fairly strict analysis; while I’m unfamiliar with the exact processes, school boards typically involve current or former teachers with knowledge on the subject in question. It would be ludicrous to suggest that nobody involved with drafting a curriculum would have read the very books they were including.
Those who have created a curriculum—as well as the teachers who follow them—know full well that these books contain profanity, or sexual descriptions, or drug usage. And yet, despite this potential deterrent, they have decided to include them anyway.
They have decided to include them because there is a reason for children to read them. In the case of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, they have included it because it’s a coming-of-age story that gives students something to which they can relate. It gives them a story that doesn’t shy away from awkward topics like teen sexuality, adolescent drug use, and mental illness.
Yes, these are controversial topics, but this is all the more reason that educators should be bringing them up for discussion instead of sweeping them under a rug and pretending they do not exist, as some parents would seem to prefer.
Even in our own university setting, imagine if we were ‘sheltered’ from reading or discussing any topic deemed to be ‘controversial.’ We would miss out on a huge and crucial portion of our education.
That is my main concern whenever someone tries to have a book banned from schools. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, just like so many books before it, was written and included in a curriculum for a good reason, despite any profanity or mature themes it may include.
And now, a BC father wants to take it out of the classroom just because it acknowledges that some teenagers have sex and do drugs. He is going to need a much better reason than that.