10 December 2010

Jesus: Wine-Guzzling Vagrant and Precocious Socialist?

Jesus Christ is a "wine-guzzling vagrant precocious socialist"!

Is this one of those things where your first reaction is to smile and have a little chuckle to yourself while thinking "hmmm, this is certainly going to ruffle a few feathers!"?

Perhaps the more pertinent question is "would this insult on Jesus be enough for you to pull your child out of school?" In the US state of New Hampshire, it is and was. Aimee Taylor pulled her son, Jordan Henderson, out of school because he was assigned 'Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America' by his teacher at Bedford High School.

The book was assigned in a class on personal finances. This seems like a pretty good choice considering the book is a first-hand account of how the author, Barbara Ehrenreich, tries to get through life working on the minimum wage. The book is one that seems appropriate for the American context. It would not work in the Australian context nearly as well seeing the concept of minimum wage in Australia is one where an award is set and this is generally significantly higher in comparison to that of the US.

The story seems "tailor-made for Fox News Channel", no pun intended. Fox enjoys the opportunity to "bang on" and bash anything that does not fall within the strict parameters of conservative politics. A school assigning this book to a 16-year-old student is sure to be indicative of a declining America. Ho hum...

To be sure, this is not a book review. I have not read the book. I might look for it next time I am at the book store. This post is merely commentary on the value of "banning" books. There are reasons for reading books that we might find to be "junk" or even offensive. There is nothing stopping this young man writing critically about the content and exploring how the author got it so wrong or how the use of the "offensive" does not add to the tome in any substantial or significant manner.

For all I know, the book may be total crap. Yet, the point was one of critical literacy and to encourage students to explore points of view, even offensive ones, as a means of increasing there awareness of issues and allow them to cast a critical eye over the views of others. This is not a bad thing. I encourage my students to be critical, and critically aware as this allows them to bring their own prior knowledge and experiences into the overall learning experience. Once again, this is not a bad thing.

Admittedly, I am a little green to the world of organised education where there are departmental policies to be considered and followed. That said, it would seem that the relevant school authorities were clued in on this book choice.

In the end, criticism of the American Dream is not something that is out of bounds, is it?

If you are interested, then Amazon has a copy or two.


mia said...

I have read a book a few years ago, and found it interesting enough. As I'm not a US citizen I don't understand why would a parent pull her kid out of school just because of this book.. surely there are others that are more "offensive". Like you said, it's good to broaden your horizon, and the kid can always write that the book is crap if he really thinks it is - with supporting arguments etc to verify his opinion. In the real world, you have to deal with a lot of things you don't agree about so the parent's behaviour seems unrealistic to me, not to mention sets a bad example for her kid.

Rob Baiton said...

@ Mia...

If a mother wants to pull her kid out of school, then so be it. That is her choice.

I, think, as you saw was that I really do not see the point. A strongly worded complaint, and then perhaps a request to be assigned a different book or to be placed in a different class would have done the trick.

Pulling the boy out of school was, at least to me, more about getting 15-minutes of fame.

A better result would have been to encourage the young man to exercise his constructive criticism skills and write a critique of where the book fails to achieve its goals.

That is just me, of course.