Graphic Sex Book at NJ School Proves Required Reading Lists Have to GO

Norwegian WoodI couldn't believe a New Jersey high school teacher actually assigned an honors English class a book that included graphic sex. No wait, not just graphic sex. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami apparently features sex between a 31-year-old woman and a 13-year-old girl (which sounds an awful lot -- imaginary or not -- like statutory rape to me), and it was "required" reading for sophomores at the Monroe Township Schools in Williamstown. Really, America? You're still assigning "required reading"?

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Ah, gotcha there. See, you thought I was all cranky about the book, didn't you? I'm not some book banning crazy. I was pumping my fist a few weeks back when I heard the Kurt Vonnegut Library was handing out free copies of Slaughterhouse Five after some puritanical Missouri school banned the classic. 

I want my child to be well read. I want her to be challenged. I want her to read books about topics that make her uncomfortable. I want her to read books about topics that make ME uncomfortable. That's how a mind grows, how a person on the path to adulthood really develops their own belief system, how they discern right from wrong, good from evil. Books are one of the best friends a parent could wish for -- we can send our kids off on an adventure without worrying about their physical safety.

But here's my problem with required reading, with teachers who make kids read certain books instead of picking a long list and saying, "OK, read two of these classics," or something similar. If a kid picks up a book and finds it abhorrent or uncomfortable, I want her to know that she can put it down and walk away. That's part of raising an open-minded kid. To let them know when they're unhappy with something, they don't have to put up with it. They can develop a better vocabulary, improve their grammar, etc. without reading something that makes them want to drive a screwdriver through their eyes.

If reading is required, kids feel like they have to force their way through it. Even if it contains graphic sex that makes them highly uncomfortable. Then what do you get? A miserable kid. Worse: a kid who is turned off to the idea of reading. And I haven't met an English teacher yet who got into the job to make kids hate reading.

Did your high school teachers let you pick books? Are you raising your kids to read books that challenge them?

 

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