First of all, let me apologize if this story has already made the rounds and been discussed ad nauseum and y’all are sick of it. I’ve been mostly out of the library loop since late May of this year and I just ran across this story through the miracle of StumbleUpon — every insomniac’s best friend.
Feel free to read the entire New York Post article if you haven’t already and if you want to judge the story for yourself, you can check it out on the author’s website, but let me warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Having said all that, the issue at hand is one of selection vs. censorship and of academic freedom vs. curriculum control. Basically, Mr. V gave out copies of Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “Guts”, which contains three very graphic and somewhat nauseating vignettes of early male teens masturbating. The class in question was a group of 11th graders in the process of preparing for the New York Regents Exams at an excellent and very upscale New York school. These are apparently rather worldly students and New York City isn’t exactly known for a hotbed of conservatism, but apparently, some of the students forgot the first and second rules of Palahniuk’s other major work Fight Club, namely “You do not discuss Fight Club (or your teachers’ cutting edge assignments). Mr. V’s choice of short stories caused a serious uproar, not among the students — who are rallying to defend their teacher — but among the administration of the school. So Mr. V ended up “relieved” of his teaching duties . . . pending an investigation, of course.
So, is this teacher being unjustly persecuted for his choice of cutting edge literature? Should a teacher have the right to choose what his students read in class? What kind of implications does this have for librarians? What would happen if a high school unwisely selected Haunted (the collection of stories containing “Guts”) for the general collection? Of course, picking novels to teach isn’t the same as picking novels for the library, but still. We’re talking principles here.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m as much of a rebel as they come, which in large part explains why I’m between gigs right now, but I in no way think “Guts” is appropriate for a high school library to have in the collection. The story was first published in Playboy after all, but I’m a First Amendment junkie and once that book has been selected and added to the collection . . . well, when you start pulling stuff off shelves, you get on a slippery slope quick.
So, bottom line . . . is this teacher nuttier than a fruitcake for picking such a controversial work to read class? Does he have the right to teach what he wants? Should his librarian back him up? Lots of questions. What do y’all think?