Do You Have the “Guts” to Support This Teacher?

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Mr. V, the New York HS English teacher suspended for assigning an "obscene" short story.

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?

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7 responses »

  1. ok listen to everyone who is against him. coming from one of his ACTUAL students he is a great teacher i dont know why they made a big deal out of this. hello we are teenagers we have heard and seen worst. you all act like your kids dont read none of this in fact they probably read it and trying it themselves. stop judging him specially if dont know him and go check on your own kids . if you not against him then thanks .

  2. hail G.S.! i’m an admirer of Cathy’s and saw her tweet!… censorship is a hot topic… i live in the DC metro area and you would think it would be a hotbed of liberals but not so much! i’ve been surprised and disappointed by some of the books that have been challenged in my county.
    as for supporting the teacher….i don’t know…theoretically i would but i wonder *why* he chose such an shocking story when surely there were other challenging stories that would pose similar quandaries without having to mention intestinal disturbance from masturbation immersive masturbation gone horribly wrong! and did you notice how each of the vignettes got progressively worse? and cringeworthy? either way… i would like to think i would support the teacher but i would have to know his reasons and know that he wasn’t just being provocative to be provocative or had a book deal on the side from the drama…..
    i’m more concerned about the southern teacher who was fired for having a glass of wine on a European & trip and who called her GF’s “her bitches” on her SET TO PRIVATE Facebook! THAT story is more incendiary to me!

    • Gwen, the district I just left had a policy that teachers could not drink beer or wine in public! The then-superintendent said that if we were having a glass of wine in a restaurant and one of our students came in, we were to immediately have the waiter remove it and bring us something else to drink. As for Facebook, if I were a prof in charge of teacher training right now, I’d have to advise my students to cancel their FB and MS accounts for their own good. It is ridiculous that we have to stoop so low as professionals, BUT the questionable actions of some educators have put us in a quandary.
      I feel we are in a period of unprecedented flux and change in education in general. A newer generation of twentysomethings are coming to the classroom with constant connectivity and very little privacy (ala Facebook, et. al) and they are running up against the “old guard” in administration!
      I wasn’t there, but it must be similar to when YA literature first started making real inroads into classrooms borne by younger teachers. The change threatened the entrenched and matters got heated at times.
      In times like this, I’m reminded of Dr. Dan Barron, a LIS professor emeritus at the University of South Carolina, who said “Grow or die.”

  3. yeah…nauseating is right but like watching the movie Superbad maybe this should be required reading for HS students……kids do some whack stuff to get off at that age…or so i’ve heard. Oh and McLovin would tell you that pegging really happens with a ginger root and not a carrot…no wait, that’s figging.
    anyway, i think invisible carrots are like the secret fear of getting caught picking your nose or your parents finding your porn stash….at any age.
    i’m a librarian who hates censorship but i’m also craven and love my job too much to risk it with a story that features masturbatory vignettes about pearl diving…..in other words, don’t tell chuck but i just don’t have the “guts”
    yet i don’t think anyone should lose a job over a short story. ever. it’s called fiction. sticks and stones and all that.

  4. Alright I posted to my Twitter group. Hopefully others will comment. Not sure I would have chosen it for a class read, but we all know SC is particularly conservative. Northern climes bring less conservatism, but this shows otherwise. Definitely reeks of censorship. So, let’s go burn a book, eh?

    • @Cathy 🙂 Thanks and I was really surprised that this caused a stink up in New York City. Had it been pretty much anywhere in SC I would have called the good folks at Marshall I. Pickens Hospital to come on and pick the poor deluded soul up and take him somewhere quiet and safe, but I thought NYC was the hotbed of liberal thought? It was a really swanky school, too. I’m all about academic freedom, intellectual freedom, and the right to read, but I was a little surprised the teacher would pick this particular story. Still, does he deserve our support? You remember the Niemoller quote, right? Could we get trapped in a professional witch hunt?

      @Gwyneth Thanks for stopping by 🙂 Don’t forget to wash your feet! I completely understand the “craven” comment and I wouldn’t chalk it up to cravenness as much as I would to honest reality. This economy is NOT conducive to drawing lines in the sands. Believe me, I know from experience. Having said that though, if this happened in your school, would you feel a duty to the First Amendment to support the teacher openly, support him covertly, or pity the poor fool from afar?

      It’s a tough situation to be in. Maybe the guy is an “edge walker” or an “envelope pusher” or maybe he’s trying to energize a bunch of coddled blase’ teenagers. In any event, is this a person we as librarians support, or do we cut him loose and pity him as he goes?

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention Do You Have the “Guts” to Support This Teacher? « "Granny Beads & Grocery Store Feet" -- Topsy.com

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