Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Fit To Print?

Something is wrong when a family newspaper won’t publish in this space a book passage that public schools assign to fourteen-year-olds. Last week, a father was arrested at a school board meeting in Laconia, New Hampshire for “disorderly conduct” for exceeding the board’s two-minute speaking limit when commenting on the passage in question. Someone videoed the incident and posted it on Youtube with text of the passage superimposed on the screen. Otherwise I couldn’t have known what it was to which the father, William Baer, so strenuously objected. If you want to read it, you’ll have to watch it:
Hence, the dilemma. Most people won’t ever read it and therefore won’t know what the salacious passage describes: rough sex between a teenage boy and girl. As a teacher and columnist, I was frustrated several times by just this kind of conundrum. Because newspaper standards didn’t allow it, I couldn’t show parents and taxpayers what schools were actually doing with both their children and their tax money. In the book I’m writing, however, I’ve been able to describe appalling examples to which I could only refer obliquely in columns. Once, an editor was ready to dump my column after I wrote a critique of “The Vagina Monologues,” showings of which are paid for by taxpayers at hundreds of public colleges. I considered the column quite restrained compared to the play I was describing.
During his turn to speak, Mr. Baer seemed surprised by the two-minute rule, which he claimed was just for that meeting. Eventually, he passed out copies of the licentious passage to school board members and challenged them to read it, but by that time, the chairwoman, Sue Allen, told him his two minutes were up. He sat down, but after a subsequent speaker accused Baer of wanting to dictate what students could or could not read, Baer spoke up again from his seat claiming the man’s comments were absurd. “No one’s talking about censoring the book. No one’s talking about banning the book or burning the book or anything…” he said. Chairwoman Sue Allen talked over him to ask that he be respectful of other speakers, none of whom had the floor at that time. Baer continued talking and a police officer walked into the seating area and asked him to leave. Baer remained seated and the officer took him by the arm, led him out of the room, then handcuffed him before taking him outside to a cruiser.
Never having seen a police officer at numerous school board meetings over the years when I was teaching in nearby western Maine, I assume the board arranged for the officer to be there for that night. The Laconia Daily Sun had reported two days before the meeting that Mr. Baer intended to ask the board members to read the passage in question and quoted him saying: “I'd like to see them read this. To see them squirm.” However, the video shows him asking the superintendent to read a copy of the notice that went home to parents indicating that the book “depicts high school relationships, some of them unhealthy.”
Jodi Picoult

Baer considered that insufficient warning and after reading the passage, I have to agree with him. He would have been better off using his two minutes to read the passage aloud himself, but maybe he was too embarrassed. It’s that graphic.

Media from all over the United States and Europe reported on Baer’s arrest but none that I read printed the salacious passage. I can’t help but wonder if he’d still have been arrested for reading it aloud without exceeding the two-minute limit. Perhaps not, but most if not all present would have been uncomfortable listening to it.
Baer listens after sitting down

No one can make a judgement about the whole incident without first reading the passage, but it can’t be printed or recited in polite company. Baer had asked the Laconia Daily Sun to print it but, according to the Sun's article: “Editor Ed Engler declined, saying he thought some of the description[s] rendered were not suitable for publication in 99 percent of daily newspapers in America, ‘Maybe 100 percent.’”

Baer claimed the Manchester Union Leader also refused to print it, and asked: ‘It's not fit to print, but it's okay for my daughter to read it and discuss it? My goal is to have everyone in the United States read what's on page 313 of that book ["Nineteen Minutes" by Jodie Picoult],” he declared, ‘except my daughter.’”

Baer's 14-year-old daughter addresses board

Teaching fourteen-year-olds for most of my career, I saw many girls reading books by Jodi Picoult. Book critics claim the rough sex act described in “Nineteen Minutes” is not gratuitous but integral to the story line about a fictitious school shooting. I’m not a novelist and I haven’t read the book, but I doubt the scene was necessary.


Anonymous said...

Review of TVM?
The revised version? (I suspect so, what with the addition of "public" script)or the original, which is now prohibited
from production by the author and her agents?
Apparently the promotion of criminal behavior, suitable for a lifetime sentence for males, was deemed too "Just keepin' it REAL"
for "the cause".


Rick said...

As a proud progressive who has fun pointing out the absurdities in your columns, I have nothing to argue with you here. Absurd that the book is at school, and absurd that the gentleman was arrested. If I had to nitpick, I would also say it is absurd to complain about "The Vagina Monologues" at colleges.

fhgt874506483tjerg89t8 said...

fh873458tuertg784hr said...

Assessment of VMT?
The remix version? (I have the foresight to pontificate thusly, what with the subtraction of "aarvark" scripture)or the prior, which is now celebrated
for replication by the little chipmunk and her bridesmaids!
Undoubtedly the depravation of insane antics, very delectable for a snippety little term for primates, was deemed too "fly in the ointment"
for "the cause".


Unknown said...

I have to admit to a view that often conflicts with Tom and he knows it. We are friends and have been collegues for years. Here I have to say amen. We don't teach classic literature anymore, but we subject students to works such as mentioned. I have students who have no concept of works central to our culture, but can quote scenes such as mentioned here. And then we wonder what is going wrong with our kids?

Anonymous said...

*sheesh* No kidding Mr. Cobb.
Serendipitous and pertainant response to the comment just before yours.

hjfhdsfh989348des said...

uhtru84y2htuthuth said...

*Yowza* You bet your sweet arse Mrs. Monroe,

The Captain's use of sesquipedalian writing strikes me as a verbal equivalent of a parvenu, almost xenoglossy-esque. Although I'm sure he believes his effect is foudroyant, it's effect more often brings on acedia and rings a desperate bell of pompous pseudo intellectualism.

susanthe said...

Papa Baer told the school in advance that he'd be coming to discuss the book. He was warned in advance of the two minute time limit. He was not surprised - far from it. He brought along a videographer to tape the entire performance, as you can clearly see in the video. It was his intent to cause a big scene, get arrested, gin up the conservatives (it sure worked on you!), get his name up in lights, and make the rounds of agitprop GOP media. All of those things have come to pass. I predict he'll be filing papers to run for the NH legislature next month.

(Pro-tip: Discussing a book you've never read always makes you a fool. In the interest of full disclosure: I read the entire book when it came out in 2006.)

The book is about a boy who is bullied by his peers from his very first day of school. After years and years of this, he snaps, gets guns, shoots up the school, and kills a bunch of people. Your miniscule mention of the shooting is in the last sentence of your column -the one about a book you've never read. Guns and killing = good. Semen = bad, really bad.

All you care about is what you wrongly refer to as "rough sex." The description that outrages you so much is about RAPE. The girl's boyfriend RAPES her. She doesn't initially understand that what happened is RAPE, which is an important part of the story. But - neither you nor Papa Bear would know that, because neither of you bothered to read the book that you're complaining about.

Congratulations, Tom. Baer set the trap, and you leaped right in.

Wicked Truth said...

Lol. Wait, you just published a column about a book...you NEVER read?!? Hahahahaha...

Brilliant! And you "taught" history!!?? Hahaha...of course you did. They did need to dumb down a generation
I guess. It worked too!

Laughable.. And pathetic...

Anonymous said...

If I'm reading right, our host is commenting about a passage in a book that newspaper folk have said simply can't be printed in their papers, despite what apparently CAN pass as appropriate "civil discourse". I'm not convinced that we should be forced to see it to agree it PROBABLY has NO place woven into public school "education theory".
"This (actual father of a student)", made sure his outrage, as well as "official" response,
in a public meeting was "covered"? Um...YES!
Not sure how this would be any different than...say... protesting, with placards, at a busy intersection, or "artfully" disrupting public hearings KNOWN to be televised, to "raise awareness" or "start a conversation", or "protest injustice" of something or other. Except that he came armed with his OWN (apparently too long for the official time limit for "speech") scrip.
Ah well, "Well behaved citizens rarely get....." well, you know.

"Right", or "wrong", (all depends on who's ex cathedra is being gored that day) Keep hammerin' Tom.


Wicked Truth said...

Hmm. What religion is this author? And her publisher?

Dot. connecting time again? Good thing you erased my previous post as it relates directly to this disgusting pedaling of smut to our chidlren.