WASHINGTON, May 7, 2014 – What do you want your child taught in school?
19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult (released March 2007) has been on the assigned reading list for high schoolers at Gilford High School, New Hampshire. The story centers on the cause of the 19 Minutes it takes a fictional character, Peter Houghton, to kill nine students, a teacher and wound many others.
The book, while critically well received, is under the microscope in New Hampshire where parent William Baer, of Gilford, N.H. was handcuffed and arrested during a school board meeting. Baer was protesting his daughter being assigned to read Picoult’s book, citing a sexually explicit passage.
He did not ask the book to be banned, but expressed his outrage that the school was exposing his 14 year old daughter to sexually explicit, and abusive content. From the book:
“’Yeah,’ he groaned, and he pushed her thighs apart. And then suddenly Matt was inside her, pumping her so hard that she scooted backward on the carpet, burning the backs of her legs.”
Baer complains that the school never asked his permission to expose his daughter to the material. “It reads like a transcript for a triple-X porno movie,” he told CBS New York. “We had no notice of it whatsoever, no written notice, no verbal, nothing.”
The School Board states that they did fail to send out notifications as the book has been on the curriculum since 2007. Baer claims that the notices, even if sent out, do not detail the sexually explicit nature of the book.
“The board apologizes for the discomfort of those impacted and for the failure of the School District to send home prior notice of assignment of the novel,” said Chairman Sue Allen. “The district will take immediate action to revise these policies to include notification that requires parents to accept controversial material rather than opt out. Furthermore, the notification will detail more specifically the controversial material.”
The book is seen as a teaching moment as it brings up the subjects of bullying and how the actions of the protagonists lead to the violence. Peter, an awkward child, is an outcast that is often the target of severe bullying. His best friend, Josie, would stick up for him… until as the aged Josie became one of the popular kids.
Peter is not accepted at home either, overshadowed by an older brother who tells others Peter is adopted and who is killed by a drunk driver, creating what might be considered “survivor’s guilt” as his father and mother continue to revere their dead son over Peter.
Things escalate leading to Peter’s 19 Minutes of violence. The book is seen as having value in that it discusses not only the violence, but how the actions of other students led to the violence. How the bullying actions – many of them grossly humiliating – of students in their course of maltreatment of the young man, lead to Peter’s psychotic break and, his defense attorney argues, battered person syndrome leading to post-traumatic stress.
All of which are excellent teaching moments. The only problem is the book also discusses the abusive relationship between Josie and Peter’s main antagonist, Matt, including graphic descriptions of his physical and sexual abuse of Josie. Matt’s action result in Josie breaking her leg, however due to Josie’s own insecurities she does not distance herself from the popular student.
The book also touches on teenage pregnancy and drug abuse.
Parenting vastly differs. What is ok for one child, may not be ok for another. The argument here continues to be parent’s rights and schools deciding not only what they are going to use in their teaching, but the formatting the message of that work.
The question to ask is would you want a Catholic Priest using 19 Minutes as a teaching moment? Would you want a pro-abortion, liberally minded teacher using 19 Minutes as a teaching moment? Would you want a conservative, pro life teacher using 19 minutes as a teaching moment?
And does an outcry against 19 Minutes equal the outcry against other books, including The Catcher in the Rye, now considered one of the 100 best English-language noves of the 20th century.
Tell us what you think in comments.