19 Minutes: When should your child read sexually explicit material?

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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.


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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.”


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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.

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  • jane

    I think they should instead have the kids read about a false flag shooting hoax where it is made to look like a bullied child is the shooter. Oh and no perverted sex scenes are needed. Parents better wake up real fast.

  • WenPap

    Satan is hard at work on our young people. God help them, they barely have a chance if even the school system is exposing them to porn in the name of learning…..

    • patricia cala

      I read one stat on STD’s for Junior HS students, boys and girls. The rate of those affected is 98%.

  • janet hammerle

    There is a vast difference between the puerile behavior in “The Catcher in the Rye and the graphic porn in 19 Minutes,thus there is no equal basis for comparison. The content of “19 Minutes” is inappropriate in the classroom settling, particularly for young girls A teacher is not a trained therapist, and is therefore disqualified from dealing with such intimate and volatile issues as the a graphic depiction of rape. The issue here is not solely one of parental notification and the second amendment right to free and unfettered speech, but also concerns what constitutes sexual abuse of minor in an institutional setting The Gilford School, its’ teachers and school board are all guilty of child abuse and endangerment .The passage from this book,if read to or given to minors to read by persons in any other setting, would become grounds for arrest Educators, parents, make note, books like Jodi Picaoult’s “19 Minutess do not belong in the classroom setting, Educators are supposed to teach, guide,and protect our children, not mess with their minds under the guise of literary critique. Shame on Gilford schools, shame on New Hampshire.

  • annie

    I’m 15 and my school gets common core next year god help my friends and I. :'(

  • kat

    I am so thankful we dont live in that area and that my kids dont have to attend that dreaded excuse for a school and it’s minions!

  • alan

    Janet I think you mean the first amendment and not the second.

  • Gloria Alicia Aguirre

    Maybe they will put 50 Shades of Grey on their required reading also.

  • Tony Baker

    I have lived to long. I no longer recognize my country.

  • Ms_Scotty

    I am a parent, a teacher and a reader. “19 Minutes” was written for adults. If a teenager is permitted to read it by his or her parents, so be it; parents are the best judge of their children’s independent reading material. It is NOT appropriate for use in a classroom, and certainly not a co-ed classroom. The important issues in the novel can be effectively addressed in other ways.

  • ericpedersen

    Since when do school boards have the Police at their beck and call to arrest out of line Free Speech users? How dare he speak out of line. Where does he think he lives, in a Free Constitutional Republic or something?

    • school teacher

      School district have had to hire police at some board meetings as violence and guns has been a part of some meetings across the country. Not every citizen is trustworthy. Most school board members are elected officials making NO pay. Just a few years ago a madman gunned down and killed board members at a public school meeting. I am not sure where.

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