Sunday, January 18, 2009

Handmaid's Tale Challenged

Another book challenge, this time not by one of neighbours to the south but a parent in Toronto. An article, Parent Seeks Ban on Atwood Novel, in the Saturday edition of the Windsor Star caught my eye and I immediately recognized a blog topic.
Apparently, this is not the first time this book, which, by the way, scared the pants off me the first time I read it (and upset me again the second time I read it), has been challenged. According to the article "Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel The Handmaid's Tale was No. 37 last year on the American Library Association's list of most frequently challenged books of the 1990s, but until now there has apparently been no recorded attempt to ban it in Canada."
Ok, I can understand that some people may be offended by the way that fundamentalist religion is portrayed, and that there is some sexual content. But the book has so many jumping off places for critical literacy discussions that it is a great book choice for Grade 12 Academic English.
We're talking about 17 and 18 year olds here, not young adults, but students who have grown up with with music videos, and all kinds of stuff on the Internet and cable/satellite TV. The goings on in Atwood's book are tame by comparison. However, as educators, we always respect the right of a parent of a student under the age of majority to choose what is appropriate for his child. The school, located in the Toronto DSB listened to the father's complaint and "the student was issued Aldous Huxley's Brave New World to read instead and will leave the classroom when Atwood's novel is being discussed." This is a reasonable course of action, one that most schools and teachers have no difficulty in doing. Alternative selections for literature study are always available to students at their request or their parent's.
But that's not good enough for this father. This father not only wants to censor his own kid but he wants to censor everyone's kid. "Unsatisfied with the school's resolution, the student's father then made a formal complaint to the school board, which has passed it along to a review committee for study and recommendation about whether the "learning resource" should be removed from the classroom."

I am always amazed when people do this. And I wonder what drives a person into thinking that he holds the knowledge to determine what is right for everyone, not just his own. Is there something in that book that acts as a mirror and he sees something in himself that he fears being revealed? Is it fear that drives that parent?


Ms C said...

I read this acticle too and thought of you immediately! I wondered if it would make the blog and I'm not surprised that it did. It is a topic near and dear to both our hearts.

I feel that this is most certainly an example of a parent taking things too far. The student has been offered an alternate book to read (though I'm surprised this same parent has no protest to Brave New World given the pleasure-oriented society presented in this book). I assuming the student will be given alternative tasks to complete. You rightly state that if this book were in the hands of students younger than 17-18, then maybe the parent may have a right to be concerned. But as seniors, they are far than capable to handle its content.

Why is it that some parents feel they have to protect the children of all by censoring the lot? Doesn't that remove the rights of those students and those parents who may have no objection to the novel? Since when do the needs of one become the need for all?

I hope the Toronto Board does the right thing and refuses to ban this classic Canadian novel.

Sharon Seslija said...

Your questions resonate Ms C. It's non-reflective thinking or it may even have to do with lack of empathy -that inability to out oneself into another's shoes. Is this the result of the me generation? better minds than mine may be able to answer that one. Thanks for your comments.

Jen said...

frankly i read it once at about 16/17/18 grade 10/11 and it freaked me out to the point where i avoid atwood like the plague..

not that i'm very naive but i just found that some teens who may be grounded in standards and other things might just find the whole thing disturbing

if i had any idea before reading the book what it would be about/what content would be in it I probably would have asked to do something else. I would have found it far less stressful to go through. I didn't have a problem in grade 10 to say that I didn't think Shindlers List was a good choice to watch in the classroom and the teacher decided on another movie to watch!

Sharon Seslija said...

Hi Jen,
Really the whole thing comes down to respecting others' choices. I have no problem with a student requesting another book to read. In fact, I welcome it because it shows that the student understands his/her needs and beliefs and are secure enough to be able to articulate them. Not all teens are. What I have is a problem with people who think they have a right to dictate to others. Handmaid's Tale was an uncomfortable book to read and I think it was because I could connect to a world run by religious dictators. We see this today in Middle Eastern and other countries. For me, Atwood's book wasn't about gratuitous sex but it was her take on what can happen if religion becomes the dominant political ideology. Thank you for your comments. I really appreciate them (sometimes I wonder of anyone reads this blog).