Bay Area high-school English teacher Teri Hu has had her nomination of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina for inclusion in her AP English class curriculum rejected for the third time (see also: 2009, 2010) according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News. The Fremont Unified School Board cited the 1993 novel’s graphic account of a young girl’s physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather as the reason for denial, despite district approval of books containing similar subject matter, such as Alice Walker‘s The Color Purple. The difference apparently has something to do with the presence of a “better ending” according to board president Lily Mei.
Hu’s 2011 nomination of Tony Kushner‘s Angels in America was also rejected, not for its focus on AIDS and gay culture in the ’80s, but for its allegedly unflattering portrayal of Mormons.
According to the Mercury News:
Hu, who has taught 14 years in Fremont, called those arguments specious. “Angels” depicts complex, complicated and sympathetic characters, she said, showing that “Mormons are three-dimensional people, just like the rest of us.”
Trustee Ivy Wu said Allison’s work is too graphic, even for AP English students. Only a minority of 12th-graders take AP English—together, the district’s five high schools last year offered 29 classes. But while students may be academically prepared, Wu said, “emotionally they may not be.”
Unsurprisingly (with this being denial number four and all), Hu is challenging the Fremont School Board’s rejection accusing the group of voting based on personal bias and outright censorship. This, of course, has been met with a flurry of opinions from parents, students, and board members, all of which are likely to do little more than keep this issue fresh until the next year’s round of English curriculum approvals in the district.
Until then, students will hopefully do what every good reader and moderately intelligent human has ever done in the face of such controversy: get the book, study the source, form their own opinions on what is and is not of personal emotional harm, and take great comfort in the fact that books don’t give people AIDS or make them hate Mormons.
And as long as high hopes are being entertained here, maybe Ms. Hu will continue to shine her spotlight on “dangerous” literature so that her scared, impressionable AP-level students can continue to expand their summer reading lists and muck up their soft, innocent brains with the kind of understanding and insights usually reserved for the 21-and-up crowd. It’s no stretch to imagine that after finishing the final page of Bastard or Angels, most high-school seniors (and not just the AP-level wunderkind) would be left wondering: That’s it?