You should read this.

Jacob Neis, Staff Writer

It’s no secret that in high school the book characters we read, much like students in the cafeteria, swear and talk about “adult topics.” And without fail, this material inspires opposition and arguments that books used in the school should be censored according to their content. One freshman student put it this way: “I shouldn’t be made to read words in class that I wouldn’t say out loud.”

And yet, the majority of students have no problem with these books. On the contrary, many list The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s classic made perennially controversial by its extensive use of racial slurs, among their favorite books of sophomore year. The same goes for other “questionable” books which have, over the years, become staples of the high school English departments.

The rebellions against controversial books are few and far between, and I think it’s due to one simple reason: teachers select the books they use in class for their literary merit, not “shock value.” Mrs. Kangas, sophomore English teacher, makes it clear that the English teachers of Minnetonka are willing to “stand by the literary value of what [they] teach.” If some of these works contain content which may be considered offensive or immoral, it doesn’t mean the teachers (or even the authors) are condoning or encouraging that type of behavior or language. It simply means that, in order to serve the purposes of the larger story, the author chose to include such content.

Perhaps the problem lies not with “inappropriate” content or teachers seeking controversy, but with the school environment. I don’t think any of us would pretend that we hadn’t heard of the N word before Huck Finn, or that the concept of adultery was foreign to us before The Scarlet Letter. But, put us in an English classroom, assign us a text that mentions these real issues, and suddenly some people feel the need to shield us from all the imperfections and discomforts of the world.

Instead of being so sensitive about the few questionable passages in the text, we as a society should instead focus on what we can gain from the book as a whole. Before sending that scathing e-mail or storming into that library ready to torch it, we have to keep an open mind to what benefits the teachers are trying to make available to us, as students, by including good, real texts in the curriculum.

So, read those books. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your parents or your teacher if you come across something you find unsettling or offensive, but at the same time, be open to what you can learn from the work, bleeps and all.

Editors’ Note:
In light of recent events in the Anoka-Hennepin school district related to what topics are appropriate in the classroom, the Breezes staff has chosen to focus much of this month’s Commentary section on such issues, discussing the nature of controversy in the classroom setting. This material is not a response to any current concerns at MHS, but instead a discussion on these issues as a whole.