When I started getting comments the other day on an old post defending the teaching of classic literature in college preparatory classes that was prompted by a controversy in a Montgomery County, Kentucky school, I began to wonder: Why the renewed interest. I didn't even think to check my Sitemeter. When I did and saw that I had gotten over 2,000 hits on Tuesday, I looked to see what caused it.
It turned out to be a post on Risha Mullin's blog about the 2009 incident. She was the teacher who was virtually run off from the school as a result of the controversy over a college prep class in which she was using young adult literature which a few parents at the school found objectionable on various grounds. My post was directed at the issues involved in the controversy, making the case that young adult literature does not have a place in an advanced college preparatory course.
In the course of the post, I had mentioned Mullins only in passing. My post was based on the news reports of the events. Her post of Oct. 2, however, gives a detailed and emotional account of what happened to her.
I have mixed emotions reading her post, which readers of this blog ought to read.
My first reaction is sympathy for her. She was an enthusiastic teacher at a school which evidently (judging from her comments) was seriously deficient in the way of administrative leadership. The family and professional issues she has had to endure would try the best of us.
My second reaction is antipathy for the school. The school administration was clearly in panic mode. When you are an administrator of a school, you have to stand by your staff. If there is a controversy involving moral terpitude, deal with it with swift justice. If it is a policy issue, calm down and treat all parties fairly. This case was clearly the latter, and it seems as if the administration just simply lost their heads. Shame on them. But, of course, part of the problem is the whole system of public education and school governance which, quite frankly is a mess in the first place.
But I have two other reactions: one on the way Mullins views her situation, and the other on the issues involved in the cause she has chosen to champion.
Mullin's post is understandably emotional, since she has suffered in her personal and professional lives. But when you take a stand on an issue, there is a price to pay. When you do battle, expect blood. I have been involved in public controversy for 20 years (longer than that if you count my involvement as an editorials editor on my college daily paper). You take public positions and you've got to take the hits.
If Mullins finds criticism from her school and a few parents intimidating, she should try waking up in the morning to find herself the personal target of the lead editorials in the state's two largest daily papers some time. It's happened to me twice. It doesn't really bother me because I believe in what I'm doing, but it obviously isn't for everyone. Her situation obviously is unpleasant, but if she were to read a few history books in addition to the teen fiction she champions--where a boy looking at the girl askance has severe emotional consequences--she would get some perspective on what it is to truly suffer for her beliefs.
And by the way, to characterize how she was dealt with as "censorship" and calling her treatment a "witch hunt" is not only hyperbole, but it isn't even accurate. If you are going to engage in controversy, you should expect to take some hits, and you should deal with disagreement by meeting it with reason and evidence--not name-calling. Were the actions of her school administration cowardly? Probably. But censorship? I don't think so.
One of the hits she took was from me. She refers to my post (the reason all her readers ended up here on this blog) as one of the things that caused her to lose her composure, calling it "fallacious." But I have trouble taking seriously the charge of "fallacy" from someone whose arguments consist primarily of emotional appeals. Which of my arguments were fallacious? She doesn't say.
She also accuses me of deleting the comment she wrote posted in response to me. This is simply false. I never delete posts except for the reasons explicitly laid out in the disclaimer of the comments section, and even there I exercise a great deal of leeway, as anyone who frequents this blog knows. I open up this blog to anyone who wants to criticize what I write--a privilege which my detractors take liberal advantage of. If she had correctly posted a comment, it would have appeared with no interference from me.
But what are these beliefs for which Mullins thinks she is a martyr?
In her post she characterizes herself as a champion for reading. But let's put this whole issue back into the perspective of what actually happened. First of all the course that was the subject of the news stories was, and I'll emphasize this for those of her fans who keep obfuscating it: AN ACCELERATED COLLEGE PREPARATORY COURSE. The issue was not whether kids should be encouraged to read through creative approaches to teaching or whether kids should read young adult fiction on theIR own time or in some minor capacity in school. The issue was whether pop teen fiction should be the focus of reading in an ACCELERATED COLLEGE PREPARATORY COURSE.
It is interesting that nowhere in Mullins account does she mention the exact nature of the course for which she was criticized for including young adult fiction.
The argument in my original post was that advanced college preparatory courses should focus on advanced college preparatory material. Pop teen fiction is not advanced college preparatory material. Therefore it shouldn't be the focus of an advanced college preparatory course. No one ever responded to my argument: they simply went on about how they liked young adult fiction and how isn't it great how it gets kids to read and this poor teacher was persecuted and on and on and on.
Folks, get a grip on your emotions. I realize that rampant, uncontrolled emotions may constitute great teen reading, but let's focus on the issue. And the issue is whether, in the limited amount of time a school has to spend on advanced college preparation the time is best spent on popular books for young adults or whether the time could be spent better using classic literature--you know, the kind they will encounter in college.
The fact that teens can get excited about reading teen fiction is great. Now can we spend the energy getting them excited about great literature? This is the question, however it may be obfuscated by those who champion, as Mullins does, young adult literature.