September 14 2013
Vicki E. Alger
An Arizona parent recently complained about an erotic novel, Dreaming in Cuban, assigned to her 10th grade son’s class. The complaint has now made national news, and the Sierra Vista Unified School District has responded by yanking the novel.
The literary/education sector is decrying the move as racist because this book is by Latina author Cristina Garcia.
However critically acclaimed a novel may be, or whatever the race or ethnic origin of the author, the real question is whether sexually graphic material is appropriate for minor children.
And the answer is entirely up to their parents, not authors who for all their critical acclaim are still trying to sell books—no matter how fervently they demur about not “depriving” other people’s children “of a broader, cultural experience.”
It’s also worth noting a fact conveniently omitted from the press coverage: Dreaming in Cuban is a book recommended by Omaba’s Common Core national standards, English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, Appendix B: Text Exemplars and Sample Performance Tasks. It even includes a media portal linking to interviews and publicity of forthcoming books by Garcia (p. 152).
To be sure, most readers will see recognized classics alongside Dreaming in Cuban.
Regardless whether a novel is deemed a classic or not in academic or literary circles, parents of minor children have the right and the responsibility to put the brakes on if they believe a novel’s theme or content is not appropriate.
That’s not being a racist. That’s not depriving kids of some kind of “cultural” experience. That’s being a parent who cares for their child’s character formation as well as their intellectual formation—which go hand in hand, by the way.
It’s also worth noting that many talented authors of novels intended for adults who are highly acclaimed in literary circles have reservations about children reading their works. They feel a responsibility about how they will affect children.
I believe award-winning author Toni Morrison said something to that effect at a lecture of hers I attended decades ago at Northern Arizona University.
In contrast, Garcia says, “Many works, not just mine, are misinterpreted or misguidedly banned because of the limitations and short-sightedness of a few.” She said she’d be willing to visit Sierra Vista and answer questions.
Rather than imply parents who object to exposing their children to graphic sex and misogynistic language are close-minded simpletons, perhaps Garcia should talk to her publisher about re-releasing her novel without the adult content—if she’s truly more interested in sharing cultural experiences with audiences of minor children, instead of just selling more books.
As for parents, don’t trust that school officials even know what’s being taught in taxpayer-subsidized classrooms. Superintendent Kriss Hagerl admitted she had no idea about the book’s content.
Parents have every right to review course content before it’s presented to their children and require alternatives that square with their beliefs.
If teachers and schools won’t accommodate, parents can opt-out their children from Common Core national standards.