Your Turn: Should 'The Painted Drum' stay on high school reading list?
On Monday, we asked readers whether the Rochester School District's Reconsideration Committee made the right decision in recommending "The Painted Drum" stay on the reading list for a sophomore honors English class.
These are the responses we received:
Rush to defend book ironic
Challenges to books are generally the product of overreaction, so it's ironic the rush to defend "The Painted Drum" as required reading for advanced placement English in Rochester seems like its own form of moral panic. The book is surely a fine selection for college reading, but the bar should be very high for required reading, for 15-year-olds, of a book with sections that introduce such coarse and pseudo-mature passages — no matter their certain effectiveness as literature. I personally have a hard time believing a book from 2005 meets that test. It may become a classic or forgotten, but we surely won't know that answer for another 20 years.
Parents have a right to prolong their children's sense of innocence and wonder and have their hands full just trying to buffer them from the obsessions of CNN and NPR. Perhaps the school system can use its considerable talents not to direct these same energies into the forms coming home in backpacks. I read "Lord Jim," "The Sun Also Rises," "Catcher in the Rye" and "The Plague" in AP English. Viewed through the long lens of life, I wish we had be given more comedy, maybe Kingsley Amis and John Kennedy Toole. I was never much of a reader, but there's 500 years of literature to choose from.
Paul John Scott
Don't hide uncomfortable situations
The reconsideration committee unquestionably made the right decision in allowing ""The Painted Drum"" to remain on the required reading list. Parents can opt out for their children for any required book, and a different book can be assigned.
If young people are never exposed to difficult or uncomfortable situations while their parents are able to offer guidance, how will they learn to handle difficult things as adults?
Censorship is a form of dictatorship, and while parents can exercise it for their own children, they do not have a right to censor for others. A 15-year-old is old enough go to the library alone, check out the forbidden book and read it without a parents' knowledge. Why not allow the book so the fact won't be hidden? Let it stay in the open so that there is discussion when necessary.
I read ""Catcher in the Rye"" in sixth or seventh grade, and while there were segments of story
that I didn't understand at that age, I still understood the whole story. I was able to ask questions, and in the long run, nothing in the book was harmful compared to what the recent events of this situation have wrought to any individuals or to the community.
There's a better reading choice
For many generations, Americans have invited the most self-absorbed and self-indulgent segment of our society into our lives through the music we purchase, the movies we attend, the television programs we watch, the books we read and the sports figures we idolize. They have taught our families that:
• Drug and alcohol ingestion is cool and desirable
• Sex and love are interchangeable
• Chastity and faithfulness are weird
• Having multiple sex partners and frequency of activity are contests and conquests
• The pervasive use of the f-bomb is no problem. It is now so prevalent, it often modifies every noun and verb in every sentence
• Everyone watches Internet porn. It's a punch line in sit-coms.
There are no kudos for the required reading of "The Painted Drum," a further example of the coarsening of the American culture. With a vast wealth of incredible works of literature available, why do our school teachers settle for the mediocrity of this book?
I might recommend the required reading of a book of exceptional literature, a book filled with stories of violence, murder and infidelity, as well as redemption and love — the Bible — except, if it hasn't already been banned, cries for its censorship would be deafening.
Joel David Blair
Committee made right decision
When I attended the reconsideration committee meeting regarding "The Painted Drum," I was impressed by the professionalism of the committee, the amount of preparation they had done and their thoughtful analysis of the book. The committee was presented with the reasons the book was selected for the American Studies curriculum, including which of the required educational standards were involved.
Since the objection to the book was based on whether it was age appropriate, there was a particular focus on that aspect of the book during the discussion. The comments made by a student member of the committee and a teacher on the committee were particularly helpful in putting the passages driving the parent's concern into the context of both the book and the class.
While the student remembered the powerful message of the book, the language of those passages was not something that stuck with him. The teacher described the maturity of students in the honors-level courses and how well they discuss the messages of books like "The Painted Drum."
It was clear that the committee made the appropriate decision in voting unanimously to keep the book in the American studies curriculum.