I’m Just Like a Hollywood Actor!

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute can’t believe that the Glen Ellyn Elementary District 41 school board voted 6-1 to overturn the ban on The Perks of Being a Wallflower earlier this week, so she’s griping about how kids reading things she finds indecent is bad for society and how teachers who encourage students to read these challenging books are political activists “masquerading as ‘educators’” and how the sky is falling.

She doesn’t like the “stronger” parental notification compromise, either, where the note that goes home to parents each year will explain that students may choose to read books with “mature content” but parents have a right to say no to those selections:

For a parental notification letter to be meaningful, it should avoid vague and euphemistic language like “mature content.” Teachers should include clear and explicit descriptions of the “mature content.” For example, in the case of Perks the notification should state that the book includes obscene language and depictions (in some cases graphic depictions) of masturbation, homosexual sodomy, heterosexual teen intercourse, incest, rape, and bestiality.

In her mind, when hundreds of kids read dozens of books independently, teachers should spend their time writing out notes to parents explaining the content of each individual book. Because that’s a good use of teachers’ time… (If parents can’t bring themselves to know what their own kids are reading, I’m guessing they’re not going to pay much attention to the teachers’ notes, anyway.)

But, maybe there’s room for compromise. When Higgins’ church starts sending a similar note home to the parents of Sunday School students, I’ll pay more attention to her idea. (“This book is full of genocide, rape, incest, torture, slavery, hate, polygamy, prostitution, animal sacrifice, misogyny, homophobia, and infanticide. We highly recommend it!”)

It’s the last paragraphs of Higgin’s post that caught my attention, though:

When in doubt about the wisdom, reasonableness, or truth of your position on a controversial issue, look to see who is on the other side. You should feel reassured that you’re on the right side when you see that most Hollywood actors and… math teacher Hemant Mehta* (aka “The Friendly Atheist”) are on the other side.

*Click here and here to learn more about… math teacher Hemant Mehta who has written on the Hadley controversy and oh so much more.

Yep. Me and those Hollywood actors. We’re so tight. We have a meeting at my place next week to decide how to legalize p—whoops, I’ve said too much.

What I can’t figure out is how, of all the postings on this site, she settled on a random video about foreskins from 2010. Next time I’m upset about something, I’m just going to imagine all the words she typed into my search bar before settling on that one.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Brian Westley

    Remember, foreskinned is fore…armed…or something.

    • jdm8

      I think it’s amusing that Christians can’t handle people pointing things out that are in the bible.

      Also, handling 200 penises to get 200 foreskins, maybe more because not every circumcision goes swimmingly, that sounds a bit… gay.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        Nah, he could just have his rape-slaves do the cutting.

        No, no, wait… according to evangelist Larry Tomczak, that could turn them into lesbians.

        The whole “collect the foreskins of your slain enemies” thing gets even crustier when ones considers the lack of precision tools, the lack of proper gloves, the lack of soap (either for your hands or the enemy’s crotches, pre- or post-smiting), and the whole “evacuated bowels” thing.

        Just writing that is making me itchy. BRB, gotta shower.

        • Logan Blackisle

          Collect foreskin from slain enemies…? I don’t suppose you know the chapter and verse for that (I assume it’s in the bible)?

    • Aegis

      I wish. Speaking as one of the great unclipped, I can only dream of having four arms.

  • smrnda

    If this woman wants to prevent kids from reading books with mature content, she’d better lock up all the Bibles. They’ve got rape, incest, gruesome descriptions of battles and tortures (crucifixion even!) and all sorts of other sexual content that we just can’t let anyone under 18 read.

  • Michael

    You’re planning to legalize Paris Hilton?

    • Spuddie

      Its an impossible task.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Paris Hilton cannot be legalized. It may only be contained.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Did she just “…and your little dog, too!”????

  • Hat Stealer

    I love how Laurie went out of her way to mention how open minded she is… she did “look to see who is on the other side” after all.

  • WallofSleep

    OMG, Hollywood actors taking a position on something?!?! I don’t know what they have to say, it makes no difference anyway, whatever it is, I’m against it!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHash5takWU

    • Kodie

      I downvoted you because.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Of all your dirty laundry, the best she could find was a 3 year old post with 10 comments about a story that’s from the Bible?

    Wow Laurie! Keep digging!

    (At least she had the courtesy of linking to you this time, so people can read for themselves)

  • Drew M.

    Apparently, Blume’s status as celebrated author makes her an expert on educational philosophy, the use of public resources, the First Amendment, psychology, sociology, and ethics—all of which are relevant to this discussion.

    The irony burns.

  • Billy Bob

    I like how Higgins said “well, look who’s on the other side”. It’s basically an admission they have no arguments and they can’t refute their opposition so they just go for the personal attack.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Yeah, by all means look at who’s on the other side. Don’t do anything silly like listen to what they have to say; just look at them.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    What is it like to be a comic stereotype? To actually live up to a B movie cliché of the neighborhood pious prude who is obsessed with controlling everyone else’s sexual behaviors and even their thoughts? What an awful existence.

    • midnight rambler

      Evidently it means being unfathomably delusional, given that the title of her article is “Ignorance Wins in Middle School Book Controversy”.

  • blackbeltatheist

    I’m really torn on the Perks story. On one hand, I love that book and despise censorship. On the other, I can’t help but wonder; if the parent had been an atheist and the book had been a Christian book, would our community feel the same way? It reminds me of the Roberts case from the late 80s: http://csl.sog.unc.edu/node/1093 We’re always asking Christians to put themselves in our shoes. I wonder sometimes if we fail to follow our own advice. So, I really don’t know where I stand on this one.

    • TCC

      If an atheist had demanded that the Christian book be banned as opposed to saying that his/her child should not read it, yes, I would feel precisely the same (with the caveat that it would depend somewhat on the book in question, since a book promoting Christianity could bring in Establishment Clause problems, possibly).

    • C Peterson

      I would never, ever call for a book with Christian content to be banned (assuming its content or presentation didn’t violate the Establishment Clause). I’d consider such a book controversial enough to warrant parental notice, so I could decide for myself if my kid should read it. But other people’s kids? That’s their business.

  • Levon Mkrtchyan

    She linked to you for once! That’s so kind of her!

  • threenorns

    when i was in high school, the teacher wanted me to read Lord of the Flies. it sounded interesting, so i read it. the following morning (yes, i read THAT fast), i stalked into the classroom, threw the book on the desk, and said “i can’t believe you want me to READ that crap!”. i’m 47yrs old and still traumatized. i can’t express how much i loathe that book.

    but i didn’t forbid my two older daughters from reading it. i told them how i felt but i said if you still want to read it, go right ahead. just don’t say i didn’t warn you. one daughter read it, the other didn’t.

    the following year, the same teacher – i think she had issues – wanted us to read The Pearl. i was smarter this time: i read the synopsis and said “hell NO!” and swapped out for Lord of the Rings (the entire lot).

    • Kodie

      Look, I read The Pearl. I don’t think my course ran by Lord of the Flies but we had Bless the Beasts and Children – have to say I did not have a good record of reading assigned works in general, and still passed. Being afraid of words in a book is weird. I don’t think the assigned reading in school is to frighten or disgust people but to explore human and sometimes mature and disturbing themes. The world is disturbing. What I hate all the time now is when something bad happens, “news” programs always do segments on how to explain it to children. You can turn off the tv, but they will talk about it in school. It is unavoidable. Books are a way of looking at it, feel it, and process it. If you were disturbed by an assigned book, like, that much, I don’t know why you would persist in reading it before confronting the teacher. I don’t know why you would not try to read another book that was assigned to you until you got to the hard parts. You remind me of Phoebe on “Friends” when she never saw the ends of sad movies and thought “Old Yeller” was a fun family movie until many years later: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osRX86BYsVg

      • threenorns

        yeah, can’t stand “friends”, either.

        when you get into a book as much as i do, you DO have to be careful what you read. they’re not just “words” – someone who reads the way i do actually gets INTO the book. if you interrupt me in the middle of a chapter, you will get your head bitten off.

        i didn’t know i would be bothered that much by lord of the flies – the way it was described, it was an “adventure tale” about a bunch of kids stranded on a desert island. i was expecting something along the lines of a non-fantasy peter pan type thing – not a dystopian society in microcosm.

        as for reading a book until i got to the hard parts, that doesn’t happen – if i read a book, i finish it. therefore, i make sure it’s something i’m going to find worth my while – The Pearl (which i did read, many years later, when challenged to do so and i was completely vindicated because i still hate it: Steinbeck has serious issues) is not something i find worth my while. I don’t understand why someone would have such a nasty opinion of people.

        an example of a book that i found equally impactful but in a worthwhile way is The Stone Angel – that is a really great book. not a pleasant one, not a nice one, but very well written: just as much an indictment but, unlike Steinbeck, it has compassion. you get the feeling that yeah, people pretty much suck at times but at other times, they’re okay. Steinbeck leaves you with the feeling that the world would be better off if we just let loose a load of Sarin gas.

    • midnight rambler

      Hey, I had to read four of Salinger’s Nine Stories, as well as The Stranger. Don’t complain to me about having to read crap.

  • DougI

    If a fundy’s biggest problem with America is that kids are reading then life must be pretty good.

    • duke_of_omnium

      The fundy’s real biggest problem is that kids are *learning*.

  • katiehippie

    Can I get your autograph? :-)

  • allein

    Does she realize that this warning letter sent home (once a year?) is about books that the teacher is not specifically assigning? It is so easy these days to find out what kind of content is in a book. If you’re that concerned about what your kid might be reading, a quick google search is all you need to do. My parents sure didn’t have it that easy. (Though I don’t actually recall my parents paying too much attention to what I read as a kid; I read so many books they probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up. My school experience was blissfully free of the kinds of controversies I read about here. Catcher in the Rye, evolution in biology class, comprehensive sex ed…these were not issues.)

    Tonight, I was in the bookstore in the atheism section (looking at Jerry DeWitt’s new book), which is next to religion, and one of the employees came back with a customer and her son who I guess was about middle school age. Sounded like they were looking for summer reading titles; I didn’t see if they had an official school list or what, but they were looking for Left Behind (the kid’s choice, from what I could tell from their conversation). I considered saying something but I’m really not one to stick my nose into a complete stranger’s conversation like that. Mom sorta seemed inclined to discourage that particular selection (more because I think she thought it was too advanced for him, but she did mention that it was about religion as a discouraging factor, too), and after looking at it and reading the back, he decided against it, and they headed off to the teen section for a different title on his list. Smart kid.

  • Phil

    What a waste of oxygen she is. She preaches non-stop to the choir consisting of a few delusional idiots and thinks her message has some kind of relevance beyond those few souls.

    She’s also a vindictive, hateful woman, devoid of any shame or conscience. Somewhere there’s a room in a high security looney bin just waiting for her. Or its volitional and ontological equivalent. Or something. Hey, as long as she has someone, anyone, she can think she’s morally superior to, she’s happy.

  • MarissaD

    I love Hemant Mehtah…..His writing is so smart!

  • Yoav

    When did math teacher became an insult?

    • allein

      Math is totally useless. I mean, seriously, when do you ever use math once you get out of school?

      And who is a math teacher to be talking about banned books in English class, anyway?! He probably can’t even read them!

      /sarcasm, ftr

  • JA

    Yep, kids learning new concepts that go against the grain of what they’ve been indoctrinated with is sooooooo terrible, right?


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