June has finally arrived and my Paul D. Schreiber High School experience is coming to a close. Being a second semester senior, I can boast a pretty valid knowledge of how the high school English education system works, or at least in regard to Port Washington. I write in response to Pastor Thomas' editorial on the school board's decision to censor the literature being taught in the high school in which he intimated that it would be irresponsible for educators to expose us to material that goes against or depreciates Christianity. I must remind the pastor and the school board that it is not a high school teacher's job to "influence" his/her student's young minds, but to expose us to a multitude of opinions and options so that we may make educated decisions for ourselves as we exit adolescence for adulthood. By limiting the literary material to the tried-and-true classics, the school board is severely limiting an educator's abilities to carry out this responsibility in a way that appeals to the minds of modern thinkers.
I stress that the teenagers being educated today think very differently than the teenagers who were going through the school systems at the time when Jane Eyre and Moby Dick were approved as high school criteria. After 12 years of literary education, I can proclaim with the greatest competence that teachers are now forced to perform even harder than they should just to get kids to understand each book, let alone convince their students to actually read the book, which only a very small percentage of an average English class does anymore. Unfortunately, there are many teachers who have resorted to rolling their eyes and lecturing a distracted, antsy class about a book that none of them have picked up. Even many of the high-achieving students do not read the books, but cram Cliffnotes the day before a test because the state has molded them into grade scoring machines, not young students eager to be educated.
There are, however, a handful of teachers who do stretch the extra mile to enthuse their students. One such teacher is Mr. Hamburger, mentioned in Pastor Thomas' editorial as one of the educator's spokesmen. In his American Literature Class, Mr. Hamburger is faced with the obstacle of making palm piloting, gum-chewing, modern teenagers understand the significance of the Scarlet Letter. Just think about his task for a good minute - express the audacity and drama of a 200-year-old novel about the dastardly issue of adultery to youths whose first introduction to politics was the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal which, ultimately, turned out harmless to the success of Clinton's presidency. We are supposed to think that a one-time, lustful affair was a big deal when the MTV generation is ever ready to jump Britney Spears' and N'sync's bones? If you ask me, Mr. Hamburger is one educator with the authority to demand modern curriculum that his students will appreciate and relate to without being accused of trying to impress unstructured minds that Christianity is inaccurate. Look to the classics: We read Night by Eli Weisel - were we influenced by the horrible depictions of the Germans? Tell that to the handful of Schreiber seniors who park their Volkswagens in Monfort lot every day. We read Song of Solomon - does that mean that we are led to believe that all African-Americans are angry and malicious? Definitely not, when the hottest songs of 2001 so far have been by Nelly and Destiny's Child.
Pastor Thomas has a right to be offended by the depreciation of his religion in The Poisonwood Bible on a personal level, yet he cannot support the deprivation of an incredible modern literary work that would help expand the minds of teenagers today for this reason. This is why the United States practices the separation of church and state, so that every person being educated has the right to learn about all different opinions and cultural standpoints. Insisting that one religion is correct and that literature that does not support the accuracy of the Bible is not a reason to censor a book from our school rooms, especially when the controversial book is about the forceful imposition of one religion over people who do not practice it in the first place.