New York City may have been on pause for a bit after superstorm Sandy, but censorship attempts were certainly not taking a break.
The mother of an 8th grader at Bromley East Charter School in Brighton, Colorado evidently lodged a complaint to the school’s administration and to the media about one of the most frequently taught short stories of all time: “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell. For the handful of you who did not read this story in middle school, “The Most Dangerous Game” is a 1924 story that satirizes the big game safari hunting of the 1920s and is often used to teach a number of literary devices.
In a local news report, the parent was quoted as saying the story made her son “uncomfortable to read it and to think about killing someone else.”
Yes, well, isn’t that exactly the point?
Far from encouraging 14-year-olds to pick up their hunting rifles and head off to their own private homosapien gaming preserve, the story probes the irony of civilized human animals killing other animals for sport, or other humans in warfare. If the irony is too subtle for a student, they have a teacher right there to explain it to them.
The challenge comes on the heels of a particularly disturbing murder of a 10-year-old girl by a 17-year-old teen, which the parent cites as part of her sensitivity to the story. This is truly a horrific crime, something incredibly difficult for any community to cope with and the awareness is fair.
This woman’s son and his peers are almost certainly aware of this incident and potentially other horrible crimes, acts of violence and realities. What better, more fruitful and safer way to explore the unfortunate but very real darker areas of our existence than in a language arts class, with a skilled instructor, or through an ensuing conversation with a parent. Rather than pull the book to keep any child from ever being disturbed–a decidedly losing battle no matter what you do–why not engage them on these subjects?
A conversation and explanation is exactly what the situation calls for, as the school district fortunately recognizes.
A district representative wrote in a statement: “When students and teachers come across potentially controversial texts, the ensuing conversations can be framed within the safety of the classroom and nurtured as part of the learning.”
This is the nth example of this often perpetuated myth that a short story in a language arts classroom might incite any and every perfectly happy and healthy and otherwise normal teen to violence. If only it were so easy to pin point a single “cause” of violent crime–a book!– and send it to the shredder, never to be read again.
If we want to talk about irony, isn’t it interesting that a story written 100 years ago satirizing human violence and hunting for sport *then* can cause someone to claim it hits too close to home in “today’s” culture of violence? If that isn’t an argument for the indelible literary value of Connell’s work, I don’ t know what is.