Responding to Chris Crutcher’s “How They Do It”

This is an article by author Chris Crutcher, written in the Huffington Post. Crutcher’s novel, Whale Talk, was being used in a new and innovative way as an all-school read in the rural Michigan town of Fowlerville, near Detroit. This book was being taught in every classroom, not just in English classes, but also science, mathematics, physical education, and so on. Crutcher speaks on all the praise he received when the school was teaching the book, with statements along the lines of getting students who never read to read from teachers. Crutcher’s novel was then challenged by a parent due to racist language repeated by a five year-old mixed race girl that was directed at her by her racist stepfather. After a storm of media coverage, the district chose to retain the book in the curriculum but essentially ended teaching it, directing students to finish the book on their own and then not discussing said book, instead quickly moving on to avoid controversy.

Crutcher is very clearly bitter about this. The way he rages against the parent who challenged his novel in the first place, who had formerly home-schooled her child, is particularly strong. Crutcher explicitly claims that said parent was home-schooling her daughter in order to control what information entered her mind, and thus was shocked and horrified by the loss of control that her daughter may end up reading something she had not carefully screened. While Crutcher is not wrong, this attack feels more like the actions of a petulant child than a full-grown adult. What, precisely, did he think he would get out of making such assumptions? Had Crutcher stuck to his intellectual argument, it would have certainly been strong, but personal attacks are doubtful to have gotten him anywhere.

I agree with Crutcher’s complaints about the ability of a singular parent to change the learning of an entire community of students. Crutcher is absolutely correct about the dangers of as much, and I tend to agree that there should be minimal censorship in general. Shielding children from reality simply delays their knowledge and creates a potentially damaging naivete. But, again, Crutcher’s hostile tone undercuts his argument. Crutcher makes a similar point to the one I just made, claiming that seeing what he believes to be a heart wrenching scene is unlikely to make one’s children racist. But, then, Crutcher ends his article expressing a facetious fear about And Tango Makes Three, pretending to be afraid of said book making children wish to grow up to become penguins. Crutcher is being a jerk here, to censor myself instead of having a school district do it for me.

I agree with Crutcher’s fears of censorship almost completely. But, his blind condemnation and explicitly hostile tone completely undercuts his argument, and ultimately makes me imagine this read would further reinforce the views of pro-censorship advocates, as opposed to actually changing minds. Ultimately, Chris Crutcher wanted an echo chamber too rage into, and he succeeded in finding one. But, I know full well that were I a school librarian or administrator, this would offer an excellent reason to not want to work with him.

Image result for whale talk
At least the whales on the cover of Crutcher’s book are cute. You can find this image here.

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