September 15, 1997
Leonardtown High School
Leonardtown, M 20650
Dear Dr. Weiland:
Recently it has come to my attention that one of the books selected for the AP 11 English class was Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. My son came to me after having read this book and commented on the language and situations in it. To be honest, he labeled the book as “trash”. I too have read this book and have come to the conclusion that it most definitely is not an appropriate book for high school students.
There are many mature themes running throughout this book including: incest, descriptions of explicit sex, implied sex, promiscuous sex, public urination, slang terms for male and female genitalia not to mention the liberal use of extremely foul language. I have found all of those to be totally offensive and should not be taught in a public high school.
The theme of incest begins with the main character’s (Milkman) mother nursing him to an age most people would consider to be inappropriate. The entire scene implied that the child’s mother got sexual satisfaction out of it (pp.13-15; 77-78). Later, this same mother (Ruth) had an unnatural attraction to her father. Her father died and Ruth’s husband discovered her naked in his deathbed, kissing him and keeping her fingers in the corpse’s mouth (p.73). Another example of incest would be the sexual relationship between milkman and his cousin, Hagar and the various descriptions of their activities (pp.69, 91-92; 97-98).
There is a description of the undressing of Ruth by her husband (Milkman’s father) and how he “entered her and ejaculated quickly” (p.16). According to the book, Milkman was twenty-two and had been sexually active (an obscenity was used) for six years (p.64). He jumped into bed easily with other women (pp.285; 298). These are only a few examples of explicit sex, promiscuous or casual sex.
In one part of the book, there is a description of public urination (p.25) laced with sexual innuendo and foul language. Throughout the book, many derogatory and slang terms are used for male and female genitalia (cunt, cock, dick, pussy). One of the more offensive sections can be found on page 267. There are many more examples of objectionable material in this book, too numerous to mention. While the author’s intention may have been to indicate that the black community needs to take responsibility for its problems and that the main character, Milkman finally figured out what really is important, the end doesn’t justify the means.
I find it somewhat ironic that the language in this book would more than likely result in a student’s suspension if used in school towards another student or teacher. It is also ironic that with today’s concern on reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases that this book does nothing to discourage this. I think that most parents would agree with me- if they knew what was in this book! I would surmise most parents do not know the details. Teenagers do not have the emotional maturity and experience to deal with these issues, no matter how precocious they may be intellectually. Therefore I must insist that this book be removed immediately from the approved AP reading list. It is too late for this year’s students but perhaps next year’s………..
Finally, I would like to be included in any review of this book that this letter many generate and I would also like to know what other books have been chose for this year’s study in both the AP 11 and 12 English classes. I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for your consideration in this matter.
The Schools response to Bernadette Williamson
As you requested, enclosed is a copy of the procedures for reviewing textbooks questions by members of the community. I have included the form that can be used to express concerns that you may have about Song of Solomon. When you return the completed form to Dr. Weiland, he will convene a committee to re-evaluate the selection of the book.
The lists of titles for Advanced Placement English are also included. Please be aware that this is an approved list from which teachers may select books for classroom instruction. For Advanced Placement English, a teacher, with permission from the department chairperson, may also use a book on the AP 11 class for instruction in the AP 12 class, and vice versa.
As a result of our conversation, I know that your concerns are very important to you, and that you are truly interested in your child’s education. I hope that involving you in this process will assure you that we are also concerned.