Robert Porter

Robert Porter points out that the Commissioner had no authority over school curriculum and that is what school boards are appointed for.

Porter, Robert. “How Can We Expect Education if We Do Not Allow Education? & Debating ‘Song of Solomon’ ”The Enterprise, January 21, 1998.

How Can We Expect Education if We Do Not Allow Education? :

“To the editor:

I am seriously concerned regarding the article printed in The Enterprise on Friday, Jan. 16 “Commissioners Back ‘Song of Solomon’ Removal.”

As I understand the article, Commissioner Lawrence D. Jarboe stated that the book was “absolute trash”. Also, a two page excerpt was presented to the commissioners and Commission President Barbra R. Thompson “…said that the two pages she read were so offensive that she not only threw them away, but tore them up so that no one else could read them.”

Commissioner Paul W. Chesser’s position was that, “My objection was that it was made to be compulsory reading… to an audience too young to evaluate its literacy value.” Well stated, Commissioner Chesser. While I applaud your position vis-a-vis “Song of solomon,” based only on your opinion, and not mine, I should like to know what you took no stance on books for the summer reading list for students, or for this particular book, before any were placed on the reading list for the Advanced Placement (AP) English class. For example, on the summer reading list, did any commissioner take a position on the use of D.H> Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” a novel which has the most descriptive text of the female anatomy in literature? Or, what about “Othello” by our good bard Shakespeare? No? What a surprise.

What is the purpose of a study of literature? Is it merely content- or perhaps a prurient interest in the relationship of characters defined within the framework of the plot?

No! It is the analysis of that literature and how it came to fruition that is important. What was the writer thinking, what was the social situation at the time the book was written or frame of time in which the characters acted, the political context, the economic and social situations which may have or have not contributed to the individual character’s actions and motives relative to the framework of the novel?

In order to understand literature, literature of all venues must be studied, analyzed and understood in its proper context to simply take one novel and declare it as “trash” is to misunderstand the nature of education itself. Also, any two pages could be excerpted from any single novel and someone would object (see the Song of Solomon in the Bible). Anyone accepted into an AP English program must, by definition, and with a competent instructor, be able to understand these concepts. To deny them the opportunity to read and judge any literary work, regardless of surface content, undermines the very reason for the course to exist and stunts the students’ ability to analyze, understand and achieve growth in that discipline.

I am not “short-sighted.” I have read a number of novels in high school and college classes to which I took exception regarding the content, yet learned a wealth of understanding in other areas. Yes, certain novels and plays did “turn my stomach,” based on my own beliefs and values. Yet, I did come away with an appreciation of the author’s intent and purpose.

Was that not education? Did I not learn? Do I not have the skills to analyze what I read? Cannot I, as a person, now discriminate literature and its underlying meanings?

These educational advantages which I received should be the same as the challenges for the students in the AP English classes. “Song of Solomon” is- or shall I say could have been- one of those challenges and advantages. It is a shame that it has been lost to that generation of dedicated AP students.

Our teachers in this county spend many hours, mostly on their own time, trying to determine which text will best serve their students during the education process. They do not take their responsibilities lightly. The simple, and I do say simple, fact is that, to the best of my knowledge, not one single person objected- citizen, parent, or commissioner- prior to the start of the school year, for exclusion of the novel “Song of Solomon” placed on the book list, “submitted weeks in advance of the start of the school year, says only one thing to me- read, understand and do your homework before class, not after.

However, how can we expect education if we do not allow education?”

21 January 1998 Part 2


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