What I Said When They Came For The Handmaid’s Tale
Really excellent column (and statement) by Josh Korman at Book Riot.
I had the chance, once, to put my money where my mouth was. It was an experience not unlike being woken in the middle of the night by a foreign noise in your home and having only seconds to decide whether you will grab the baseball bat from the corner and walk toward the sound or hide in the closet instead.
My 110 eleventh graders were reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and one of our administrators had notified me that the parents of one of those students had contacted the superintendent directly to complain about the assignment and, of course, demand that the book be removed from the curriculum, the school, the county, and, if possible, scrubbed from the fabric of their child’s brain. I told the administrator that I would gladly meet with the parents to discuss their concerns.
This was a lie on two fronts. For one, I wasn’t glad about any of this. And for another, I was using a broader definition of the word “discuss” which includes indignant shouting and fist-shaking. But meet we did. I could tell you that, with Darrow-like precision, I cut away the heart of their argument and led them into the green pastures of enlightened understanding, but two lies is enough for one paragraph. No one shouted, minds and hearts failed to transform, and we promised nothing more than to revisit the policy allowing for alternate novel assignments if requested. Shortly thereafter, I was asked by a very supportive administrator to draft a statement detailing my rationale for selecting the novel in the first place so that if anyone else, including district-level personnel, expressed concerns about the book, the statement could be given to them in lieu of dragging me to more meetings.
This is what I wrote:
My selection of Margaret Atwood’sThe Handmaid’s Tale for study in my AP Language and Composition classes has come under scrutiny, related primarily (though not exclusively) to a passage which includes explicit reference the sexual assault of a woman enduring forced servitude in a dystopian, totalitarian future. I would like to take this opportunity to provide a cogent rationale for my selection of the book in response to the concerns expressed by some parents.
To start, it is worth noting that