Remember how last month we got all upset about how the Cape Henlopen, Delaware school board removed The Miseducation of Cameron Post from its summer reading list? We weren’t the only people riled up; the National Coalition Against Censorship lent its voice to the outrage, and the story gained further traction when picked up by Boing Boing and AfterEllen’s beloved YA author Malinda Lo. Here at AE, we launched a campaign to donate copies of emily danforth’s gorgeous novel to local teens through Browseabout Books (Lucy Hallowell’s brainchild, for which we are proud of her and grateful to everyone who pitched in.)
Unfortunately, all that attention had rather the opposite effect of what we were intending. Rather than bow to the expertise of the librarians who curated the Blue Hen reading list, the book’s author, or anyone who had actually read it, the School Board instead voted to do away with the entire reading list. I’d say that’s like killing a fly with a hand grenade, except neither YA literature nor its devotees deserve the insect comparison.
In moments of frustration such as this, it is sometimes helpful to go back to the root of the problem. What started this ruckus in the first place? If you’ll recall, the Cape Henlopen School Board insisted publicly (and in personal emails to AE staff) that the controversy was owed entirely to the use of curse words in Cam Post, NOT its lesbian content. According to the board, YA heroines are perfectly free to scissor their girlfriends all the live-long day, so long as they don’t use the word “fucking” to describe the activity. There’s just one problem with that explanation: It is complete and utter bullshit.
AfterEllen has received a copy of the original parental complaint that sparked this entire saga; having been read at a school board meeting, it is a matter of public record. Here it is, in full. (The names of the shocked and outraged parents have been removed.)
We currently have one daughter at Beacon and two at Shields. Two days ago our daughter mentioned that some friends in 8th grade had received their summer reading lists for 9th grade. She is an avid reader so we assumed that a request for some of the books would soon follow and decided to check what books were on the list. We always check whatever our children read to not only make sure the material is age appropriate; but also to determine what if any discussion we should have with our child to provide context for the material, explain any historical events referenced or explain the appropriate moral actions that characters should have taken in the book.
We expected to see classics like Of Mice and Men or Lord of Flies (SAS and Indian River 9th reading list respectively) but we were shocked and appalled by the list provided our 8th graders. After looking at the 9th grade list, we did not check the other grades and we will leave that to you. The most egregious book on the list was The Miseducation of Cameron Post. The sexual content of this book is not appropriate for a 14 year old. While the book’s main character is a teen, numerous reviews we found online strongly recommend it for readers 17 and older due its explicit sexual content. It details quite explicitly among other things the proper etiquette for performing oral sex. Another example of age inappropriate material is a character’s desire to castrate himself with a razor. Several of the reviews describe the book as a roadmap or guide book on how to become a sexually active lesbian teen. If they made a movie version of the book, only the seniors at Cape could go see it because it would be rated R yet it is on the freshman summer reading list. Not that I would want my middle school girls to be taught any of what is in the book but it is wholly inappropriate given the sex education provided through 8th grade. Are the 9th grade teachers at Cape prepared to deal with the questions and moral issues raised by this mature subject matter?
As a parent, I do not care whether some group of librarians gave a book an award and put it on a list. Take a look at what the nearest districts and charter school have done for their summer reading lists. Who decided on this list? Who reviewed and approved the list? Did anyone actually read the books prior to assigning the list? We made the decision not to send our daughter to SAS but rather stay in the Cape system. Things like this reading list make it difficult for us to encourage other parents to stay in the Cape system and causes us to question our own choice. At the recent awards ceremony at the high school, the superintendent made a point to thank the Senior Class for their efforts but also their character. How will exposing 14 years kids to age inappropriate material impact their character as they progress through high school? Parents attempting to filter what children are exposed to today face a constant battle against new media and technology that did exist even a decade ago. Summer reading lists from their school should not be part of that battle. I would challenge any of you to read aloud to your 13 or 14 year old son, daughter, niece, nephew, etc The miseducation of Cameron Post and tell us you find it to be age appropriate material. Of the other books on the list, one deals with public suicide generating popularity and another with the loss of virginity.
I am almost too outraged to unpack the astounding level of ignorance on display here. (I will, however, pause to laugh at its description of the book as “a roadmap or guide book on how to become a sexually active lesbian teen.” That is hilarious and someone needs write that actual book.) I don’t feel I owe these parents an explanation as to why Cameron Post is important. I doubt they would even understand it if I told them about how valuable it is as a teenager to hear your doubts and fears and desires echoed back to you in your own voice, from a character you can believe in. I will say that I think you are fucking delusional if you think your daughter won’t be offered a joint in high school, or want someone she can’t have, or have someone she can’t bring herself to want. That is just part of the human experience—whether you are determined to be a sexually active lesbian teen or not— and the best preparation for it are stories and PARENTS who aren’t too afraid to talk about it.
It also bears mentioning that of the two books they do feel are appropriate for incoming freshmen, Lord of the Flies is as horrific and traumatic as they come. Yet Americans have always been more comfortable with violence than sex, especially sex that does not adhere to heterosexual, Puritanical standards. (See: the thousands of PG-13 movies in which heroes mow down faceless henchmen by the dozen, but the woman wears a bra for the sex scene, because a boob is somehow more offensive than a shooting spree.)
But whatever. I don’t need every parent in Delaware to agree with me. And neither does the Cape Henlopen School Board. It is not the function of these bodies to kowtow to the wishes of the frightened and ignorant. The only thing that results from that kind of weakness is the education of future generations of frightened and ignorant children. Refuse to teach sex education to children, and they get pregnant. Refuse to teach science, and they become incapable of competing with their better-educated peers. Censor stories of gayness, hide them in dark, and gay teens will grow up feeling ashamed. (I’m sure the Cape Henlopen School Board has gotten enough letters by now to know that I’m not speaking in hypotheticals, but real, lived-in stories of gay children who feel they need to hide who they are.) It’s not enough to try and mitigate the damage or hush-up the hush-up by lying about the reasons for it. Because if you set an example of dishonesty—and that is exactly what this whole “it’s only because of profanity” line of defense has been—how can you expect the students in your care to grow up honest themselves?
The summer is ending, the students are returning—a great many more having read Cameron Post than would have otherwise—and it’s tempting to call the matter of this letter a moot point. But these elected officials don’t deserve to get off easy or clean. I hope, at least that this ordeal has taught them something about accountability, about honesty, and maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to fight this battle again next summer.
Oh, and don’t try to fool the lesbian internet.