Holden Caulfield expelled.
January 16, 2001 6:10 AM   Subscribe

Holden Caulfield expelled. This article makes a case that Catcher in the Rye is being pushed out of classrooms for more "multicultural" books. Since when does opening the doors to diversity mean excluding others?
posted by croutonsupafreak (35 comments total)
Doesn't it always, in practicality? If one can teach X number of books in class, bringing in a new book would raise the tally to X+1, requiring the instructor to remove one book.

I am as anti-censorship as they come, but in the case of Catcher in the Rye, I'll make an exception. I think it's an odious book, and there are hundreds of books that students would be better exposed to in the very limited classroom environment.
posted by rushmc at 9:53 AM on January 16, 2001

Since when does opening the doors to diversity mean excluding others?

Since there was a finite number of hours a day and a limit to the number of days and years we can keep students in school.

It's a sad truth that we can't teach everything to all people. We have to choose a small subset, whether it's science or literature or art. And of course we won't all agree on what makes up that subset. Those that want to learn more do so on their own time, by majoring in a field in college or by learning for pleasure outside of a classroom.
posted by ewagoner at 10:05 AM on January 16, 2001

I'm not sure where I stand on this. I don't really think it matters how old or who is in the book, as long as it's good and has a sort of lesson in it.
posted by tiaka at 10:08 AM on January 16, 2001

And god forbid that we ever acknowledge that there existed a time when no one had heard of multiculturalism, and that it was perfectly alright, for the times - this is a fight to rid the educational system of context, pure and simple, and to trample over history because it makes X group uncomfortable.

So Holden is white- so what? CITR represents one of the most daring and pointed critiques of class issues in America.

And I don't even have words to express the sheer disdain I feel at having this book replaced with the tripe Toni Morrison churns out.
posted by gsh at 10:11 AM on January 16, 2001

Or the completely unimpressive "Joy Luck Club" (mentioned in the article), which I had to suffer through as a senior.

Then again, somehow I missed out on CITR in high school.
posted by Awol at 10:17 AM on January 16, 2001

Just to throw a few quotes at you:

At many schools, the book has been replaced by titles such as Michael Dorris's "A Yellow Raft in Blue Water," Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club," Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon" and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "100 Years of Solitude," along with many others by an international roster of authors.

At Bladensburg High School, "Catcher" is no longer taught. Instead books including Sandra Cisneros's "The House on Mango Street" and Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God" line the walls of the classroom, novels written respectively by Mexican American and African American women.

"Toni Morrison and books like [Chinua Achebe's] 'Things Fall Apart' can be very complex for high school students," said Marguerit Lee, an English teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School in Prince William . "The thing is, none of those books have an adolescent anti-hero. It's not an easy question."

It's amazing how six years ago I read all of these books in high school (with the exception of Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I read in college), and found the class I read them in to be the greatest waste of time I had faced in my entire educational career.

And the problem was not the educator, who was able to handle both the material and students. I think the problem was that you cannot replace 'high school material' with 'college material.' The difference, I think, goes beyond the very simple issue of an adolescent anti-hero, but is manifested in the way 'high school books' focus on compelling characters and situations and 'college books' focus on compelling themes.

I hate to overgeneralize, but I think it takes a lot of maturity to recognize the significance of Things Fall Apart or 100 Years of Solitude. When I went back and read most of the works again in one college course or another, I appreciated them a lot more. And it was not until my college years that I could appreciate the diversity invested therein. It could be that I'm very white, male, and straight. But then, I knew a lot of black kids in high school that couldn't get into The Joy Luck Club and a lot of asian kids that couldn't care less about Song of Solomon.

While teaching diversity should certainly be a part of the educational process nowadays, I don't think that literature courses should be synonomous with cultural heritage courses. I think the two don't mix very well in the high school mindset.

I also think that the reason Catcher has lasted so long in the educational marketplace is simply that it is a compelling story, and for no other reason gets kids to read. And if books kids want to read, like Catcher, are pushed off syllabi by well-meaning educators, those educators will soon find their students reading less.
posted by rklawler at 10:27 AM on January 16, 2001

Ah yes, Michael Dorris, the same man who made his name marrying talented author Louise Erdrich before committing suicide when charges mounted that he'd sexually abused his children. But at least he's Native American!
posted by Karl at 11:16 AM on January 16, 2001

I'm not sure how to feel about this one either - CITR was one of the only books I read in public school that I really connected with.

However, my experience teaching it was quite different - I taught it recently to a group of teenagers who were pretty diverse in both their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, and hardly any of them identified with Holden Caulfield and his hatred of 'phoniness' (btw - I've read the book many times, and while it touches on class issues, I would hardly call it a "daring and pointed critique" of said issues). I don't know if my students were really a representative sample, but I'm beginning to think the book is a bit... um... dated. I mean, Holden was a great rebel for the 50's, sort of foreshadowing the whole angry youth thing that happened in the 60's, and I somehow managed to relate to him in the 80's, but now? I dunno.

Of course, the solution isn't to start inflicting a lot of college-level multicultural literature on them (even if it is in academic vogue), but to find thoughtful literature that is somehow relevant to their lives, no matter what race or gender or nationality the protagonist happens to be.

Oh, and Toni Morrison - tripe? I beg to differ. Maybe you were thinking of Maya Angelou.
posted by varmint at 11:18 AM on January 16, 2001

Once again, there is a simple answer to all of this -- remove all reading material, and there will be no upsetting controversy. We should be spending time teaching our proletariat children how to identify industrial warning symbols, how to avoid getting crushed by hydraulic presses, and how to survive at least two fiscal cycles in the massive Antarctic Copper Smelting Facilities before being reprocessed into animal feed.

Reading, for the sake of reading, is an invention of the degenerate bourgeois state. Smash Imperialist Information with Proletariat Productivity!
posted by aramaic at 11:23 AM on January 16, 2001

I dunno how dated it is. I read Catcher when I was 16 (19 now) and I ate it up. I still like it (also, it turned me on to Salinger's other, more innersting works) but I know plenty of kids who can't stand it.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:53 AM on January 16, 2001

Catcher in the Rye is far better than Their Eyes Were Watching God or anything by Toni Morrison. Their Eyes Were Watching God is only on recommended reading lists because its oh-so-politically-correct and Alice Walker did that whole huge publicity stunt. It's the most boring story, its heroine is totally unsympathetic and, well, stupid, the imagery lacks subtlety (bees... pollinate... fruit trees... blech.)
posted by dagnyscott at 11:54 AM on January 16, 2001

Though not having been to college yet (I'm a Junior in high school), I think rklawler is very right. Having read Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Joy Luck Club (of those in the list), it seems ridiculous to me to remove a book like Catcher in the Rye (which I haven't read yet) because it's not "cultural enough". Being Asian, The Joy Luck Club was no more an incredible revelation than any "white" book we've read in school like Pride & Prejudice or Mrs. Dalloway. And I know the black students in my class sure as hell didn't enjoy Their Eyes Were Watching God, quite possibly one of the most boring books ever.

If a book is compelling like CITR seems to be (I'm sure I'll read it soon), it shouldn't be taken off a list merely to place machine-washed culture stories in there. It really does bore high-school students to read through PC mush. If we want to read it, we'll choose to in college. Instead I think high schools should look for the most interesting (to the students) books possible.

Multiculturalism is important, but it doesn't have to tie implemented directly with every aspect of school at all times. Reading CITR in a class doesn't have to mean every book is about a conservative white guy.
posted by swank6 at 12:11 PM on January 16, 2001

Another voice in an on-going discussion. Francine Prose wrote “I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read,” (summary, commentary) on this very issue. She makes a good point: shouldn’t multicultarlism be taught in civics or social studies? English class should be solely about teaching students how to read and anaylize texts. It used to have very little to do about cultural appeasement.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 1:33 PM on January 16, 2001

I didn't even know what Catcher In the Rye was about until I saw a documentry. The Uk school system is supposed to be pretty good but I totally resent the fact that no one bothered to tell me about 20th century literature. I've only really started finding anything out since I got the internet (I'm 27 now and I've only had it for a year after several years of aching knowledge of it's existence). Unfortunately a lot of the books I want to read aren't out of copyright yet. But at least I have some idea what to buy now. Be glad that you US types aren't force-fed Uberpulpsters like Dickens and Shakespeare.
posted by davidgentle at 1:35 PM on January 16, 2001

Actually, we read that stuff too. :)
posted by swank6 at 2:07 PM on January 16, 2001

...force-fed Uberpulpsters like Dickens and Shakespeare.

I like Dickens and Shakespeare...
posted by jennyb at 2:11 PM on January 16, 2001

From the Francine Prose piece referred to above, Prose is quoted as saying:

"But to treat the geniuses of the past as naughty children, amenable to reeducation by the children of the present, evokes the educational theory of the Chinese Cultural Revolution."

Oh word to that, big time.

In my Senior year Literature of the Industrial Revolution class in college, we read Germinal by Zola and one woman, newly annointed in women's studies, insisted over and over that a scene where a young woman goes to meet the man who had been aiming for years to deflower her, was rape. She did not comprehend that within the context of the novel and the times, it was not rape - it was simply the reality of that young woman and the (admittedly nightmarish) community she lived in. It was rape and Zola was evil and a sexist pig - full stop. The best she could do was say that the 'syntax' supported her reading.

Which, it should go without saying, means that she had failed to learn to read critically and intelligently.

I never expected Faulkner or Hemingway or Dickens or Eliot or Austen to conform to my view of the world or to make me feel better about myself - if they did, I'd have very little reason indeed to read them.

posted by gsh at 2:24 PM on January 16, 2001

Interesting stuff. I never read CITR in high school (from which I graduated last year), but it wasn't because of multicultural reading substitutions; I don't think we read a single long work by a nonwhite author in American literature class, actually (though we did have an entire year of world literature the previous year). I have had more experience than I would like with "English class as social studies class" teaching, though. It does seem that most of my classmates (or friends' classmates) didn't have the maturity to appreciate "Things Fall Apart" or "The Color Purple"--myself included.
posted by Jeanne at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2001

I'm just afraid of what axing CITR would do to teenage vocabulary today.

I was forced to read it in 10th grade, when I was fifteen, and it was the first book I loved. I couldn't stop calling everyone over 30 a "goddamn phony." Every other word out of my mouth, ever since I first read the book has been fuck or goddamn.

I love Catcher in the Rye. Don't take that away from angry young teenagers.
posted by mathowie at 2:55 PM on January 16, 2001

Yeah, Matt. I thought teenage angst was universal.

Jeanne, I was lucky enough to get out of HS just before “multiculturalism” really caught on. Not that it would’ve made much difference in North Dakota. We had Giants in the Earth foisted on us, but not Moby Dick. Nor did we read Catcher. I had to pick that up myself a few years after high school. Can you imagine?

No Kafka, shockingly little Shakespeare, no Hemingway, no James, no Eliot, no O’Conner.

I had to read Huck Finn three times in two years, partially because I took a lot English classes, and partially because the School Board refused to update its reading list past the sixties — the eighteen-sixties.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 3:30 PM on January 16, 2001

Did somebody mention Dickens?

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Matt's right. Dated or not, we need this Holden kid to stick around.
posted by varmint at 3:57 PM on January 16, 2001

jennyb: I'm not saying that you can't like Shakespeare or Dickens. I have much better things to do with my time than tell other people what to do (a futile excercise). The point I was trying to make was that I never connected with pre-20th century authors. I really didn't enjoy any of that stuff. The first book I ever read and really genuinely loved was Neuromancer, which, eventually, led me to Pynchon and onward.
posted by davidgentle at 4:30 PM on January 16, 2001

I can't understand you people who got something out of Catcher in the Rye--much less enjoyed it, but I certainly don't want it to be made unavailable for anyone who wanted to to read it. I simply don't think it justifies having a slot in the very limited roster of what can be taught in school. The saddest part is that the majority of high school students think they can't read something unless it's assigned them in class.

I also think that it's a bit of a cop-out to say "Some books are high-school books, others are college books." I think most books can be taught at either level. The focus and emphasis will probably be different, but any book worth its salt offers a lot of different things to a lot of different readers.

And to compare CITR with a classic like One Hundred Years of Solitude (which I first read and LOVED at age 15)...sorry, I must go away and laugh now...
posted by rushmc at 8:02 PM on January 16, 2001

david, I hear you on Neuromancer (my god, Gibson didn't come close after that did he?), but I went another PoMo direction. You read Delillo’s White Noise?

posted by capt.crackpipe at 9:02 PM on January 16, 2001

Neuromancer was totally underwhelming for me. Maybe I haven't taken enough drugs or something. Catcher in the Rye was at least entertaining and easy to read.
posted by daveadams at 9:15 PM on January 16, 2001

as an asian who grew up in the Caribbean, the pacific and went to school in England, i had no problem relating to Catcher. diversity isn't simply about skin colour/culture - it's about a range of feelings and emotional experiences. i can relate to Holden's feelings of alienation - that creates a bond, irrespective of his skin colour.
posted by reg at 10:10 PM on January 16, 2001

saddest part is that the majority of high school students think they can't read something unless it's assigned them in class

Sadder still is that most high school students don't read the majority of what is assigned in class. At least with Catcher, a significant number of students do read and enjoy it -- probably more than any other book in the canon. Is anything else such a success? I really liked The Human Comedy and Candide at the time (all very short books, heh) but not much else that was assigned.
posted by sudama at 6:23 AM on January 17, 2001

Most of 20th century literature is about alienation...CITR just rang totally false to me in every way.

sudama, I remember Heart of Darkness (another short book) being very popular in my high school. We never read CITR (for which I give eternal thanks). Even in my AP class, we didn't get far beyond Huck Finn and Thoreau.
posted by rushmc at 8:10 AM on January 17, 2001

mathowie -- I mentioned I liked Salinger one time to someone I had met recently & she said "Yeah, I could tell by the way you talk."
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:44 AM on January 17, 2001

I've been reading through these comments and happily stumbled upon rushmc's who echoed my thoughts to the letter. Noone force-fed me Catcher in the Rye -- I picked it up on my own at 15 and read it myself, and subsequently fell in love with it. However, if I hadn't been force-fed Metamorphosis in high school, I probably wouldn't have bothered with that one, and it too became one of my favourites, as was the case with The Outsiders. But Heart of Darkness is still a bitter memory of disappointment, and Beloved is a mixed bag of emotions, though all in all I'm glad I was forced into reading those for class, because otherwise I might never have picked them up. It's probably quite naive of me to think that "recommended reading" lists that go beyond the realm of what's being taught in the classrooms would have any effect on the kids who don't get a bang out of reading. When I was in elementary school and used to take out a crapload of books at a time for perusal, I got made fun of -- no wonder so many kids end up disliking reading if that's the rule.
posted by evixir at 9:53 AM on January 17, 2001

Capt: not yet.
DaveA: I don't take drugs at all. Not even alchohol. Bear in mind I was 16 and it was 1990 when I read it.
posted by davidgentle at 2:00 PM on January 17, 2001

Most of the "alternative" books on the list are bloody good reads. What worries me is this comment:

Another issue is that many teachers say they just don't have the literary background to teach books such as "100 Years of Solitude."

So, you're dropping a book which has a bona fide appeal to the people who are reading it, in favour of one that can't be properly taught to the class? That's just silly.

(And, in dinner-party embarrassment, I must admit that I've never read CITR. And it's sitting on my bookshelf.)
posted by holgate at 4:19 PM on January 17, 2001

Can't they pick decent books to read instead of trashy 'moral' books by 40-year-old soccer moms?

What about The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, or.. shock horror.. Silas Marner. Then again, I'd like to see more Shakespeare taught in school.. and no, it's not hard stuff to get into, The Taming Of The Shrew proves that.
posted by wackybrit at 7:56 AM on January 18, 2001

Another issue is that many teachers say they just don't have the literary background to teach books such as "100 Years of Solitude." (sorry for borrowing your quote, holgate)

And never will, by this reasoning. The key to literature is READING, people!

posted by rushmc at 9:19 AM on January 18, 2001

Speaking of great 20th-century American literature, any high school that fails to teach Steinbeck or Catch-22 is doing a disservice to their students. Catch-22 was never even mentioned in my high school. And Steinbeck is great because his short novels are easy-to-read. Of course, The Grapes of Wrath is his greatest work, though.
posted by daveadams at 11:39 AM on January 18, 2001

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