Author Chris Crutcher says he’s shocked -- shocked! -- that his book “Angry Management” has been removed from Kershaw County School District libraries and from the district’s summer reading list. Imagine that.
“Angry Management” was pulled by district officials after a parent complained about the language, which includes extensive use of that most repugnant word of all. Crutcher’s website boasts that “he is … one of the most frequently banned authors in North America -- a fact he considers an accomplishment rather than a drawback,” and from that we can assume he is proud of his literary shock factor. That’s all fine and good, but nobody should lose sight of the fact that this was a decision made by school officials relating to adolescents, and we certainly defend their right to hand down a dictum regarding controversial books that are on school library shelves and reading lists. It’s far different even from books housed in public libraries.
Crutcher’s website says he is an ex-teacher and a former child and family therapist. That site lists a number of news stories from around the country detailing various school districts that have removed his work. In addition to being provocative, he’s also won a number of awards, so we make no judgment on the quality of his work. Rather, we address the issue of language in school-approved books, and educators have every right to make decisions regarding that.
One student in the district -- a rising ninth-grader -- wrote a letter to this newspaper chastising the district for what she saw as its hypocrisy. We applaud young people having the gumption to state their beliefs in such letters, and this young lady shows an admirable freedom of thought and manner of expression. We do, however, dismiss her comparison of Chris Crutcher’s work to that of John Steinbeck. Simply put, Chris Crutcher is no John Steinbeck.
We understand that we no longer live in an Ozzie-and-Harriett, Leave-It-To-Beaver world. The mores of the 1950s have changed. And like most newspapers, we stand foursquare behind freedom of speech. But freedom of speech isn’t an absolute concept, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously pointed out in his “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater” opinion; school officials must make judgments on whether the quality of the work -- Steinbeck, for instance -- might outweigh controversial language. They obviously decided, at least for the time being, that Chris Crutcher’s work doesn’t carry that value. They have every right to make that decision.