The Jeffersonian: Politicks, Sports, and Culture

Monday, March 27, 2006

Cindy Pyo Responds

Cindy Pyo, the lady who asked for the book "The Handmaid's Tale" to be removed from the Judson ISD AP reading list posted her thoughts yesterday in the comments section. Rather than pointing you to them, I am posting them here on the front page, full and unedited, for everyone to read.

I've let Mrs. Pyo know that I will be doing this and once the link is up and I forward it on to her, I will be asking both you and her to join the conversation in the comments:

For those out there who care about the dangers of censorship, please note that the SA Express-News "censored" me by refusing to publish the op-ed below. Though I gave Karen Adler over 50 pages of documentation of how this book undermines numerous district publishes goals and policies, they distorted my comments and refused to publish one single reason I gave for why the district should consider more age-appropriate material over The Handmaid's Tale.

If intellectual freedom and honesty requires the open discussion of both sides of an issue, then the SA Express News is in fact as censorious as publications under the former Soviet Union. Then their extremely biased, slanted version is picked up all over the country as if it were accurate and true. Here is my op-ed:

Controversy raged last Thursday night over my request and Supt. Lyman's approval to remove The Handmaid's Tale from Judson ISD curriculum and replace it with a more age-appropriate text such as Brave New World. When students were assigned this book, parents were not notified of the extremely high graphic sexual content of the book, or given a parental consent form to sign, even though it has ####### content. This even though a signed parental consent form is required before showing PG+ movies in school. The catch phrase of the night was "censorship," a highly charged word. But if censorship means choosing one book over another, then every school board censors when choosing a limited number of texts from thousands.

Every selection committee sets criteria by which it judges the merit of texts. I assert we must include these criteria: broad community standards of decency and age-appropriateness for the emotional and social maturity level of students. I predicted the paranoid fear of setting any sort of standards for school reading selections would naturally follow from the propaganda presented in The Handmaid's Tale. Rather than helping people think critically, this book encourages a knee jerk reaction against any standards. A healthy society can only remain where there is a balance between freedom of discussion and basic societal standards. Parents say, "You are trying to tell me what my child can read." No. I doubt any parent already had this book at home longing for their child to read it. I doubt they even knew it existed before it was assigned.

The school curriculum committee is telling the parents what their child must read, not me. Why don't these parents ask the committee, "Why aren't you letting my child read Brave New World? Why are you banning The Pilgrim's Progress from my child?" Any book not on the list would qualify under last night's definition of "banning" and censorship. I simply say there are more excellent, age-appropriate texts to prefer over The Handmaid's Tale.

The SA Express-News Wednesday quoted Judith Krug saying the sex in this book "is not explicit". It's implied." Are these quotes explicit? "Sometimes the movie she showed would be an old ##### film, from the seventies or eighties. Women kneeling, sucking penises or guns, women tied up or chained or with dog collars around their necks, women hanging from trees, or upside-down, naked, with their legs held apart, women being raped, beaten up, killed. Once we had to watch a woman being slowly cut into pieces, her fingers and breasts snipped off with garden shears, her stomach slit open and her intestines pulled out". (118) (Description of a penis entering a vagina) "To have them putting him on, trying him on, trying him out, while he himself puts them on, like a sock over a foot, onto the stub of himself, his extra, sensitive thumb, his tentacle, his delicate, stalked slug's eye, which extrudes, expands, winces, and shrivels back into himself when touched wrongly, grows big again, bulging a little at the tip, traveling forward as if along a leaf, into them, avid for vision. To achieve vision in this way, this journey into a darkness that is composed of women, a woman, who can see in the darkness while he himself strains blindly forward." (88) If printing these excerpts in a public newspaper is riske', why should minors be forced to read, analysis, discuss, and study them in-depth?

Some argue that our kids are exposed to these things anyway, so why not in the school? This is backward reasoning. Schools should set the ideals and standards our children aspire to, not find the lowest common denominator of society, then follow. Some say exposing our kids to deviant sadistic sex, rape, promiscuous sex, ##########, masturbation, adultery, sexual teasing, prostitution, hostile male/female antagonism and glamorization of suicide will help them critically evaluate their own attitudes. But the timing is wrong. Minors are still at the point of trying to figure out what is normal in sexual attitudes and practice. By initiating them into deviant, dysfunctional sex and sexual attitudes, we give them a warped lens through which to form judgments.

Teachers said only English goals and not broad district goals should be considered in curriculum selection. This is bizarre. Why would the district cut off its own feet by having conflicting goals and policies? All policies must support each other if this district hopes to achieve them. Among district policies undermined by The Handmaid's Tale are: a) state & district mandate to emphasize abstinence before marriage; b) emotionally and socially age-appropriate materials; c) high ethical standards and healthy self-concept; d) not glamorizing suicide e) no lewd, vulgar, profane gestures or language f) no demeaning or opposing of any religion.

Some say, "Why didn't you just remove your child from the class instead of trying to remove the book?" My son is affected by what his friends and classmates absorb in distorted, dysfunctional thinking. My daughter has to walk the halls of the high school, where guys look at her with altered sexual perceptions and attitudes. Promiscuous experimentation hurts teens. Our community picks up the tab for unwed teen mothers on welfare, treating sexually transmitted diseases, and teen dropouts. When an emotionally unstable teen is pushed over the edge to suicide by this book's encouragement to kill herself, the whole school and community are affected. These teens will grow up to impose their crippled sexual values on the next generation. They will be the community leaders someday that make laws affecting both you and me.

All our teens deserve an excellent, quality education, not just my son." Below is part of an email I sent to the board after the decision. I would also like to say, if it is censorship not to let 16 year olds read this book, would it be censorship not to let 12 year olds read it? If not, why not? What is the difference? The only difference is age. So then, maybe age really is a criteria in choosing appropriate literature. The real question is, who decides what age is appropriate for what literature? Should the kids decide, as Richard Lafoille was quoted as saying? Do they decide other district policies? If they ask for Playboy or Hustler, should they get it because they say they want it? Should the national organizations decide? Judith Krug of the national organization American Library Association won't even admit there is any explicit sex in the book. Is she qualified then to decide? Should the teachers decide? Or should parents of the community be consulted also?

This is the key question before you, not censorship. Your decision may be concluded for this school year, but every year you have the opportunity to approve the new recommended list of reading materials. I urge you to research the recommended books thoroughly this next year, and find the very best books that truly reflect the many good policies you have worked so hard to enact as a board. I believe deep down you agree with me that there are better books than The Handmaid's Tale which reinforce all district goals and truly help us develop outstanding students for an outstanding society. We owe this to our kids. I also urge you to at least require a parental notifcation and consent form be required before this book is studied if you do leave it on the list for next year. This is the least you can do to ensure parents are truly partners in decisions affecting their kids sexual, emotional, and moral health.

Sincerely,

Cindy Pyo

Update: I'm correcting my initial assertion that this post will run full and unedited. The text is here in its entirety, but I did have to do some editing to the text. Some weird symbols were replacing quotation marks and apostrophe's and, due in large part to the basic (read- free) commenting system here, the text presented itself as one big blob of text. So I created paragraphs to make it more readable.

Believe me, the last thing any of you would've wanted to do is see this amount of words in one big block. But I have not edited for brevity, content, or whatever else you can edit for.

I've informed Mrs. Pyo of the changes and have told her to contact me if she sees something that I have unintentionally changed through this editing process.

Oh, and I'm also changing over all of my words to italics for this post. Just an FYI.