Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I need advice

My going into 7th grader has a summer reading assignment.  It is a 10 part project that will take a month, so we will be spending a lot of time with the book.  Problem:  He doesn't want to read it.  Disclaimer:  He will read ANYTHING, almost.

The book is Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Crowe.  The book jacket told him it was about a vicious murder of a black teen.  He hates books about death, especially violent death (Hunger Games included).  So, I read the book.  It is one of those books that leave you feeling icky.  They include portions from the real trial which include the fact that the young boy has his genitals removed during his murder.  I did not find it particularly well written.  I didn't really like any of the characters.  I certainly don't want to spend a month on it and I am not sure I should make him.

I think racism and civil rights appropriate subject matter for 7th grade, but to begin the discussion with something so heavy seems almost too much.  The book doesn't leave you with a clear sense of anything.  The injustice is glaring but how one meets such injustice isn't really to be found except "do the right thing even if it is hard."  But my guy will see that doing the right thing in MS 1955 didn't help anyone, most especially the dead black kid.  He will only remember the cruelty.  And he will have to spend a month in Mississippi 1955, a place none of us would want to be for long.  Not sure that is a good thing.

We have read hard stuff.  MacBeth has some violence, Harry Potter has some death of characters you love.  But this seems different.  Racism has no easily explained reason, like you want to be king.  And the solutions to our country's racism are still being figured out today.  It is not an easy subject and having visual images of the cruelty may make it harder to discuss for one who inherently finds it evil.  I don't have to convince him racism is wrong.  He knows it.  What he doesn't yet have, and what I don't know if I want him to have is a visual of just how damn cruel human beings can be.

Do I just skip it?
Write the teacher and ask to use a different book with no explanations?
Call her to discuss my concerns?
What would you do?


  1. Call her and discuss it. I agree. Why open their eyes to the violence yet. Let them retain some innocence. There are plenty of positives to focus on, why go for the violence angle. What is the objective? I'd be prepared to have something in mind to substitute. I tackled this issue at Holy Cross when Kenny was in Kdg. They focused on the assassination of MLK Jr. I was like really in Kdg? I think they just never thought about it. The teacher found a more positive method for the next year.

  2. First of all, can I voice my disdain for summer homework in general!?!?!?!? I get the importance to keep reading and stay quick on things like math facts, but since we don't have year round school, the thought of these assignments is maddening at best. Summer should be the time you get to pick the books you want to read!!!!! So, if there has to be a summer assignment, does it have to be this dark and violent? Ok, I know I am not answering your question- just emapathizing. Well part of this could be a lesson in learning to play "the game" to be successful in school (I know I am so jaded- and I am actually going back to work in a school next year :-) So this could be one of those "just get it done as fast as possible. Do what you need to do for the grade, and then go enjoy your summer." But the more I think about it the more I think it warrants contacting the teacher with your concerns and proposing a possible alternative book choice. You are not suggesting he get out of doing work- just this particular book at this time. The teacher's response will probably give you a lot of insight into the year ahead!

  3. So many issues here--where to begin?

    I'll stick with what I think is the most basic, the well-being of my child. I don't believe that most children could imagine the horrific cruelty described. What is accomplished by introducing them to it? Lost innocence, confusion, fear, sadness, haunting images? Some mental pictures/emotions may fade but can not be erased. (I'm also thinking of young girls in the class. Some may have only an inkling of male genitalia...and perhaps no interest yet in learning.)

    If your son and you have reservations about the book, it's a pretty clear indication that something is wrong. You are neither a squeamish nor a silly parent. So under no circumstances would I allow my child to read the book. You are his parent, you are his first and primary teacher and, at this age, responsible for his spiritual, emotional and mental good. The school is only your designated helper here.

    I would explain this all to the teacher in person, then, if necessary, go on up the chain--as far as you have to.