Midweek books: A sports-related book on the banned list

Four parents are what I have altogether, not unlike a whole lot of other kids. But quite unlike a whole lot of other kids, there ain’t a hetero among ‘em. My dad’s divorced and remarried, and my mom’s divorced and remarried, so my mathematical account of my family suggests simply another confused teenager from a broken home. But my dads aren’t married to my moms. They’re married to each other. Same with my moms.

– from “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune”

athleticshortsThat story is included Chris Crutcher’s “Athletic Shorts: Six Short Stories,” first published in 1989 and which is listed as No. 44 on the banned list from 1990-1999 by the American Library Association.

It’s the only sports-related book I could find among the hundreds that the ALA and other free speech and anti-censorship organizations are circulating during this, Banned Books Week.

In “Athletic Shorts,” Crutcher has teenage athlete protagonists ponder issues of racism, sexism, homophobia and other social issues that — especially when young readers are targeted — attract the censorious like moths to a light.

These topics and more, including divorce and AIDS, prompted a challenged in 1995 to pull the book from schools in Charleston County, S.C.

Four years later, in Anchorage, Alaska, the book also was pulled from elementary schools but retained at the middle school level.

According to the ALA summary of the case:

“A parent challenged the book of short stories because of the book’s lack of respect for parents and God, its treatment of homosexuality, and its bad language.”

The School Library Journal says the book is aimed for youths in grades 8-12, which always raises the question of age-level appropriateness.

As a young adult author, Crutcher deals with these questions on a regular basis, and for a number of his books. Since those initial challenges to “Athletic Shorts,” he’s had to defend it again, just in the last decade, as he recounts on a special page on his website devoted to censorship issues:

jan-weiss-read-a-banned-book

Hard to believe the challenge and banning of books is still an issue in the new millennium. But the facts cannot be denied. Consider this list of Chris Crutcher book challenges as typical of those book challenges in all but one way. MOST banned books are removed from shelves in silence. The public — and the book authors — never even know it’s happened.

In Anchorage, “Athletic Shorts” couldn’t be checked out of school library by a student without parental permission, and was no longer used as curriculum material. All because of the protests of one parent of an eighth grader. One.

In 2000, in Tuscaloosa, the home of the flagship University of Alabama, the book’s “Goin’ Fishing” story got “Athletic Shorts” removed by the Tuscaloosa County School Board.

Again, it was a single parent, appealing to the religious community, who was able to get the book banished from a public high school.

More objections to “Athletic Shorts” in midwestern states were turned aside in the last decade, as late as 2007.

College students compiling summaries of young adult literature point out that these “touchy” subjects are not as delicate for teenagers these days as some adults think.

Despite the controversy associated with Athletic Shorts, high school teachers should not hesitate to use this book in class. It is the job of high school teachers to prepare their students for life in the “real world,” and the “real world” is complicated. Hiding this fact from adolescents is doing them a disservice. By introducing high school students to Chris Crutcher’s characters, teachers can show young people that the world is a mosaic of different types of people: black; white; Asian; gay; straight; fat; thin, etc. None of these groups should be valued over another. Crutcher’s work can also show high school students that tragedy happens. It is not something that anyone can hide from; everyone who cares for anyone must face tragedy at some point. Tragedy is difficult and messy. It is not, however, a reason to fall apart completely, and it can teach us many important lessons like forgiveness and the value of friendship.

Crutcher, who has received an intellectual freedom award from the National Council of Teachers of English, explains below the need to remain vigilant against even isolated, but extreme protests that remain stubbornly persistent.

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