South Carolina Teacher Suspended For Reading 'Ender's Game' To Middle School Students [Updated]
Cover of Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)
[Read my final update to this story here. Rumors that the teacher read pornography off the internet appear to be patently false.]
In South Carolina a teacher has been placed on administrative leave for reading excerpts of Orson Scott Card’s science fiction classic Ender’s Game to his middle school students.
“The parent that reported him to the school district complained that the book was pornographic,” Tod Kelly writes. “[T]hat same parent also asked the local police to file criminal charges against the teacher. As of today, the police have not yet decided whether or not to file charges (which is probably a good sign that they won’t). The school district, however, appears to agree with the parent, is considering firing the teacher and will be eliminating the book from the school.
“Commonsense Media does say that the book has some violence and should be read by children over 12*,” he continues, “but the children in this class were 14.”
A film adaptation of Ender’s Game is hitting movie theaters in 2013. I imagine it will be no more ‘pornographic’ than the book, which was written decades ago for teenagers and has, to my knowledge, never been described as pornography before now.
Orson Scott Card is a conservative Mormon and an icon in the science fiction and fantasy universe. He writes occasionally at the conservative magazine National Review where he sometimes offers up really good recommendations on fantasy novels.
I’m sure that if he’s heard about this controversy he’s as surprised as the unfortunate teacher.
We’ve heard plenty of cases of fantasy novels being banned. Certainly Harry Potter has met with plenty of resistance from some groups for its inclusion of magic (even though it has been described by its author as at least partly a Christian story.) Anything with magic and witches is subject to a swift censorship in American schools, even though the pillars of fantasy such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis are all rooted in Christianity.
But Ender’s Game is a science fiction classic that blends video games with futuristic war-for-survival. And it’s written specifically with young readers in mind. It’s a tiny bit violent, but not anything even close to something like The Hunger Games. To be fair, I’m not sure I’d want a teacher reading those books to students, but they’re much, much more violent than anything in Ender’s Game. (I’m still not sure how the movie avoids an R rating, honestly.)
Either way, I think one of our most precious freedoms is the freedom of speech, and I think it’s pretty unsettling when our public institutions of learning at whatever level start firing or suspending teachers for this sort of thing, or banning Mark Twain or Roald Dahl books. It’s Inherit the Wind all over again.There’s not a lot we can do, of course. Education is local. It always has been and it always will be. That’s a curse and a blessing. Bad decisions are less public and more likely to happen at the local level, but they’re also more contained than decisions made at the federal level.
Anyways, I’d suggest that the officials in this teacher’s school district do a bit more science fiction reading before they make a final decision. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 should do the trick.
Censorship is a slippery slope.
Update: See my follow-up post to this which discusses the other two books the teacher read to students…
Update 2: According to an update at io9:
According to a news report by local station WRDW, the police incident report in the case claims that the teacher read “pornographic material from the Internet to the students in class. One of the stories was about prostitutes having their faces covered with ejaculation.” But according to the WRDW report, the school is still maintaining that the offending material was just three books that the teacher read to class, which were primarily offensive due to swear words. (Thanks to AJRimmer for pointing us to this.)
We’ve got calls out to the school, the police, and the school district. We’ll post an update when we learn anything else.
A couple thoughts: first off, it’s a little odd that the school would maintain it was just the books if this wasn’t the case. It’s also odd that only one student would complain of something so egregious. I guess it’s impossible to know anything until this is cleared up.
Update 3: Orson Scott Card has commented on this saying that he believes other material was being read off the internet that has nothing to do with his or the other books involved in the suspension of the teacher:
The teacher was reading Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” which the parent said, was pornographic. But Card told the Doug Wright Show, the way he understands it, the teacher had also been reading inappropriate material off the Internet to the class. Card believes the parent must have looked at the reading list, saw “Ender’s Game,” and got upset.
” ‘Ender’s Game’ has been on an evangelical hit list for a long time, for no other reason, but that I’m Mormon,” Card said.
Card said he wrote the dialogue in 1984 based on what he was hearing children say to each other when they thought no adults were around, so the book would not have shocked the South Carolina class. He said there is nothing pornographic in the book.
“ There’s nothing in ‘Ender’s Game’ that they are not completely familiar with,” Card said. “These kids are 14 year olds in South Carolina. I know for a fact it is impossible that they aren’t hearing those words at least once a week, if not every day.”
Card said his book should have nothing to do with the suspension of the teacher. It was the inappropriate material from the Internet that would have contributed to the suspension.
“The other things that the teacher was reading included things that were simply out of place,” Card said. “I’m not leaping to the defense of the teacher; he showed very poor judgement. Should he lose his job? Oh c’mon. People should have room to learn.”
Obviously this goes beyond what initial reports and the statement from the school led us to believe.
Update 4: Alyssa Rosenberg is worth reading on the issue of school policy here:
But more to the point, it’s worrisome that a teacher could be suspended for exercising discretion in trying to enrich his class. The key point here, I think, is whether he would have been suspended had he gone through the required preview process and a parent complained afterwards. A review process isn’t an utterly unreasonable thing to ask, but I’d hate to think the school might have still thrown him under the bus after approving his decision.
Schools have an obligation to make sure their students aren’t exposed to inappropriate material prematurely. But they also have a responsibility to steer a course that moderates between parents who want their children exposed to nothing and parents who aren’t paying any attention at all. The classroom is an interim step between the closed environment of the home and the wide-open, unprotected real world. By the standards of that world, Ender’s Game isn’t anything close to pornography, and it’s perfectly appropriate reading for 14-year-olds.
So far, all we know is what the school maintains is their reason for suspending the teacher. Until more comes out, the rest appears to be little better than rumor.