THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2022
The Washington Post's vast concern: Should Lawn Boy, a novel by Jonathan Evison, have been available in the libraries of our public schools?
We have no idea. We aren't familiar with the book. Nor are we especially current on matters of this type.
At any rate, it's funny you should ask! Just today, the Washington Post has published a lengthy report about controversies surrounding Lawn Boy, some of which apparently involve a misreading of certain passages in the book.
Early on in the Post's report, education writer Hannah Natnson speaks with Lawn Boy's author. This is what he says:
NATANSON (12/22/22): [W]hat happened to “Lawn Boy” reveals the little room left for nuance or forgiveness in the American political debate. Evison, the author, never meant for his book to be placed in school libraries, he told The Post in an interview. He was surprised when the American Library Association gave “Lawn Boy” an award in 2019 for its appeal to teens. Evison believes some librarians who chose the novel did so because of the award—and he says that, if any recommended it to lower- or middle-schoolers, they probably confused it with the children’s book “Lawn Boy,” by Gary Paulsen. (The Post found no documented cases in which this confusion happened.)
Evison said his novel, an exploration of racial assumptions and the failures of late capitalism, is meant for adults. If schools want to offer the text, he said, they should restrict access to older students.
“Nobody below a teenager is ready for that book,” Evison said. “It’s got a lot of adult stuff.”
We're willing to guess that Evison, not unlike us, isn't an expert about what's considered suitable in These Schools Today. That said, he is the author of the book, and he seems to have told Natanson that, in his judgment, the book he wrote isn't suitable for middle school libraries.
Later, Evison is quoted saying this:
NATANSON: Evison is not sure he disagrees with all the criticisms of his book. “Too profane? I’ll own that, fine, who cares. My mother would heartily agree.”
But he defends the passages showing the sexual encounter between 10-year-olds. That account, he says, marks a pivotal step in the protagonist’s process of coming out to his best friend Nick, who is racist and homophobic. Muñoz is using coarse language to power himself through a moment of extreme vulnerability, Evison said.
“I don’t think the effect was to glorify the experience,” he said of the sex scene.
He also questions the motives of some parents...
We're sorry to see Evison imagining the possible motives of people he hasn't met. He says that, in his opinion, the sex scene between the ten-year-olds doesn't have the effect of glorifying the experience.
Our view? After reading Evison's comments, we aren't surprised to learn that some parents, and some school officials, may have bene concerned about the book's suitability for public school libraries.
We don't know how we would feel about this particular book. That said, we also know that many Others lack the perfect moral and intellectual judgment we would bring to questions of this type.
Concerning Natanson's report, we'd offer several comments:
First, the Post is devoting oodles of space to what may be a rather limited point of concern. Here is Natanson's account of the "tsunami of condemnation" which has afflicted Lawn Boy:
NATANSON: Burkman’s remarks set off a tsunami of condemnation that, a year later, would see the book “Lawn Boy” challenged in at least 35 school districts spanning 20 states and temporarily removed from shelves in almost half those places, according to a Washington Post analysis. Most of those districts—63 percent—later returned the text to shelves after a review, while at least four banned the book for good. The plethora of complaints, 87 percent of which were brought by parents, The Post found, rendered “Lawn Boy” the second-most challenged book of 2021, according to the American Library Association.
The book was challenged in 35 districts? According to Ballotpedia, "there are approximately 13,800 public school districts in the United States."
At least four of those 35 districts removed the book for good? Are people like Natanson willing to allow four school districts, out of nearly 14,000, to maintain cultural views which may disagree with their own?
We now offer a second comment:
At no point does Natanson say if any of the challenges she discusses occurred on the middle-school level. Evison himself has said that he thinks his book would be inappropriate for kids of that age.
Did any of the challenges occur at that level? Nowhere in this lengthy report were Post readers told.
Our final point would be this:
It's darkly amusing to see the Post shocked by the fact that some parents and parent groups seem to have misunderstood at least one scene in the novel.
We find that darkly amusing because the Washington Post has itself spread all kinds of misapprehensions over the years, dating back to the endless wars against Clinton, Clinton and Gore.
People are going to make mistakes when they engage in the public square. That will always be part of the business of democracy, and mistakes will come from a wide array of directions.
We wonder if Natanson and the Post have ever thought about healing themselves? Ceci Connolly broke the bank when it came to baldly false reports about a fellow named Candidate Gore.
People are dead all over the world because of those twenty months of erroneous reporting. Maybe the Post could dismount from its current high horse and do some reporting on that!
Accord to the author of Lawn Boy, the passages showing the sexual encounter between the 10-year-olds don't have the effect of glorifying the experience.
We haven't read the book in question, but we're willing to live in a world where some parents and school officials might imaginably react in a negative way to a novel with such passages. Four school districts might even end up taking action—out of 14,000 districts in all!
According to Natanson (see above), "[W]hat happened to 'Lawn Boy' reveals the little room left for nuance or forgiveness in the American political debate." To Natanson and the Washington Post, we might offer this:
When it comes to forgiveness and nuance, we all might try to do a better job of improving or healing ourselves.
Our tribe can be extremely judgmental. So can some Others, of course!