Anatomy of a Controversy

Erik_drookerThe use of scientific terms for the human anatomy in literature has generated two recent controversies in U.S. schools.

In February, an e-mail discussion list of school media specialists filled with chatter and concern over the most recent Newbery Award winning children’s book, Susan Patron’s “The Higher Power of Lucky.” The controversy stems from the fact that the book contains the word “scrotum,” causing many on the list to question if it was appropriate for school libraries. However, the Associated Press reports that it is difficult to find a school librarian who is refusing to add the book to his or her collection.

The author, a librarian herself, wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times (free registration required), assuring those who fear having to explain the meaning of the word, “Children who read the entire book will discover exactly what it means, in a context that is straightforward, reassuring and truthful.”

Meanwhile, three female students at John Jay High School in Katonah, NY, were suspended for one day after saying the word “vagina” at an open-mike reading of a section from The Vagina Monologues. The principal has cited insubordination as the cause (the girls were asked not to use the word beforehand, and agreed). Broken agreements aside, the value of the initial request to not use the word, which was spoken in front of an audience in which the youngest member was a ninth-grader, remains an issue.

Do schools have a reason to be squeamish about students reading anatomical terms in literature? Or are they overreacting and creating problems where none exist?

Submitted by David Snyder, Information Resource Specialist in ASCD’s Library.

Image Copyright Erik Drooker, 2007.