Education: Parents try to censor 'Poet X' as "an assault on Christianity"
A family sued their children's school for including Elizabeth Acevedo's award-winning youth novel Poet X on its reading list.
Xiomara Batista is, like most teenagers, a young woman with a thousand doubts and a gift for poetry, with which she tries to explore her little world of Harlem, her relationship with her parents, circle of friends and, yes, a strict religious education imposed by her mother.
Xiomara, the protagonist of Elizabeth Acevedo's novel Poet X, questions her teachings and her own faith, which makes her quite profound, don't you think? Doubt is as necessary in life as water or food.
However, one North Carolina family does not seem to agree with their children being exposed to different perspectives than those they intend to instill in them — which is also one of the functions of literature.
Last week, the Charlotte Observer reported that the Cobles, whose son is a ninth grader at Lake Norman Charter School in Huntersville, North Carolina, have sued the school for adding Poet X, a novel that has received multiple awards, including the National Book Award and the Pura Belpré Literature Award for its exploration of the Latino cultural experience, to their reading list.
The family believes that the reflections of Xiomara, the protagonist, and her religious doubts amount to an "assault on Christianity" and a violation of the First Amendment.
Although the school proposed an alternative reading for the Coble's son and other students in his situation, the parents were not satisfied and have asked the federal courts to remove the book from the reading list.
What is seen as an attempt at censorship is also an attack on freedom of expression and on the meaning and values of education, which is to prepare young people to face the world.
That is precisely what the Huntersville school defends, the president of whose board, Rick Buckler, declared that "they will not fall under the pressure to censor Poet X or any of the other literary selections."
"Instead, we chose to see this as an opportunity to share our school's core values and to model navigating differences of opinion and perspective in a respectful and civilized manner," the statement says.
The dispute over Poet X is not new. It arose this Fall when the Cobles and other parents tried to pressure Lake Norman Charter to remove the book, which, by the way, has been taught at the school for the past two years.
"At the LNC, no literary selections are mandatory," the school said. "If a constituent is not comfortable with the subject matter of a material, their perspective is accepted and an alternative selection is offered. The Coble family rejected this option," they said.
The school also said that novels like Acevedo's seek to instill "diverse thinking and a range of opinions and perspectives to increase students' awareness, expand their thinking and ultimately help them grow and reach their full potential."
Meanwhile, and according to Charlotte Observer, the lawyer of the Coble family, Joel Bonurant, bends words to extract from speech of Poet X anti-Christian invitations.
In his lawsuit, he quotes one of the poems that appears in the novel, where the young Afro-Latina protagonist says that Jesus is something like a friend who sends her too many text messages. In another fragment, Acevedo describes Mary, Jesus' mother, as a pregnant virgin who probably got very scared.
"The school's plan to teach the book to young, impressionable minds in its public high school runs counter to the basic precept underpinning the Religion Clauses-that government must remain neutral in matters of religion and is certainly prohibited from promoting or endorsing materials that exhibit hostility to any particular religion," the lawsuit cites.
Unfortunately, many other works have engaged in similar controversies in schools. It happened with To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Anne Frank, and also with And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about a family of penguins led by two men.
Literature, as art, should not be subject to any kind of morality unless we wish to cancel it, and in an era of control like the one we live in, which many say is the beginning of a second Middle Age, to accept censorship pressures is to condemn culture to death and its cultural consumers and producers to a new witch-hunt.