A NJ school issues an apology for sexual content in summer reading list

The Monroe Township Schools pulled two books – one of which includes graphic descriptions of lesbian sex and another a depiction of a homosexual orgy – from its reading list.

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    "We were just trying to get students to read,” says one NJ principal. But for some parents the drug usage and homosexual orgy depicted in “Tweak (Growing up on Methamphetamines)” was over the top.
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Are New Jersey schools taking a cue from “Jersey Shore” (or XXX-rated flicks) to drum up students’ interest in reading?

Some parents seem to think so. A New Jersey school district apologized to them for including two books – one of which includes graphic descriptions of lesbian sex and another a depiction of a homosexual orgy – in its required summer reading list for high school students.

With the start of school just days away, the Monroe Township Schools decided to pull the books from the reading list.

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“There were some words and language that seemed to be inappropriate as far as the parents and some of the kids were concerned,” superintendent Chuck Earling said. “We were not trying to create controversy. We were just trying to get students to read.”

(Too bad Mr. Earling didn’t check in with us. We could have recommended a dozen less problematic titles heavily favored by teens.)

One of the books that was on the list for incoming sophomores in an honors English class (read: 15 year-olds) was “Norwegian Wood” by acclaimed Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Murakami is a major figure in in postmodern literature – he has been awarded both the Franz Kafka and the Jerusalem Prize – but that didn't necessarily weigh heavily with parents, some of whom were very upset to discover that "Norwegian Wood" includes a graphic lesbian sex scene. The scene takes place between a 31-year-old woman and a 13-year old girl, according to a report first published in the Gloucester County Times.

“I don’t think that’s relevant for any teenager,” Robin Myers told the Gloucester Times. Ms. Myers’s daughter was assigned to read the book. “I was just kind of in shock,” she said.

The other book, “Tweak (Growing up on Methamphetamines),” included depictions of drug usage and a homosexual orgy.

How did these books get selected for the reading list in the first place? With plenty of adult supervision.

The summer reading list was put together by a committee made up of teachers, librarians, and school administrators. And the board of education approved the list.

After a slew of perplexing book bannings across the country including a Missouri school that pulled Kurt Vonnegut and a Virginia school that pulled Sherlock Holmes, some are seeing this one as a case where better judgment should have prevailed at the outset.

It's also got some observers wondering whether the teachers, librarians, and school administrators in Monroe Township are actually reading the books they’re assigning. Or if “Jersey Shore” culture is taking over the state.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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