New Trier Administrators and Board
100% behind novel, "Two Boys Kissing"
The New Trier Township High School Board of Education at its meeting last week voiced its unmitigated support for the controversial novel "Two Boys Kissing" being on the required reading list for sophomore English classes. This despite concerns shared at the meeting by many community members and parents about its graphic sexual content, profanity, and depiction of a consensual sexual encounter between a 17-year-old and a stranger adult.
During public comments New Trier English teachers, very recent graduates, and a handful of parents defended the 2013 novel by David Levithan, comparing some of its content to classics including Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet." Spare us the grandiloquent comparisons. One need not be a literary scholar to know that the Bard, while fond of colorful language, never had his star-crossed lovers proclaim phrases akin to “blowing each other,” “getting hard,” “groin on groin,” or “if this were porn we’d be naked by now.” Some of us actually recall New Trier English classes from a less ideologically-motivated era of education.
After several parents, many reading directly from the book – with dozens more supporting them – shared their concerns, Assistant Superintendent Peter Tragos and Superintendent Paul Sally didn’t take so much as a breath to consider these community members' heartfelt and genuine objections. Instead, they immediately launched into a pre-written hard sell of the book, even mischaracterizing parents’ concerns over it. Mr. Tragos defended the book in part because the sexually explicit scene did not end in actual, explicit intercourse. While we're pleased to know that very low bar would exclude “Last Tango in Paris" from sophomore English class, we respectfully submit that community standards kick in somewhere short of actual coitus. As the famed Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once remarked, concerning obscenity and how to legally define community standards regarding it: “I know it when I see it."
You can judge the evening for yourself by listening here to the speakers’ comments and here to a radio show covering the board meeting.
Why wouldn’t the board take time to consider, respect, and sympathize with these community members before pouncing on them for their stated concerns? If New Trier backs its own viewpoint diversity commitment, diverse viewpoints must be respected and included and by definition this means providing an “opt-out/alternative” book selection to parents or students who object to the graphic sexual content in Two Boys Kissing. New Trier has such a policy on file, and yet parents who respectfully asked for an alternative selection for their child were denied. What ideological educational mission leads New Trier to make such a book required reading for 15-year-olds? Milan Kundara’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is also a highly regarded novel with very explicit content, but we have a hard time imagining it being made required reading for young teenagers.