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Catholic Schools Assign Vulgar Books As Required Reading

Carl Olson, editor of Catholic World Report, has penned an opinion piece asking why some Catholic schools assign such vulgar reading material to their students.

Some of the examples he cites are books that include cuss words, sexually-explicit language and references, and amoral and hedonistic perspectives.

In particular he details the Ohio-based St. Ignatius High School’s required summer reading assignment The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sheman Alexie, a book that includes a masturbation scene and a nonchalant view of same-sex-marriage.

If it was just one Catholic school, I might simply say, “Unfortunately, there’s usually going to be a bad apple in the  barrel.” But Alexie’s novel (based in large part on his own life) appears on the reading lists of numerous Catholic schools across the  country. See for yourself.

And what to make of the inclusion of The Privileges, by Jonathan Dee? I read parts of it online, along with some reviews. It appears to be both repulsive and forgettable, filled to the edges with foul language and disagreeable characters, many of them seemingly hoping to be in a Camus novel but lacking the depth or focus to make the cut. I suppose it passes for what is now considered ‘sophisticated,’ what with the “f” bombs and narcissistic chatter. Goodness.

Looking at the summer book list for St. Ignatius High School, I noticed that none of  those required for English classes was written before 1970, and all but one, The Hollow Hills, by Mary Stewart (1973)-were published in the past eighteen years. Do schools even bother with the classics anymore? Or has the push for being “relevant” gotten to the point that any book written before iPhones existed is relegated to the outer darkness?

It got me thinking of the books that I had to read for English classes when I was high school (a public school) in  the mid-1980s. They included several plays by Shakespeare (Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet), For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ivanhoe, My Name Is Asher Lev (a personal favorite), 1984, A Tale of Two Cities, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I cannot recall reading a book that had been published in the just ten or twenty years before. Which is not to say that good fiction for teens  isn’t being written in the 21st century. Not at all. But I have serious  doubts about The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. If I was a parent whose child was required to read that book, I would have  some questions for the English teacher, beginning with this one: “Have  you never heard of Ignatius Press?” And, as a follow-up: “Or of the Ignatius Critical Editions?”

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