Thread: Handmaid's Tale

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    Lightbulb Handmaid's Tale

    Three of the titles listed below were "required reading" when I went through English 9 through 12. To Kill a Mockingbird was a video study, as were Lord of The Flies and Of Mice and Men, in addition to the reading of all three. I only know the Handmaids Tale by its movie though.

    Canadian novel creates friction in Toronto high school, sparks debate

    By Meagan Fitzpatrick, Canwest News Service February 22, 2009 9:01 AM

    When Helena Aalto read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood soon after it was published in 1986 she thought it would be a perfect novel to teach in high school English classes.

    Years later, she had two children and both of them studied the Atwood classic at their Toronto high school. Her daughter Ellis, now a second year university student, loved the book and Aalto's son Dean, a Grade 12 student, also enjoyed studying it earlier in the school year.

    "I just thought it was an excellent novel," said Aalto. "I also think it's excellent that a Canadian novel of this strength is on the school curriculum."

    But not all parents are as pleased about the novel's inclusion in high school classes. The Handmaid's Tale, a story about a totalitarian society where women have few rights, are subservient to men and are forced to bear babies for barren couples in a more elite class, was the subject of a recent review by the Toronto District School Board.

    A parent whose child was studying the novel in a Grade 12 class complained to Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute that he disapproved of its sexual content, violence and religious themes. While he described the book as "fictional drivel," Aalto thinks there is plenty to learn from Atwood's work and has no objection to its heavy content.

    "Violence and sexual degradation are absolutely part of the content of The Handmaid's Tale, but it's very much a cautionary tale," she said.

    "The themes of sexuality are not new to kids in high school. Kids have been exposed to lots of sexual themes in television, and video games, and other novels and movies," she added.

    Aalto is a member of Canada's Freedom of Expression Committee, which this week kicks off its 25th anniversary celebrations of Freedom To Read Week. Events are planned across the country to highlight the issues of intellectual freedom and censorship.

    The committee can now add The Handmaid's Tale to the list it keeps of books that have been challenged over the last 20 years. It's the first-known time that the Atwood novel has faced controversy in a Canadian school but there are many other books that are considered staples in English classes that have been objected to over the years. These include To Kill A Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Underground to Canada, Lord of the Flies, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and Catcher in the Rye. There are dozens of other examples of attempts to remove books from school curricula and school libraries and the objections are commonly related to sexual content, religion, graphic language, violence and racial issues.

    A review panel convened by the Toronto District School Board to deal with the parent's complaint after it could not be resolved at the school level concluded The Handmaid's Tale should remain as a classroom text but the final decision rests with Gerry Connelly, the board's director of education. She has yet to issue her response on the matter.

    Melanie Parrack, the board's executive superintendent, said these kinds of challenges are bound to arise in such a diverse country.

    "You've got such an amazing continuum of beliefs and attitudes and backgrounds that are coming together in our classrooms that you obviously are going to have some challenges and they are dealt with, I think, very sensitively for the most part by the teachers and the principal and the students themselves at the school level," said Parrack.

    When these controversies do come up, Parrack said they are an enriching part of what goes on in classrooms and they are learning experiences for all those involved.

    The school board's review of Atwood's novel however, raises some concerns for Megan Boler, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. She says while it's important for schools to consider parents concerns, it's a "slippery slope" to conduct formal reviews of curriculum based on the complaint of one parent. Boler said she has seen first-hand the chilling effect that such controversies can have on the education environment. "If there is a move made to appease this parent . . . I think it runs the risk of creating a climate in which teachers experience a climate of fear," she said.

    Teachers may avoid using books like The Handmaid's Tale in order to avoid any possible controversy or reprisal from parents, Boler explained. She said this is a test case where the Toronto school board should stand firm behind what is considered a great piece of literature.

    Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

    Wait! Whats that sound? Oh. Its ok, just Big Brother warming up his Viewmaster again. No worries, nothing to see here folks. Move along.

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    People still read books? What the heck is the internet for then?

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