Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Update on Looking for Alaska

Click here for an article updating you on the situation with John Green's novel, Looking for Alaska, and the challenge it's facing in New York.


Meaghan said...

Wow - this is my favorite part, because it doesn't even make any sense: "The Rev. Nelson C. McCall, pastor of Hillview Baptist Church in Depew, said he had not read the book 'but a doctor doesn’t have to have cancer to treat someone who has.'" So he can magically tell that the book is pornographic because he's a reverend? Huh?

Amanda said...

meaghan, i was floored by that ridiculous statement, too. "huh" indeed!

Daniel said...

I think a better analogy would be "I haven't read the book, but a doctor doesn't have to know what kind of cancer his patient has to treat it."


Anonymous said...

A few words about 'Looking for Alaska'

Students in the Depew School District are reading the "young adult" novel Looking for Alaska after the book was challenged by a handful of parents who objected to its content. A district-organized committee determined earlier this month that the book is appropriate for eleventh grade classroom instruction. While the book was deemed "appropriate," there was little discussion about its educational value. This is an oversight and maybe a disservice that goes far beyond the objections concerning its themes and language.

Looking for Alaska is not a bad novel, nor is it a great novel. It is, indeed, an entertaining "read" and offers some interesting observations about religion and life. However, its word selection fails to match the well-developed characters and story. Its inclusion in English classes makes one wonder if schools are focusing more on social issues rather than on a well-rounded education.

American author Richard Lederer, who is known for his books on word play and the English Language, once noted that there are 616,500 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, yet the average English speaker has a vocabulary between 10,000 and 20,000 words. Looking for Alaska, with its propensity for unseemly and uninspired language that reflects the MTV generation, illustrates Lederer's observation.

Proponents of the book point to how today's high school students identify with the characters and the life choices they make to justify Alaska's inclusion in the curriculum. One Depew parent even said that the language "is no different than what you would hear" at a high school football game. What a standard by which to live. There's no wonder students say they enjoy the book.

School districts across the United States in recent years have become more active in developing a child's social habits, reaching into homes, if necessary, to advance their tenets. Schools are also taking a more active role in shaping other habits. For example, some school districts have stepped beyond what is taught in health class by trying to alter the dietary habits of their students, removing unhealthy snacks from vending machines.

Yet, English classes are offering literature containing a vocabulary that equates to junk food- brain "candy" with no nutritional value.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English explores the average American's vocabulary and suggests there are three vocabularies for each person: the daily lexicon, the vocabulary the person knows but doesn't use, and words that a person may identify after given clues. "In the end, experience- with life and with dealing with it in words- is the best vocabulary builder," the guide reports.

Apparently, students aren't receiving that experience in the classroom. Fifty years from now, Looking for Alaska will likely be a footnote in literary history, known more for the controversy it caused than for capturing a reader's imagination or challenging one's vernacular. We believe it will also cause future generations to wonder why it had the support of those trusted with providing children with an education.