What The Tortilla Curtain taught me

You had to have been living in a cave to have missed the local hot topic of the week.  A Santa Rosa Mom went before the Santa Rosa City school board to plead her case as to why the book, The Tortilla Curtain, by TC Boyle, needed to be removed from the required reading list.  In case you did miss it, be sure to read up on Kerry Benefield’s blog: Parent seeks to remove book from school reading list, and Parent not convinced tortilla curtain belongs in class.  Note the amount of comments left on each blog from readers fighting for both sides of the coin.  I posted this topic on my own Facebook, and was suddenly inundated with a bunch of comments of the same type – readers who were passionate about removing the book from the required reading list and readers who found it appalling that anyone would even suggest a book banning.  In the end, the school board voted unanimously to keep the book on the required reading list, and left the option that students may read a different book if they choose not to read this one.

But this event brings two very clear points to light. 

First of all, people from all over the county became very involved with discussion over….a book.  Do you know how thrilled that makes me?  The power of the written word lives on!  In a time when people are plugged into media driven outlets and technology, there is still passion for the words and bound pages that exist between two old-fashioned hard covers.  Opponents on this issue offered up very sound explanations for their belief in why this book should or should not be banned.  Words have power.  They have the power to move you to tears, to laughter, to shock…  They can take you out of your comfort zone, and they can bring you to a place of ecstasy.  A good writer can paint a picture without ever using an image, creating a world in your mind that takes you away from the here and now.  A good writer’s words can stay with you even after you’ve finished reading.  A book that tells a story that includes rape, strong language, and sexual situations could bring forth some very real lessons that can be applied to everyday life and help the reader understand a different perspective than the one they have known all their life.  And it can leave images in a young reader’s mind that they never wanted there, and that goes against every single thing that they believe in.  Words can be a blessing, but they can also be a very dangerous thing.

The second point that came to light is our responsibility as parents.  Whether you are on the side that condemns this book or on the side that highly favors your teen reading this book, one thing is clear:  we must be involved in our student’s studies and become fully aware of the material that is being placed before them.  This may even include reading the books they are reading as part of their studies before we make a snap judgment, or to prevent missing something that is not in line with the beliefs we teach at home.  And if we disagree with something that our children are viewing in their classrooms, we MUST speak up – at least for our own child.  Parents who are against their children reading a book that includes a rape scene and extreme language may never know that this is exactly what their child could be reading as a class assignment if they don’t take the time to be involved in their child’s studies.  With the event of The Tortilla Curtain going on trial at the Santa Rosa City Hall, it became that much clearer that not every controversial lesson will come with a permission slip requiring a parent’s signature.  As parents, it is our job to be involved with what our children are learning – to be there to answer tough questions about subjects like this, and there to say NO if it goes way beyond the comfort level of your family’s belief system.

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4 thoughts on “What The Tortilla Curtain taught me”

  1. My daughters (now grandmothers themselves) chose, on their own, not to read a couple of JD Salinger books in school. I defended their right not to do so, and suggested instead books by Hemingway, Conrad and Stevenson. My kids knew from the beginning the I would read EVERYTHING they brought into the house – from Cat in the Hat to Playboy. They were exposed to a variety of literature from the time they could read, and developed their personal preferences – but all read and all have walls full of books in their own homes.
    The key here is not censorship, but open discussion between parents, children and their teachers.

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