School board upholds committee decision to keep "Of Mice and Men"
The decision to keep John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” in the Brainerd school curriculum was upheld Monday by the school board.
The book was recently brought under the microscope after parent Doug Kern told the board he thought some of the language and terms used were vulgar and inappropriate.
Kern argued terms used in the book like “Jesus Christ,” (used as curse words) “(the n-word),” and “Japs,” were “appalling.”
Following protocol when there is any dispute over literature, the district’s Resource Selection Committee met late last month to both conduct a public hearing and to discuss the book.
Members of the Resource Selection Committee all spoke in favor of keeping the book.
Kern appealed that decision, which brought the topic before the board Monday.
High school students read “Of Mice and Men” in 10th grade. Should the student or parents choose, they can read an alternate book: Steinbeck’s “The Pearl.”
At Monday’s meeting, Kern presented a one and-a-half page list of quotes he pulled from “Of Mice and Men” that he considered inappropriate.
By Kern’s count, he said the book has 108 profanities and 12 racial slurs.
“What values are we teaching our students, to say it is inappropriate to say, but fine literature to teach? ... I know this book brings out conversation, mainly by shock value. Where do we draw the line in the sand for required reading concerning shock value?” he asked.
Kern clarified that he didn’t want the book banned, instead just made to be not required in school.
Three residents and parents spoke during open forum in favor of keeping the book in schools. No one else besides Kern spoke against the novel.
Resident Ed Shaw said that in society, people will have to “deal with things that offend us sometimes and are contrary to our values.”
He continued, “If we ban what offends someone, we won’t have anything left in the curriculum, because everyone will inevitably be offended by something.”
Board member Tom Haglin said although he hasn’t read the book, reading over the quotes provided by Kern and some online notes, he wouldn’t allow the book in his house.
Board member Chris Robinson argued that the pulled quotes didn’t give an accurate representation of the content and message behind the book.
Board member Sue Kern, Doug Kern’s wife, said with her three kids, she wasn’t aware that there was an alternative book to read. Kern said it should be better communicated to parents.
She also argued that if “The Pearl” was a good alternative, it should be the No. 1 choice instead of “Of Mice and Men.”
Deb Lechner, director of Teaching and Learning for the district, said the book has been in the schools “for as long as any of us can remember.”
Lechner added the book was selected for students by a group of English professionals.
Superintendent Steve Razidlo said the book is commonly known and widely read.
“It’s understood as a major piece of literature,” he said.
The only board member voting against affirming the committee decision to keep the book in the school was Sue Kern.