Monday, February 23, 2009

We Need a little Controversey

I've been feelin' Eminem lately. I "cracked a bottle" for my 500th post and today I'm thinking back to his song, "Without Me," which has the lines:

Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
Cuz we need a little controversy,
Cuz it feels so empty without me

Well, I don't want to be the controversey, my wife won't let me. But after the uproar caused by my friend and former colleague John Foley, who somewhat satirically challenged our current English curriculum, I want in. Meaning, I want to know at what point does a piece of literature become too controversial, too whatever for the public high school curriculum.
On Saturday I read Matt McCarthy's Odd Man Out, a spectacularly easy to read book covering much more than one person's attempt at professional baseball. McCarthy confronts race and privilege, hard work and the cutting corners, the American dream and jealousy. I can't rave enough about this book. In fact, I want to use it for the Sports Literature class we'll be offering next school year.
But. How can I justify the inclusion of this book with such tawdry tales as this:

An Angels employee briefly interrupted the revelry to bring us fifty leftover hot dogs from the concession stand's "Weenie Wednesday" promotion....When I turned around, I saw the dark, naked bodies of two young Dominicans hovering around the hot dogs....We all knew they were up to something no good....Suddenly, Callaspo took one of the hot dogs out of its bun and deep-throated it. Then he took the bun and put it around Aybar's flaccid penis and poured ketchup on it....Then Callaspo bent over and pretended to eat the Dominican penis hot dog. When he did that, we all screamed, " Noooo!" Getting the reaction he'd desired, Callaspo turned to a few of us and said, "I no gay. You gay!" and burst into a fit of laughter (161).

Some might say to simply censor the book, to skip that part. But there is much to think about from this selection, especially when put into the greater context. Sports have always leveled the playing field, except when it comes to sexuality. The locker room has long been a bastion of male machismo and not all that accepting of anything but the strong male stereotype. But, is it appropriate for high school students?
At what point do young men and women reach the maturity to handle the, um, awkward and controversial subjects?

10 Comments:

At 7:24 PM , Anonymous TheGodfather said...

Go for it man. Kids read worse than that in high school; I'm sure they will love that the book is a little bit adult and that you trust them enough to handle it. There's worse stuff than that on network TV these days, anyways.

 
At 3:04 AM , Anonymous Slimmy said...

I agree with TheGodfather. Kids these days grow up seeing things much worse than is portrayed in this amazing book. McCarthy's book has a way of taking the real story behind minor league sports and brings it to life! I am sure people were faced with the same dilemma when trying to decide if they should allow kids to read "Catcher in the Rye." Trust your instincts and just do it.

 
At 3:55 AM , Anonymous Joe said...

What any teacher should be asking him/herself is, "Why this one and not some other? What can I teach them about literature with this book that would be more difficult with some other book? How does this book tie in with the rest of the curriculum?" If the answers to these questions are such that they will allow you to look a concerned parent, administrator, student in the eye, then you're on the right track. "I like it," is not, in and of itself, a good enough justification, although we know it is always helpful when you have to teach something. Any book you use is just a tool--why is this the right tool?

 
At 5:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The issue to me doesn't seem to be so much the promotion (or acceptance) of homophobic values, as it is the general confrontation of sensitive material. Certainly a teammate comically making another teammate's penis into a hotdog is not particularly homophobic, even if it causes a stir in the audience and is followed by the obligatory "I'm not gay!" So then it boils down to talking about and joking about penises -- which high school students basically spend half their day doing anyway. I don't think there's any problem openly discussing such matters; I think your students could handle it, and would truly appreciate being treated as adults/equals.

 
At 5:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ummmm...no it is not appropriate. It is borderline sexual harassment. Actually, all it has to do is make one kid or coworker uncomfortable and it IS sexual harassment.

It would make me uncomfortable.

School is a workplace and workplace rules apply. And in the workplace you do not discuss overtly sexual topics.

 
At 6:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buy the books for them, censor that one section, distribute the books, and have the students pay you back. No reason a great book such as Odd Man Out should be withheld because of one paragraph.

 
At 6:27 PM , Anonymous Stephen C. Smith said...

Before you use this book in a classroom environment, you should be aware of mounting allegations that parts of the book are untrue.

My web site covers the Angels minor leagues, and I was with Provo in 2002 for a couple of series, so I'm familiar with the people named in the book.

This link will get you all the articles on my blog about this book:

http://comment.mlblogs.com/search?tag=Odd%20Man%20Out&blog_id=980

 
At 6:51 PM , Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

I teach HS English and finished the book yesterday. I loved the book, and wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole for my classes. I'd consider trying to get it approved by my district...as I did -The Things They Carried- a few years ago before teaching it...but I wouldn't count on it happening.

That said, I could see you reading -Ball Four- and getting just as much out of it. It passes the "Why not this?" test the commenter gives above. The book caused as much controversy as -Odd Man Out- when it was released, and for many of the same reasons (violation of the code of silence, publicly revealing that some players are drunken louts, etc.) And -Ball Four- has become so canonized within sports literature that challenges to its inclusion on a sports lit syllabus would be just as weak as challenges to -Huck Finn- on an American Lit syllabus. As -Huck- is a titanic bit of writing that is entirely necessary to understand US Lit and History, so -Ball Four- is to Sports Lit History.

I would have a copy of -Odd Man Out- in the classroom, though, and I'd have a degree of difficulty/enrichment assignment for kids to read -Odd Man Out- or maybe Jim Brosnan's -The Long Season- to compare to Bouton. Brosnan pre-dates Bouton, McCarthy obviously post-dates him. What do the differences say about our changing culture and the changing culture of sports?

Anyway, as much as I liked -Odd Man Out,- that's the extent to which I'd use it...as an enrichment assignment that requires a parent signature.

 
At 4:48 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Thanks TeacheRefPoet. I am in the planning stage for this class and your ideas are welcomed.
Another book I need to read this week, given to me by the Department Chair, is "A Home on the Field" by Paul Cuadros.

 
At 7:33 PM , Anonymous vicodin 5 500 mg dosage said...

i like Eminem song.. its is awesome


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