Ayn Rand’s philosophy is often seen as low-hanging fruit to most liberals, but unlike her usual critics, I’ve not only read her books, I’ve had the displeasure of actually teaching one of them — Anthem — when I was doing my student teaching. I hated her books then as I do now; her philosophy is puerile, her writing jejune, and it’s aged like bread, not wine. Despite this, I never got over the irony of teaching Rand at a public school; what I found amusing, however, were the sheer number of resources available to public school teachers from Rand’s institute. It’s an irony that still triggers a stop error if I think about it too hard.
So the idea of teaching Rand at a public school isn’t exactly alien, and the idea of teaching it at a wealthy school district, like one rich Texas mother demanded in place of a non-fiction book examining American’s poverty, should be no surprise.
Dawson Orr, the superintendent of Highland Park Independent School District, temporarily suspended the book “The Working Poor: Invisible in America” and six other books in 2014, after parents in the wealthy district complained about the content. The Books are assigned to juniors who take the college-level Advanced Placement English III.
“The Working Poor: Invisible in America” is written by Pulitzer Prize winner David Shipler, and it explores the lives of Americans who are just above the poverty line despite their willingness to work — which likely describes a lot of our readership. After the suspensions received national attention, the school district rescinded the suspensions, and the district is currently reviewing its policy for selecting books and responding to the complaints.
One of those complaints, from a mother whose name was not released, suggested that the text be replaced by texts by Ayn Rand (“We The Living”), Ben Carson (“America the Beautiful”), or Karen Hesse (“Out of Dust”). Hesse, by the way, is a Newberry Award winner recommended for ages 8 to 12. Juniors are typically 16-17. That suggestion should be taken as an insult by any right-thinking teenager.
“’The Working Poor’ is not a great work of literature or an example of rich writing we want our students to emulate,” the parent wrote, adding that “One must ask, is this the best piece of literature our students can read to learn to write?”
Because what we really want is our juniors emulating a book written by a man who plagiarized from a clearly non-biased website called “SocialismSucks.net” (yes, it’s the same book). In a similar vein of thought, it’s also worth noting that nobody gets into Rand thinking that they’re Eddie Willers, but that’s only because they’ve never heard of Dunning-Kruger.
It’s easy to see why a rich person would object to learning what reality for poor Americans is like, but she couched them in other objections, taking issue with Shipler’s discussions of abortion and sexual abuse. She also said that the book showed women “as weak, pathetic, ignorant, sexual objects and incapable beings.”
So she’s not a right-wing Christian, then?
Shipler contests that, noting that the women he spoke to said “they had been sexually abused as children [and] told me that because they felt the trauma was relevant to their lasting problems.” Shipler added that he frequently speaks to high school students, as well, and that most of them are mature enough to read troubling situations. This is probably because most high school students living outside of the hermetically sealed rheological bubble of conservative ideology have actually experienced them.