I don’t think I’ve heard of the book called Kaffir Boy by Mark Methabane but it’s made headlines in San Luis Obispo because a high school there has been debating its removal from school reading lists on account of one anonymous letter about one page in it.
“There’s only one objectionable page that was cited in the letter,” said Kathryn Eisendrath Rogers, a member of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District board.
Specifically, on Page 72, there’s a scene where boys prostitute themselves for food. Because of complaints nationwide about that scene, the book was ranked as one of the 100 most challenged books in the past decade by the American Library Association.
While the author contends the scene illustrates the horrors of the era and demonstrates a lesson about peer pressure, dissenters claim its depiction of sodomy was too graphic.
Rogers thought one way to get around this issue would be to replace the “offensive” version with an abridged one that omitted that particular scene but couldn’t find one. Calling the author himself didn’t net her one either, but she did succeed in inviting him to speak about his book and censorship while he’s on tour in California, so that ought to be cool for those who go.
The article quotes what some of the students think about this business.
“We’re old enough to read books like ‘Kaffir Boy,’ ” said Derek Chesnut, a San Luis Obispo High junior, who wrote about the controversy for the school newspaper, Expressions. A few complainers should not be allowed to make choices for all students, Chesnut said. “I think it’s offensive for parents to think it’s their responsibility to parent other kids and not their own,” he said. “You’re promoting ignorance.”
Even Prater, who is currently reading the book, sees “Kaffir Boy’s” relevance and would not have a problem with his 16-year-old son reading the unabridged version. But, he said, he wants to allow others with a more conservative view to voice their opinion.
“I’m hoping both sides show up to share or air their concerns,” he said.
The review committee will still have final say either way, of course. I guess one could make the case that the book wasn’t written with high schools in mind so why would high schools put it on a reading list, but if it’s a book that deals very well with a world history issue, why wouldn’t educators want to include it? Hopefully the committee winds up keeping the book.