Thanks to Scott Esposito for alerting us to this website. (Although it's actually pretty unpleasant reading; perhaps "thanks" is not exactly right, although it is certainly useful to have the ravings of these people accessible in such a form.) Since Missouri is my home state, the experience is even more disheartening.
Almost certainly there are other, although more informally organized groups like "Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools," and not just in the red states. To some extent, parents ought to be included in curricular decisions in local schools, or at least ought to be informed about them, or at least ought to take an interest in what their schools are doing. One suspects, however, that the CLSS is mostly in the control of a handful of parents or other "interested parties" who want to use such things as reading lists and assignments to wage a wider political war. (And I'm just as opposed to using reading lists in literature classes for left-wing polemical purposes as for the right-wing variety.) In this respect, it's all a pretty dismal example of what life could be like if the powers that be in Bushworld have their way.
What's most laughable about the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools is their claim that they wish "to encourage the public schools to help our children develop a love of reading and gain a rigorous literary education through excellent literature choices" and that they wish to see "higher quality literature assignments" provided instead of the following offending books:
1. All the Pretty Horses
2. Animal Dreams
3. The Awakening
4. The Bean Trees
6. Black Boy
7. Fallen Angels
8. The Hot Zone
9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
10. Lords of Discipline
11. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
12. Song of Solomon
14. This Boy’s Life
I'm not going to defend every title on this list as a great work of literature, but of course the likes of Cormac McCarthey, Kate Chopin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Tobias Wolff provide more "quality" in their work than, apparently, the small minds at the CLSS can be burdened with. (And isn't it interesting that perhaps the two most eminent black writers of the 20th century, Wright and Morrison, are included on this list, while on the CLSS's alternative list of "the best of the best" their children are not allowed to read there are precisely no black writers?) (It's also interesting that the CLSS disapproves of books "with extremely depressing messages," that "send the message that life is hopeless and meaningless," yet on this very alternative list are included Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea!)
The CLSS trots out the usual well-informed analysis when explaining its objections to books with sex in them:
While textual descriptions of heterosexual sex, oral sex, homosexual sex, anal sex, rape, and incest are not generally classified as pornography because they don't contain images, it's undeniable that descriptions of sexually-explicit scenes helps develop an appetite for more of the same. Unfortunately, that appetite easily and logically leads to pornography and sexual experimentation. (Anyone watching the news knows that students are engaging in oral sex at a greater rate than ever before.) While it may be a leap to say that reading This Boy's Life leads to increased sexual encounters among students, one thing can be said with certainty: It's not helping!
If the CLSS argument was that such books as they oppose including in the high school curriculum are simply not "age appropriate"--that is, they are adult books that adult readers might find to be of very high "quality" indeed--then I would have some sympathy for their position. It's arguable that, say, Song of Solomon and All the Pretty Horses are books that teenage readers (not all teenage readers) would fail to appreciate simply on a literary basis--they don't yet have the skills or the experience to understand the literary goals of these books. Indeed, sometimes forcing books like these on unsuspecting high school students is precisely what instills in them a lifetime hatred of "literature." (A personal illustration: I am infamous among my high school classmates for having brazenly torn up a copy of Huckleberry Finn in the presence of our English teacher as a protest against having been required to read it. I now consider it one of the greatest books ever written, but I doubt that many of my classmates have eventually come to the same conclusion.)
But of course this is not the objection. In branding the titles on their disapproved lists as essentially wicked books, they are also striking a blow against the wicked culture that has produced them. It's very hard to believe that many high school students these days are going to be shocked and appalled by the language and situations depicted in the novels in question. (Even when I was a high school student I might have been titillated by them in the usual adolescent manner, but I wouldn't have been horrified or unduly influenced by them.) It's the parents who are shocked and appalled, and fighting against all that depraved literature is a way of fighting the depravity of American society and those responsible for polluting it. By which they mean us.