Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Banned for "Swearing" at Florida High School

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Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been pulled from a summer reading list at a Tallahasse, FL high school, according to The Guardian. The book, which sold more than two million copies after its release and won the Whibread Book of the Year award, is the type of work that has only grown in reputation since its release, making a huge impact on adults and adolescents alike in Haddon’s native Great Britain and the United States.

The story of 15-year-old Christopher John Francis Boone, a troubled kid who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum, and his investigation of the death of a neighbor’s dog, is a heartbreaking look at being an outsider in a confusing world. At its core, the book is about overcoming those limitations, and the uplifting conclusion has touched millions of readers in the decade and change since its release.

Oh, and there’s also some swearing.

Despite the fact that the swear words are used to demonstrate Boone’s emotional ignorance of the world around him, those were apparently the only parts of the book that mattered to parents of Lincoln High School. They protested en masse via email and telephone, and managed to get the summer reading assignment canceled. The rationale from the school for its capitulation was that they wanted to “give the opportunity for the parents to parent.”

Some of the quotes from those parents are particularly rich, like this one:

“I am not interested in having books banned. But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain – I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing and that’s why I was asking for an alternative assignment … I know it’s not realistic to pretend bad words don’t exist, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my daughter knows what is right or wrong.”

Here’s that same quote, minus the rationalizations: “I am not interested in having books banned, but I am interested in having books banned.”

There are about 40 incidents of swearing in The Curious Incident, but it’s the Christianity component which seems to be the crux of the issue for the Lincoln High parents. Haddon, for his part, is mystified not by the banning—which has happened before—but by the rationale. From The Guardian:

“Christopher is completely unaware of the offence that swearing is intended to cause and therefore it simply washes over him,” said the novelist, adding that while he has received complaints in the past about the novel’s language, “no-one has ever complained that the book is about a mother abandoning her son or that it contains a scene in which a father hits his son”.

The bright side, according to Haddon, is that this type of censorship inspires debate, and actually ends up promoting the book to new readers. Meanwhile, the school superintendent is trying to spin the decision as something other than censorship, since it wasn’t part of the school-year curriculum…begging the question of how they would have behaved differently if it were.

In the big picture, this particular act of book banning is a speck on the landscape of America’s many problems. Still, the hypocrisy astounds, and it’s sad when an anti-intellectual can be so easily pushed by a small group of people who object to an artistic message on ethical or religious grounds. When did we become such cowards that we stopped trusting the marketplace of ideas, and took refuge in mob mentality to avoid ideas that made us uncomfortable?

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