An Open Letter to the Cave Creek Unified School District
Debbi Burdick, Superintendent
Dear Ms. Burdick:
Your district recently initiated policies in reaction to concerns over the teaching of a play with some sexual content that go beyond mere teacher oversight to censorship and, I argue, are an abrogation of the school district’s responsibility to educate its students and prepare them for college. I write to you from my dual perspective as the parent of a high school student and a theatre educator. (Fortunately for us, we reside in a different district.)
According to the newspaper reports about the reinstatement of Andrew Cupo, the district has adopted a policy in which “no plays that include suggestive sexual information, excessive profanity, suggestive sexual undertones, or that would be considered controversial in a high-school setting will be used for any reason.” Are you aware of the suggestive sexual information and suggestive sexual undertones in plays that YOU no doubt read in high school, or that you would currently consider to be 100% appropriate for your district’s curriculum? Will you also be banning novels and other books that contain such material? Perhaps, as in Fahrenheit 451 (a text required in the Tempe Union HS District), such books should be publicly burned? If so, the plays in that pile of burned banned books would include:
- Romeo and Juilet: Mercutio teases Romeo about his desire for Rosaline’s “open arse,” Two teens discuss their sexual longing and act upon it. Juliet explicitly pines for the loss of her maidenhead
- As You Like It: There’s quite a bit of Renaissance trash talk in the Forest of Arden, including a description of the “copulation of cattle,” used as a metaphor for copulation by more human creatures
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The playful banter between Oberon and Titania is not about their kids’ soccer game
- Greek classics like Oedipus Rex, in which incest is a critical plot point that propels the moral dilemma of the play forward.
The job of an educator in an honors-level dramatic literature class, a class for which college credit is available, is to teach critical reading and critical analysis skills. It is the educator’s job to give learners the tools they need to understand the text that they are reading and to analyze the choices the characters make, often best accomplished by reading the text aloud as the playwright intended. In this way, in a partnership between school and home, young people learn to make choices both about the text and about their own lives. By forbidding teen learners access to complex literature in which characters are faced with difficult choices, the skills development of those teens will be stymied. They will instead develop analysis and choicemaking skills in situ, under the bleachers, behind the garage, and in the basement rec room, because they won’t have learned about making complex decisions and smart choices in schools. Furthermore, they will be far less ready to engage with the complex texts they will encounter in college. If you are concerned with college readiness, let kids in honors classes read plays. Out loud.
Teaching teens to make good choices doesn’t come from limiting access to choice, but by opening access to works (including dramatic literature) that challenge both their values and their intellects.
A concerned parent and teacher