Hate (thought crime) laws, as corrupt as they are, aren’t even meant to address depictions of hate in cases where the work’s intent is to proscribe or condemn these positions. And if he thinks the depiction of theocracy run wild in The Handmaid’s Tale is an accurate portrayal of the majority of Christian folks, then perhaps the shoe fits. Hey, heard of the Inquisition, genius? Expect renewed attacks on this and other books if Canadian society continues to close since it addresses issues of state brutality, sexism, and the mechanics of apartheid. Everyone should take this opportunity to read it. Maybe Atwood should even send Edwards a cheque and a ‘longpen’ thank-you note for the free publicity.
Kristin Rushowy, The Toronto Star
January 16, 2009
Robert Edwards says if students repeated some of the words from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in the school halls, they’d be suspended, so he questions why it is okay in the classroom.
And what about the foul language, the anti-Christian overtones, the violence and sexual degradation, asks the parent who launched a formal complaint about the Canadian novel. Don’t they violate the Toronto board’s policies of respect and tolerance?
“If you look at the board’s policies, it goes to these great lengths to talk about respect and not using profane language, and in fact so do the policies at Lawrence Park Collegiate,” where Edwards’ 17-year-old son was studying the book in his Grade 12 English class.
“The board is adamant about those policies, but then puts books like this in place.”
Edwards, the father of three sons, said he hasn’t complained to the school about a book before. He only read The Handmaid’s Tale after seeing his middle son with it.
He considers himself religious, and believes religion should be discussed, but if one faith is going to be “cast in a critical light, then the board ought to open it up” to others.
“I’m not looking to ban books,” he said. “I’m just looking for justification as to why this is an appropriate book … if the board can declare to me that in their view it fits within their policy, I’d like them to explain how.”
A spokesperson for Atwood said the author has already said a lot on the topic and her opinions are widely available on the Internet.
Edwards filed a formal compliant with the Toronto District School Board before the Christmas holidays, arguing that while the futuristic theme of the book is acceptable, its focus on “sex, brutal situations, murder, prostitution” is not.
The book “is rife with brutality towards and mistreatment of women (and men at times), sexual scenes, and bleak depression,” Edwards said in a letter to the school’s principal. “I can’t really understand what it is my son is supposed to be learning from this fictional drivel.
“I have a major problem with a curriculum book that cannot be fully read out loud in class, in front of an assembly, directly to a teacher, a parent, or, for that matter, contains attitudes and words that cannot be used by students in class discussion or hallway conversation. Let alone a description of situations that must be embarrassing and uncomfortable to any young woman in that class — and probably the young men, too.”
He said if the book was anti-Islam, it wouldn’t be allowed.
According to board policy, any complaint that can’t be solved at the school level goes to a review committee.
Such a committee is now reviewing The Handmaid’s Tale, which was first published in 1985. It met yesterday at Lawrence Park and will eventually make a recommendation to the director of education.
If Edwards still isn’t satisfied, he can appeal to trustees.
The novel centres on a futuristic, theocratic world where women are used as breeders.
After Edwards complained, his son was assigned another book, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and will step out of class during any discussions on The Handmaid’s Tale.
Russell Morton Brown, a retired University of Toronto English professor, said The Handmaid’s Tale wasn’t likely written for 17-year-olds, “but neither are a lot of things we teach in high school, like Shakespeare.
“And they are all the better for reading it. They are on the edge of adulthood already, and there’s no point in coddling them,” he said, adding, “they aren’t coddled in terms of mass media today anyway.”
He said the book has been accused of being anti-Christian and, more recently, anti-Islamic because the women are veiled and polygamy is allowed.
But that “misses the point,” said Brown. “It’s really antifundamentalism.”
At one time, Brown taught a graduate course to high school teachers on Canadian fiction, which included The Handmaid’s Tale.
“It’s the most taught Canadian novel at the high school level,” he said. “I think it provides a lot to talk about, and generally speaking it does engage students.”
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