One year I was teaching One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.
Because it has a few f-bombs and Adult Situations in it I had to let parents opt their kids out of reading the book.
I thought this was dumb, because my stance is now and was then that if you are old enough to drive a car, or are within striking distance of driving a car, you are old enough to decide what you are able to read. Plus, if you are a young adult, chances are you have heard a few f-bombs and are aware of Adult Situations.
But I kept this opinion to myself because embarrassing a kid because of a parent's choice is worse than dumb.Plus, I am a big advocate of having choices and so there it was.
I wrote the parent a letter. I asked the parent if The Scarlet Letter would be acceptable.
A fornicating man of the cloth and the suffering of a single mother and a stalker of a husband was more acceptable than a book that shows us how to be human.
I'll never understand people.
So when the class read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest my Scarlet Letter kid had to leave.
All was well for a really long time.
One day after school I was in my classroom grading essays. I grade in green, the color of hope.
And this woman walks in and says, "Miss Pelfrey!"and I look up and this woman stalks towards me, jabs her finger in my face, and says, "You are going to hell!"
I don't like people up in my face.
If you are eighteen or younger, I have the patience of Job and I think before I speak. If you are between eighteen and twenty-five I cut you a lot of slack because brains take awhile to fully develop. If you appear older than twenty-five and charge into my space all het up and quivering with rage and I don't know who you are I just speak my piece.
So when Quivering Rage Woman told me I was going to hell, I said, "Would that be in a flaming wicker basket? Because I know my ancestors sent people to hell that way."
And Quivering Rage Woman nearly combusted.
It was impressive. You know those fish and you touch them or creep them out and they swell up? It was like that.
"I'm going to see your principal," she said.
"Do you know where the office is?" I always try to be helpful and calm in stressful situations.
So she hissed herself out of my room.
I stop grading papers because grading papers when you are mad is mean.
And I wondered what I had done to get sent to hell. And how this woman knew it. And why she needed to come tell me in person.
It was a mystery.
So I went to the office to tell the principal that Quivering Rage Woman was probably going to call him, and that I was going to hell.
Quivering Rage Woman had just left. I knew this when he said, "Kristen, can I see you for a minute?" and then shut his office door.
And he said, "'Flaming wicker baskets?'"
And then he laughed and laughed and remonstrated just a little for my lapse in Consummate Professionalism.
So Quivering Rage Woman, it turns out, was the mom who did not want her child exposed to Filth.
But her kid heard about some of our discussions about the book and relayed them to the mom.
The mom got upset.
I was still mystified. I did not know that discussing a novel made me a Purveyor of Filth.
Thing is? Some people are going to see evil where none exists, no matter what you do, and they are going to take it upon themselves to Pass Judgment.
Kind of like in The Scarlet Letter.