Grassroots organizations have gained a lot of attention lately, thanks in large part to the Tea Party, though its supposed mom and pop members are often funded by corporate sponsors. I like the designation astroturf to describe this kind of faux-populism.
The following case, however, might be described as a genuinely grassroots movement, since it lacks the backing of pro-censorship organizations like Focus on the Family. A group of parents in Richland, Washington, got together to rate the books taught in two area high schools. The ratings were not, as the site rightly claims, based on any sort of literary merit, but simply based on the amount of sex, violence, profanity, and other controversial material in the books. You can see these ratings for yourself at thebookbuzz.org. Don’t let the name of the site fool you: this is not a site to generate buzz for new or interesting books. It is a place where conservative parents can share concerns about texts with like-minded parents.
Here, for example, is the rating of Of Mice and Men, which receives a C. Honestly, I thought it would get a D or an F, given its recurrence in the list of most challenged books. Click for full size.
It looks like Caged Bird, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Absolutely True Diary all received Ds, predictably enough, which for the parents equates to an NC-17 rating. Many of the books on the list have not been rated–must take some time to counts all those swears.
I am all for transparency in education. And I can’t really dis the site without violating the intellectual freedom I am supposed to defend. But when I see sites like this, I realize the limits of populism. The whole thing reminds me of an infamous Tea Party sign: “Keep the government out of my Medicare!”