Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nickel and Dimed [Updated]

Recently a debate was started over the appropriateness of the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  The Nashua Telegraph recently reported that the debate was taken to new heights at a "School Board meeting Monday night, as dozens of parents, teachers, residents and students showed up to speak their minds on the issue."  Bedford High's personal finance class was using the text until someone found an excerpts that contained profanity and some apparently objectionable statements about Jesus Christ.  Dennis Taylor, one of the parents who originally complained, said, “I believe the school, by purchasing this book, by looking at it, is either intentionally agreeing with (Barbara) Ehrenreich by taking the position that Jesus was a drunken bum or that they’re careless with their students."
They offered their own alternatives that offer the “same message,” including Adam Shepard’s “Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream,” Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.”
Dennis Taylor also suggested the administration establish committees that would rate books in a similar way that movies are rated, with PG-13 and R-rated books only given to students who want them.
The problem does not seem to be regarding the merits of the book as a whole, considering it has won a number of awards and contains valuable lessons about finances and those who are poor.  The problem here seems to be that one sentence in the book was taken badly by a couple of people and now they want to upset the system by replacing the book and challenging the merits of the text, which not only costs money that need not be spent, and it disrupts teaching because suddenly the text being used is challenged.
Jordan Dempsey, senior class president at Bedford high, defended the book and said the accusations against it were “absurd.”
“A book cannot be judged by a few lines within it,” he said.
Chad Johansen, also a senior at Bedford High and member of the student government, said the book “sparked discussion about the working poor” and he thought it was interesting how the book started a conversation about how to help the less fortunate.
“It widened my view on the world and outside of Bedford,” he said.
Some are upset that it is taking so long for the situation to proceed, but such a decision is not something to be rushed.  Daniel Rosenbaum, "a resident and member of the curriculum committee, said no matter what people think of the book, the process to remove it 'should not be easy.  No matter how just you are in wanting a book to be removed, it takes time to get other parents and representatives involved.'”

What do you think? Are one or two instances of profanity or religious disdain cause for a challenge, especially if the book as a whole is helping kids think about finances and economy, and sparking discussions?


The Infamous Passage:
The preaching goes on, interrupted with dutiful "amens." It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth. (p. 68-69)

A response from the blog Total Drek:
The interesting thing about this passage is that Ehrenreich isn't insulting Christ or Christianity per se, but rather a practice of it that ignores Jesus' deep concern for the poor and less fortunate. In other words, she's making an admittedly flowery argument that one can't be Christian and holy and yet unconcerned with the deep and serious economic inequalities that characterize American society. It's a provocative point and my students and I often have an interesting time discussing it. Often one or more students ask whether anyone is really like this, whether anyone can consider themselves a devout and committed Christian and yet miss the essential need for concern for the poor.


  1. It looks like this one could be quoted... off you go, Rob... find out what hte book REALLY says and let us know... my interest is piqued (but only enough to demand work of a grad student -- not to do it myself!!!)

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