Some parents in Bedford, N.H., are calling for action against school officials who assigned their teenagers a book that refers to Jesus Christ as a "wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist."
The book, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America," was assigned as a project of a personal finance class at Bedford High School. One child's parents took their complaints to school district officials who put together a committee of teachers, administrators and community members to assess the book. According to the committee's review, the book's "educational merit" outweighed its questionable passages.
"We found the book provided valuable insight into the circumstances of the working poor and an opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery of the 'Financial Impact' competency," the committee reported.
But the committee's findings did not sit well with Dennis and Aimee Taylor whose son had been assigned the book. "We had almost PhD people letting this fumble through their fingers, and they all said it was grand," Dennis, a conservative Christian, told the Union-Leader. "I think there should be a review of these individuals and perhaps some firing done."
"Nickel and Dimed" is a first-person account of author Barbara Ehrenreich's failed attempts to make a living at various minimum wage jobs across the country. Written in response to 1996 welfare reform, the book offers a serious critique of the current economic system, which Ehrenreich argues preys on the poor. ...
The Taylors also took issue with the book's portrayal of Christians. In one scene, Ehrenreich attends a tent revival meeting, and is troubled by its emphasis on Jesus Christ's crucifixion, rather than his social teachings.
"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," Ehrenreich writes.
In addition to its unsavory characterization of Christ, the Taylors also complained about the book's use of obscene language and anti-capitalist message.
"The author is a known social Marxist, hates everything American, everything that America stands for or was built on," Aimee Taylor said. "I mean when you read the book you see that strongly in this woman's agenda. It's horrible."
Indeed, the author of the book, Barbara Ehrenreich, is an ardent political activist on the left who praises socialism and the redistribution of wealth, calls for the end of free-market capitalism and even happily celebrates the anniversary of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. (Click here for the "Teacher's Guide" to "Nickel and Dimed.")
Bedford Assistant Superintendent Chip McGee told the Union-Leader that the book committee had decided the author's work as a whole was a worthwhile read for students. "We need to balance the instructional value of the book against its shortcomings, rather than looking at any isolated passage, and rather than looking at the belief system of the author," McGee said.
In response to parents' complaints, the school district has implemented a new policy requiring teachers to notify parents before assigning books in class. If parents object, an alternative is to be provided.
In the meantime, the Taylors have begun homeschooling their son and are reportedly planning to attend an upcoming Dec. 13 meeting of the Bedford School District to request the book be removed from the curriculum.
Perhaps the Taylors' homeschooling curriculum will include "Scratch Beginnings" -- a book written by Adam Shepard, a graduate of Merrimack College who set out to live the American Dream with just $25. Shepard's book was conceived as a counter response to Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" and "Bait and Switch."