Opinion: Just say no

Mar 24, 2023

To the editor, 

As Chair of the Mattapoisett Democratic Town Committee I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Pierre’s letter to the editor regarding the ORR School District and it’s school committee and his dissatisfaction with reading material and his call to ban books.

Once again, Mr. Pierre is whining about reading material in our schools with which he has a personal disagreement on moral content. As a candidate for the Mattapoisett School Committee, one would think that his campaign would be more focused on the school budget which was approved this year with cuts which may result in teacher layoffs and how he would address that; capital improvement projects and the school consolidation issue. But no! Mr. Pierre chooses to continue beating the culture war drum, complaining about a piece of literature some junior high students were asked to read in an English class — The Poet X.

Some background: The Poet X is the debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.  For those unfamiliar with or have not bothered to learn or understand, slam poetry is a form of performance poetry that combines elements of performance, writing, competition and audience participation.  The character in Poet X,  a 15 year old Dominican girl in Harlem, Xiomara, discovers that slam poetry was a way for her to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Because of her mother’s fanatical religious beliefs, her mother’s only concern was with X being confirmed while X had no interest in attending confirmation class. Much of what is written in Poet X involves her struggle with her mother’s religious faith contrasting with her own belief that she, X,  chose to form her own opinion on religion. The book is written much in diary form.

But you wouldn’t know this from reading Mr. Pierre’s most recent complaint about the curriculum at the old Rochester Regional Junior High School. As has been typical with Mr. Pierre and every person who has complained about certain books either being taught as part of a required curriculum or simply being part of the school’s library, they have cherry-picked certain salacious passages and referenced them intentionally out of context- to distort and pervert for their own personal motivations  - the messages these pieces of literature convey. This is not a one-off. This is all being done nationally at the behest of groups like  Moms for Liberty, Massachusetts Family Institute and The 1776 Project PAC. A perfect example of this cherry-picking is Mr. Pierre’s complaint that the main character in Poet X  desecrates the Eucharist inside a Catholic Church without providing the context of this act in relation to how X struggles with religion.

Well clutch my pearls ... someone, namely a young minority woman writing about her rebellion against the Catholic Church and all that it stands for. Blasphemy. Bar this book! Remove it!  Prevent everyone in the entire universe from reading it because it offends Mr. Pierre and his faith and his perception of moral code. After all, the public schools are supposed to teach religion and morality aren’t they? 

OF COURSE NOT!  Isn’t this the very thing the right has railed against? This indoctrination boogeyman that doesn’t exist? Frankly I’m shocked that there isn’t an allegation that George Soros is secreting these books into our libraries.

But more alarmingly, the ideology and thought process conveyed by Mr. Pierre in his whining about Poet X is precisely the reason why he is uniformly and  overwhelmingly unfit to serve as a member on any school committee which holds the authority to dictate curriculum. The fact that the writer does not understand that despite this particular piece of writing being “required reading material” for an English class, parents continue to maintain (while they never lost it) the right to have their child NOT read the book if they felt as strongly as Mr. Pierre does about it. This has been discussed during multiple School Committee meetings dating back to October 2022 and repeatedly emphasized by Chair  Michelle Smith. It cannot be more strenuously stated that there is a process and parents have a right to not have their kids read a book by following that process if they feel as strongly as Mr. Pierre does. With this particular novel, Poet X,  in advance of it being read in the class, the students were required to have a parental signature on a permission slip. Mr. Pierre didn’t tell his audience that however. Why is that? Perhaps because he wants to continue to stoke the culture wars and argue our kids are being indoctrinated, blasphemy and blah blah blah…while professing to not hate anyone in his crusade to ban books which affect predominantly minorities and underrepresented and marginalized members of our communities. Thou doth protest too much!

Mr. Pierre also continues his whining and objection to the decision by the Standards Committee, the superintendent of the Old Rochester Regional School District Mike Nelson, and the ORR  School Committee, to keep 10 books which were challenged by a parent of a student in the District, in the school’s library.  Mr. Pierre — here is your proposed remedy. It’s quite easy. As a parent, you have choices right? You guys always want control and choices.  So here they are: 1) homeschool your child; 2) send your child to private/religious school; or 3) simply don’t have your child read the books.

Those are your only options. NO ONE, not even you sir,  has the right to impose your subjective perception or opinion about literature on a majority of folks who understand, like Jason Chisholm, the Rochester representative to the ORR School Committee, that the decision whether to have their child read something or not, is a decision made between the parent and child only. You have neither the right to interfere in that process nor the right to impose your belief system on others, just as I cannot impose my belief system on you.

Trust me, if I had my druthers, I would prefer that my Verizon television service not carry Fox News, Newsmax or One American News Network. However, I have not made it my personal lifelong crusade to save every resident of the Tri-Town from being infected by the garbage these propaganda channels spew by petitioning Verizon to remove them from their service package thereby preventing you and your ilk from receiving your “news” from these outlets. Wouldn’t you be upset if I tried to do that? However I recognize that I have choices too- and I choose to not ever turn those stations on my television; and for further protection of my younger relatives who might visit,  I choose to have a child-lock which prevents those channels from even being called up. There is no way for them to turn those channels on to pollute their impressionable minds. See? Easy remedy — we just CHOOSE to not watch them.

The same advice goes to you or any parent who does not want their children to read certain books. DON’T READ THEM. JUST SAY NO. It. Is. That. Simple. 

Nicki Demakis, Mattapoisett

Chair of the Mattapoisett Democratic Town Committee.