Author Pat Conroy, whose novels Prince of Tides and Beach Music are at the center of a controversy at Nitro High School, offered his thoughts on the situation today in a lengthy letter to The Charleston Gazette. Conroy spends of the letter in a passionate defense not of his own work, but of English teachers:
I’ve enjoyed a lifetime love affair with English teachers, just like the ones who are being abused in Charleston*, West Virginia, today. My English teachers pushed me to be smart and inquisitive, and they taught me the great books of the world with passion and cunning and love. Like your English teachers, they didn’t have any money, either, but they lived in the bright fires of their imaginations, and they taught because they were born to teach the prettiest language in the world. I have yet to meet an English teacher who assigned a book to damage a kid. They take an unutterable joy in opening up the known world to their students, but they are dishonored and unpraised because of the scandalous paychecks they receive. In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why. Charleston, West Virginia, is showing clear signs of really hurting theirs, and I would be cautious about the word getting out.As for the books is question, they:
are two of my darlings, which I would place before the altar of God and say, 'Lord, this is how I found the world you made.' They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone.Not everyone is appreciates his point of view:
Board member Bill Raglin was not sympathetic.Another little interesting tidbit from that article: the College Board, which oversees materials for AP classes, approved the use of Prince of Tides in the Nitro class.
'That fool, Conroy, assumes ... that every person who is an English major [or teacher] is above reproach,' Raglin said. 'I’m a chemist. Do I believe that all chemists are good? No.
'Maybe I should go back to school and change my major.'
He favors a book rating system or disclaimers on controversial books.
* Just to clarify, there is no "Charleston school board." The local school board covers all of Kanawha County. Nitro, in fact, is a wholly separate city from Charleston.