A New Hampshire couple complained to their local school board on Monday that their son’s civil rights had been violated when he was assigned Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America in his personal finance class.† In the book, Ehrenreich documents the horrific conditions endured by people employed for the minimum wage, but that’s not the parents’ objection.† Rather, they pointed out a section of the book where Ehrenreich described a tent revival she attended, and in the process, refers to Jesus Christ as a “wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist.”
One of the parents asserted that unless the school authorities were simply careless, they were “intentionally agreeing with Ehrenreich and taking the position that Jesus was a drunken bum.”† He continued:
“The administration and the people with the masterís degrees taking care of our children clearly in this case seemed to lack common sense, common decency and with regard to civil rights, an understanding of common law.”
They said that the book represented a challenge to their son’s faith, and asked the school board to remove the book from the curriculum, and to create a committee to review and approve all books before they were assigned to students.
Ehrenreich has responded to charges that her characterization of Christ was insulting by enthusiastically denying any attempt to be insulting.† In the Q&A section of her website, she wrote,
“In the section at issue, I observed that the social teachings of Jesus went utterly unmentioned at the tent revival I attended. The revival preachers clearly preferred the dead and risen Christ to the living Jesus — who did indeed drink wine and could even make it out of water. As for the vagrancy charge: thatís what he was, a homeless, itinerant preacher.”
What’s puzzling to me is that this book was assigned in a personal finance class, where Ehrenreich’s depiction of Christ was almost certainly irrelevant.† I haven’t read the book for a long time, but I don’t remember this passage; the book’s major aim was to document, with deep empathy, the everyday struggles of the many Americans who perform menial labor for abysmal pay.
The he boardís vice-chairwoman, Cindy Chagnon, disagreed with the parents.† “[Ehrenreich's] underlying point is not prejudiced against religion. Sheís saying Christ is a living, breathing lesson for us, letís listen to what he says,” she said. “I think this doesnít necessarily belong in personal finance … but I would not hold anyone on our staff accountable for choosing a bad book. It teaches lessons of the human spirit.”
Photo from Flickr.
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