High Schooler Says Barbara Ehrenreich’s Book Violates His Civil Rights

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.


Zeinab A.
Past Member 5 years ago

Oops, meant to say *can't go around banning books....

Zeinab A.
Past Member 5 years ago

Why must we censor everything?! The other day I read about a high school in Missouri that banned Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five from their library. Sheesh. Let us read what we want to read. You can just go around banning books or in this case asking for them to be removed from the curriculum because of your own insecurities.

"They said that the book represented a challenge to their son’s faith." Ha! That just shows that these parents are horrified by the thought that one day their little boy might *gasp!* change his ways. I wonder what they'll do when he is no longer under their Big Mother and Big Father supervision.

I'm going to go read 'Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America now.'

Marilyn J L.
Marilyn J L.5 years ago

If your faith can't withstand a little examination, a little challenge -- how strong is it?

Kristen Z.
Kristen Zehner5 years ago

Ehrenreich could hardly have known this kid was alive, so what makes him and his parents think they are that important? They need to get off their pedantic pedestal.

Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle5 years ago

This book is in my library, and she documents accurately what life is like for the minimum-wage earners.

These people need to get a life. Her quip about Jesus, is accurate and humorous. Get a life.

Andrea J.
Andrea J.5 years ago

Sounds like these parents are so blinded by their religion that they can't step back to see the whole picture. This whole thing is completely irrelevant to what the teacher is using the book for. And, let's be honest...in Jesus' time, drinking wine or a regular basis was normal (it was easier to get wine than fresh water from what I've studied), and he constantly traveled and was at the mercy of others' kindness for hospitality in their homes. The wording just stings...but, it's the truth. Authors have a right to creative freedom, whether it upsets someone or not.

These parents are also very confused...biblical law is not US law, and there is actually a law called separation between church and state. That doesn't mean that Jesus and religions can't be mentioned at all, it just means that religion cannot be taught/shoved down kids' throats. Sounds like they're the ones that need the schooling.

Janice S.
Janice S.5 years ago

PS I forgot to state that I do consider myself a Christian. Not only does it not offend me that someone put it that way in humor but beleive that indeed Jesus did live and work among people that soem considered "lowly" at the time.

Janice S.
Janice S.5 years ago

This is an excellent book. It is pointing out the problem of povety in America and stressing how prevelent it is among working people and how difficult it is to even survive on minimu, wage much less get ahead! It is not even about religion at all! I don't even remember that part but apparently it was her opinion of a particular event. A high schooler should be able to read all kinds of books without feeling like he has to agree with every single thing any author says.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H.5 years ago

I will probably go read this book now. I have an affection for Jesus and I probably will not find myself offended. I don't think Jesus would either. I really think these parents are missing the point. Not only of the book in question, but of Christianity itself. Anger and pride or 2 of the 7 deadly sins people. Remember that when lashing out at others in the name of Jesus.

Catherine A.
Catherine A.5 years ago

Is this another 15 minutes of fame?