#WiliamBaer was arrested for protesting a #JodiPicoult book and the conservative blogs are all aflutter.

This is William Baer being arrested after talking too long at a school board meeting.

Should he have been arrested? No, probably not. Unfortunately, I took a look at some conservative blogs and read the user comments concerning this incident and it’s safe to say that this is the end of freedom in America. It’s Obama’s fault. It’s the teacher’s fault. It’s everyone’s fault that William Baer is boorish and rude and won’t abide by the rules of the meeting.

Here are some things to consider:

This is Gilford, New Hampshire, a relatively small town. The people in this room most likely know this man. The video posted has been edited to only show his reaction from his seat. Apparently, he’s already used his minutes. The people in this room don’t do anything to stop the policeman from arresting the man. Why? Because they know him, one might argue. They know that he’s used to just butting into conversations, even during public forums. They know that he isn’t going to be bound by etiquette or rules of order. He’s just going to keep talking because he can, because he believes his voice is more important than those around him. From an objective standpoint, this is a classic case of a bully being reigned in.

Also, it’s telling to note that he’s protesting a one paragraph sex scene, and none of the other elements of the book–including a school shooting that takes place in the titular 19 Minutes of the book. It seems that the violence is okay, but not the sex. His point was that he should have been allowed to “opt out” of having his daughter read the book. Fine, he made that point, but he refused to stop making it.

This is sort of off topic, but I wonder what book he might want his children to read instead? The Bible perhaps? The good book is chock full of nice clean stories, especially the old testament.

I’ve never read any Jodi Picoult books, but the offending writing is easy to find online. I have to say that if this guy is afraid of his daughter reading this one little paragraph, he’s in for a big surprise if he ever finds out that teenagers actually know about sex. Or he’s in for a surprise if he ever lets his daughter watch any primetime television. One episode of Two and a Half Men is more subversive than this paragraph (and by no means am I advocating that show for anyone–it’s patently awful–but it’s routinely one of the most popular shows in the country).

Knowing that there is sex scene in that book probably made more teens read it than any other book in that school. If they read the classics instead? To Kill A Mockingbird, maybe, truly a great American book–they’d be reading about murder and lynching and racism. If they read The Red Badge of Courage, they’d be reading about the disastrous effects of war. If they read Catcher in the Rye, they’d be reading about a messed up young kid who drinks and calls a prostitute and is completely undone when he sees the word “fuck” scrawled on a step at a school. If they read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, they’d read about the atrocities of modern warfare–including many gut-wrenching, honest moments of cruelty, fear, rage, and even love. And if they read Shakespeare? Or Chaucer? They’ll be reading about humanity. Great books wake us up and sometimes shock us into seeing things we don’t see on a daily basis. They allow us to make connections that, even if obvious, we don’t normally make. I don’t know if Picoult’s book is great–but I understand the teacher’s impulse to shake up her students and make them pay attention.

I don’t know if ninth graders should be reading 19 Minutes, but William Baer disrupted a meeting and was asked to leave. He probably shouldn’t have been arrested. But as an adult in polite society, he probably shouldn’t have been an asshole about it either. He’d made his point, but he wouldn’t stop. So the school board asked him to stop. The video stops here, but I hope that the rest of the people in the meeting got a chance to say what they came to say, too. And I hope that if this means they stop teaching Picoult’s book, that they’ll find another book that can vie for a teenager’s attention.

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