Bringing down the school district

Ben Mezrich’s Bringing Down the House, the story of the MIT count team, has sold a lot of copies. But, it seems, it’s not that popular with high school librarians. Still, kids in one Oregon high school will still be free to read the book for an assignment.

From The Oregonian:

Although not a literary gem, a New York Times bestseller about Las Vegas gamblers has educational value and should not be banned, a Beaverton School District committee decided after reviewing a parent’s complaint.

District students should be allowed to choose the book “Bringing Down the House” to fulfill independent reading assignments, according to a committee that reviewed a mother’s complaint that the book promoted gambling and prostitution.

The book, an embroidered account of six Massachusetts Institute of Technology students who won millions at Las Vegas blackjack tables by mastering advanced card-counting techniques, was one of five that students in a Southridge High School 10th-grade English class could choose to read in small groups.

District officials convened the committee after Julie Herbison, whose son, David, is a student in the class, filed a formal challenge asking the district to ban the book.

Herbison said she was horrified by a page-long description of two lap dances in “Bringing Down the House.” She wrote in her complaint that the book would provoke “increased curiosity about gambling and pornography.”

Committee members derided the quality of the book but didn’t share Herbison’s concerns about how it would affect students.

“I’m sure the teacher never would have selected this book,” said Jill Wegner, a Beaverton High School librarian, said Wednesday. “Let’s face it. It’s a poorly written book.”

Nevertheless, the book could serve as a foil for great literature, she said, and help students explore the question: “What makes a book popular, and what makes a book a classic?”

The English teachers said they feared banning a book that might strike a chord with students who don’t enjoy reading, particularly some boys.

“I can think of students right off the top of my head who are very resistant to reading who might find this interesting,” said Sharon Larpenteur, a Southridge English teacher.

Despite his less-than-impressive writing, author Ben Mezrich deals with universal themes, such as “human frailty and temptation,” said Susan Almand-Myers, a Sunset High School English teacher.

As for the depiction of the seamy allure of Las Vegas, Almand-Myers wasn’t fazed.

“To be honest, for a book about Las Vegas, he could have done much worse,” she said.

Book on gambling stays in schools

Those are just the kind of reviews the publisher will print on the dust jacket: “For a book about Las Vegas, he could have done much worse.”

Next up: teaching math students to count cards.

2 thoughts on “Bringing down the school district”

  1. Ezekiel Zechariah

    Would offering the book An Unquiet Mind effect "increased curiosity" in mental illness, which is at the same moral level as porn and gambling? Gamblers, lechers, and madmen have all been given the same rights by society.
    *beats subject into ground*

    Why not have a bonfire? There goes Communist Manifesto, there goes God’s Defenders, there goes Ken Uston on Blackjack….
    I thought the whole notion of banning books was… passé. Or is that something that postmodern pinko intellectuals (as indoctrinated by the liberal universities) think?

    And as a side note, my high school physics teacher taught his class how to count cards, but, because I wouldn’t be old enough to put his methods to use in a casino until five years later, I didn’t care, and my curiosity was not increased. And, interestingly enough, I was taught again in college. Is that a Nevada thing?
    ♥ EZ

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