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'Nickel and Dimed' is a good school choice



Last modified: Wednesday, December 22, 2010
When the parents of a Bedford High School student complained recently that the assigned reading for his personal finance class, Nickel and Dimed, portrayed capitalism negatively and was offensive to Christians, the story went national. Fox News showman Glenn Beck mentioned it on his show, as did the left-leaning Huffington Post website and countless national newspapers and bloggers. The New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition warned that the dust devil over Barbara Ehrenreich's book was only the tip of the iceberg.

"Our government schools are promoting the UN's agenda with books that are anti-capitalism, anti-business, anti-religion, anti-borders, anti-family and anti-sovereignty," the organization proclaimed on its website.

Amid the media circus, let's keep a few points in mind: Educators should always be mindful of books whose message or language might be objectionable to someone. And they should work hard to explain why the works were chosen for study. But it is educators who choose lesson plans and books, not parents.

On rare occasions it may be appropriate to offer students the choice of an alternative selection. But in Bedford, Dennis and Aimee Taylor's call for the firing of those who sanctioned the assignment of the book as required reading is an extreme and troubling reaction. Educators can't possibly anticipate every political, moral or religious objection a parent may have to a lesson. Nor do parents benefit children by shielding them from ideas or beliefs with which the parents disagree. They do benefit them when they discuss the information with their children and explain why they believe it's wrong.

Ehrenreich's portrayal of Christ and Christians is at times irreverent, but the book's overall message earned it a Christopher Award for works that "affirm the highest values of the human spirit." Nickel and Dimed has been read in scores of high schools and colleges. It has been the choice of many "One City One Book" community reading programs, including Concord's.

It is about the struggles of those who toil in low-wage, dead-end jobs. Its message is that it's almost impossible to succeed by remaining in jobs that require long hours at low pay without finding a way out of that trap.

The way out almost always involves not just hard work but also training and education. It is that message, more than any other in the book, that makes it appropriate for a high school personal finance class, one that could include future stockbrokers and fast-food workers.