Hot for Teacher(‘s Romance Novels)

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While browsing through the news this morning (a daily ritual that is quickly becoming a strain on my sanity and peace of mind), I came across an article about Judy Buranich, an English teacher in Middleburg, Pennsylvania that is also a published romance novelist.

On the surface, this shouldn’t seem like such an odd concept. It is only natural that someone who loves the English language enough to dedicate themselves to teaching it to others should use it in their non-educational life as well. In fact, you could almost consider it a plus to have your child being taught how to read and write by a successful author.

Unfortunately, it turns out that not everyone is of the same mind (a predicament I have become accustomed to over the years). After it was discovered that Mrs. Buranich was the author of several romance novels written under the pen name Judy Mays, several parents felt the need to voice their concerns about this dedicated teacher’s after-school occupation. The logical-minded people reading this might be confused about what concerns these perturbed parental units might have, as it would never occur to you to equate a person’s creative output with their professional or even personal affairs. If only everyone was as sane and level-headed as us.

Some parents, having discovered the “secret identity” of their children’s English teacher, are experiencing serious trepidation over the thought of a women capable of publishing steamy romance novels also grading book reports. One particular slack-jawed yokel by the name of Kelly Hornberger, for example, expressed her concerns to local news channel WNEP:

“It’s unbelievable… I can’t even imagine someone would write such stuff… And I don’t want my son sitting in her class thinking, is she looking at him in a certain way…”

That’s right. According to this woman, anyone with the capability of writing captivating prose describing intimate contact between fictional characters for a discerning mature audience must be automatically suspected of being a sexual predator striking fear into the innocent hearts and impressionable minds of their young students.

Considering the level of ignorance demonstrated by her fears, I have little doubt that Miss Hornberger (and others like her) has trouble imagining lots of things outside of her immediate realm of experience, the ability to think objectively, process information analytically without succumbing to preconceived notions, or write subject matter outside the scope of a Reader’s Digest back issue being chief among them. If I sound like I am personally insulting poor Miss Hornberger here, then I’ll have to admit that I am. If anything, the intelligence level of the opinions she felt comfortable expressing on broadcast television lend us a perfect example as to why public schooling is so important.

This argument against having an English teacher that writes saucy stories in her spare time isn’t just stupid; it is vastly hypocritical. I would be willing to wager vast amounts of cash that the same parents voicing outrage at the thought of a romance author teaching their children would be ecstatic to suddenly learn that Stephen King, John Sandford or James Patterson were going to be volunteering their talents to their child’s English class. Would these same parents find themselves bothered by the thought of these creators of horrific murders and sadistic killers possibly getting violent ideas about their kids? Would they fear that grammar lessons would subconsciously gravitate towards discussion of cadaver vivisection and serial rapists? My guess is no. Personally, I can see no harm in having an English teacher who has published titles such as Undercover Heat and Nibbles ‘n’ Bits instructing my children in the ways of the English language. Partially because I don’t find the thought of such literature morally offensive, but mostly because I am smart and rational enough to realize that Rednecks ‘n’ Rock Candy is probably not going to be included in the lesson plan on gerund phrases.

Even though this confused women isn’t alone, the public protests against Mrs. Buranich have been voiced by a very small minority of especially obtuse parents. Then again, in cases like these, it always seems to be the shrill, cackling voices of the ignorant few that get the most response. So I urge everyone who reads this to join the Facebook page supporting Mrs. Buranich and show some solidarity with the intelligent and rational people among us who don’t normally shout as loud as the occasional reactionary dimwit.

This isn’t just about the dwindling pool of talented and devoted teachers willing to work in an education system constantly besieged by budget cuts and irrational public expectations. This is about the assumption by some that writers are not allowed a creative voice separate from their personal and professional lives, a belief that must not be allowed to gain any firmer a foothold in the public psyche than it has already managed. This is now a world in which imagination and communication are in constant danger of the dumbing-down process accelerated by the proliferation of readily accessible technologies that provide unlimited shortcuts to rational though, creative output and meaningful communication. Our teachers and authors are some of the most important obstacles standing between an intelligent society and a population of slack-jawed, knuckle-dragging Reality Show contestants. Marginalizing one or the other is bad enough, but an assault on a combination of the two is a step in the wrong direction that we most likely cannot afford.

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