By Sarah Smith
On October 12, Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) held a formal hearing about the book Jack of Hearts and Other Parts. Back in August, Juan Garcia and I filed a formal complaint against this book because of its sexually explicit content. The book is about a 17-year-old sex columnist and includes numerous passages that are not age-appropriate for children down to 14 years old, who could access the book in the school library. Following the formal hearing, it is now up to Superintendent Ruiz to determine whether the book can remain in the Mayfield High School (MHS) library.
Some have tried to call us “book banners” because we filed the book complaint, but that is inaccurate and disingenuous. We are not calling for the removal of this book from general circulation nor even from a public library. The book is readily available and inexpensive to purchase for anyone who wants to read it or to provide it to their own children, and it should remain so.
However, all books in schools should have some basic assessment for age-appropriateness and obscenity to determine if they are suitable to be in schools. This book is clearly not appropriate for 14-year-old children. If LCPS decides to keep the book in the school, it seems appropriate that they would age-restrict its availability to students age 17 or older.
Contrary to what the news media and others are saying, I did not file this complaint because of the LGBTQ+ content in the book. I would have had the same objections to this book if it had been written about straight characters and straight sex. I have shown the content of this book to dozens of parents, teachers, and grandparents who have expressed shock and dismay that this book would even be considered for inclusion in a school library.
Some of the age-inappropriate content in the book includes detailed passages describing illegal activities such as an underage teen soliciting sex from adults through Grindr, an underage teen having bondage sex with an overage adult, teens having many sex partners, and sexual encounters with strangers, a teen taking nude photos of himself to send to others, teens smoking pot and getting blackout drunk so they cannot remember whether they had sex the night before and much more. The book makes these things all seem exciting and commonplace.
The book also contains dozens and dozens of F words. A PG-13 movie only allows the usage of one F word, yet this book uses that word repetitively throughout the text. Much of the inappropriate content in the book is not even able to be quoted in the news because it is so explicit. If you want to see the content of the book for yourself, go here to see some of the pages from the book: www.nmfa.us/jack
The passages about pedophilia are especially disturbing in light of the fact that LCPS has had multiple instances of teachers being charged with sexual crimes against children. In the most recent example, a teacher (who was also on the LCPS Equity Council) was criminally charged with multiple counts of sexual contact with three children. This book normalizes sexual contact between adults and children and even mentions a student having sex with a coach in the locker room.
Many of those who object to the removal of this book from MHS are citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Pico vs Board of Education case. Yet, although that ruling came down against removing books from schools based on their “idea content,” it also concluded that books may be removed from schools if they are “pervasively vulgar” or inappropriate for a specific “age group.”
Furthermore, the Supreme Court has ruled that obscenity is not protected under First Amendment rights to free speech. According to the US Department of Justice, Federal statutes specifically prohibit obscenity from being provided to children. “Harmful materials for minors include any communication consisting of nudity, sex or excretion that (i) appeals to the prurient [sexual] interest of minors, (ii) is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable material for minors, (iii) and lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.”
Having this book in a school library also violates New Mexico statute 30-37-2. That statute prohibits providing to minors any book containing “explicit and detailed verbal descriptions or narrative accounts of sexual excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse.” This book contains numerous passages that violate this statute.
The content in this book is so egregious that it calls into question the entire process by which books are being selected for Las Cruces school libraries. This book was placed in the MHS library because it was recommended for teens by the American Library Association and the School Library Journal. Clearly, those organizations are not exercising due diligence in assessing books for teens, and LCPS should not be relying on them to determine what content should be placed in our schools.
The Superintendent’s decision is basically about whether or not there will be any standards at all for books in school libraries. If the school district chooses to keep this book on the shelf, in violation of Federal and state statutes, they are essentially choosing to allow pornography in schools. It is my sincere hope that LCPS will support the health and well-being of all students by making sure this book is not available in the school library.
Sarah Smith is a co-leader for the New Mexico Freedoms Alliance, a non-partisan statewide grassroots coalition that advocates for freedom in all domains of life, including health, employment, education, and parenting. She is also a homeschooling mother of two, a natural healthcare practitioner, and a former NASA aerospace engineer.