Book containing swear words chosen by secondary school for 'literary merit': MOE

Book containing swear words chosen by secondary school for 'literary merit': MOE

Offensive, disturbing, blasphemous — these are the words used to describe the content of a book that was assigned as a Secondary 2 student's reading material for English class.

A photo of phrases such as "Let go of the f***ing dog, for Christ's sake" from a page of the book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has been circulating on Facebook since Dec 7.

The parent who took the photo said, "(My daughter) came to me to complain that she was greatly disturbed by the language and overt attacks on her Christian faith in the book."

In a letter he sent to the authorities, he wrote that his daughter also asked why teachers would give students literature that promoted vulgar language if it was forbidden in class.

Aside from the strong language, there are also mentions of drug use and pornographic magazines in the book, the dad-of-two said.

"I was shocked that a Singapore school would assign such a book (as reading material)," he added.


The parent, a part-time teacher himself, has since filed a complaint with his daughter's school (which remains unnamed) and the Ministry of Education (MOE), in hopes that the book would be removed from the reading list.

"There are so many books out there," he told Shin Min Daily News, "surely there are better choices that the education ministry can make."

After the photo was shared on Facebook page Singaporeans Defending Marriage & Family, many netizens appear to disagree over its post that claimed: "MOE schools (are) corrupting the minds of children."


In response to AsiaOne's queries, Mr Jeffrey Low, Director of English Language & Literature at MOE, said: "This book is not part of the recommended Literature text list from MOE."

"At the lower secondary levels, schools have the autonomy to select texts from MOE's recommended text list or they may also choose texts beyond the list, if they feel those texts better suit the learning profile of their students."

According to Mr Low, the education ministry provides a set of criteria to guide schools' selection of texts beyond the recommended list.

The criteria includes the literary value, appropriateness and accessibility of the text in terms of themes and language for the target age-group of the students, the values the text promotes, and careful consideration of any areas of concern, such as social and cultural sensitivities.

"Texts of literary value often deal with complex human conditions and reflect the imperfections in societies. Our teachers are careful in their selection of texts to ensure that they are included in lessons for good reason," Mr Low commented.

The book was selected for the school's extended reading programme to complement its English Language lessons.

"The school has chosen the book for its literary merit, and how the story teaches good values such as honesty, perseverance in the face of difficulties, love between parents and children, and appreciation of youths with special educational needs," he said.

The reading of the text, Mr Low added, has been closely guided by the teacher through class discussions, where the teacher sets out the context of the piece of writing, and engages students on drawing positive lessons from the book.

According to Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, "It's a story about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way."

In 2015, parents in Florida similarly raised concerns about the swearing in the book, to which Haddon responded, "It's not just a novel that contains swearing but a novel about swearing.

The award-winning book features a teen protagonist with Asperger's syndrome who is “completely unaware of the offence that swearing is intended to cause and therefore it simply washes over him.”

A play was staged in Singapore in 2018 by the Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade Theatre and saw nearly 25,000 attendees at the end of its 10-day run.

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