Selkie Girl Deconstructed

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

Stopped clocks can be right twice a day. So can academics. But in neither case can they tell the difference between AM and PM.

“Last spring, my 2nd-grade daughter came home with an extra assignment—a worksheet she hadn’t completed in class for a story called The Selkie Girl,” Jennifer Holladay writes in the Winter 2012-2013 issue of Rethinking Schools.” She brought the book home, too, and it was one I’d never seen before, a Junior Great Books anthology (Series 3, Book 1), published by the nonprofit Great Books Foundation.”

“As we settled in, I asked my daughter to tell me about The Selkie Girl. Her rendition gave me pause, so I asked her to do her other homework first. She turned to a worksheet, and I cracked the book open.”

The Selkie Girl is essentially about a magical seal-woman who is kidnapped and raped repeatedly during her long captivity.”

For the record, here is how the School Library Journal describes the story: “In [Susan] Cooper’s version, Donallan falls in love with one of three beautiful naked selkie-maidens that he sees sitting on the rocks. Stealing her sealskin so that she cannot return to the sea, he marries her. Although she bears his five children, whom she loves deeply, she longs for her home and her family in the sea. At last she learns where her skin is hidden and, putting it on, dives joyously into the waves. But every year, Donallan and his children go down to the sea and when they return, there is ‘a look on their faces like sunlight.’”

Holladay blames the book’s inclusion in her daughter’s class on the Obama Administration’s Common Core program: “The state in which we live recently adopted the Common Core, and educators here are spending an untold number of hours realigning desired instructional outcomes to them. The Junior Great Books—marketed as ‘the cure for the Common Core!’—are more than welcome in this regard.”

Perhaps, but the very year of the books publication—1986—would make it a long-shot contender for “classic.” Selkie is obviously not one of the Little Women or a friend of Anne of Green Gables. Holladay might more productively question why these titles were excluded and why Selkie was designated a “classic.”

Instead, she zeroes in on the presence on the board of the publishing house of an analyst from the American Enterprise Institute in order to find a conservative connection to the book’s selection.


Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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