Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The End... at least for now

Dear Readers,

Thank you all so much for the last three years of readership.  I thank all of you who are fighting against censorship and book challenges.  Thank you to all of those librarians who fight the difficult fight against parents and other groups who desire to keep books of great merit out of the hands of teens and children who need them and want them.

Due to current and ever-increasing obligations, I must (at least for the moment) take a leave of absence from posting on the blog.  My time is being eaten up by the need to write articles on topics of education and censorship and to pursue further education in the field of queer studies and gender and sexuality studies.

Thank you all again for your loyalty and for making this blog worthwhile!

Keep reading, and keep on taking action,


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Too much skin...

Where did we go wrong?  What happened in society that showing the human body in a children's book is suddenly being equated with pornography?  In a children's book the image is simply being presented as a body, but in porn, the images are highly sexualized and portray adults in sexual acts or posed to invite a sexual gaze.  In The Dirty Cowboy, a children's picture book by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex, a cowboy takes a bath (something that usually involves the removal of clothing, if I'm remembering correctly) and his dog, who no longer recognizes his smell, refuses to return his clothes.  The book, therefore, contains images of a cowboy with no clothes on, though with his genitals and bum always covered by various objects, and is in no way sexualized.  How these images are pornographic is beyond me!  How did the human body become so disgusting to some parents?  Are they trying to teach their kids that their bodies are something to be ashamed of?  *sigh*

Because one parent felt that the book was inappropriate for her child, and because this parent decided the images were somehow pornographic in nature, the book was banned from two elementary schools in the Annville-Cleona School District.  A recent article in the Lebanon Daily News had this to say:
The Annville-Cleona School Board's decision to remove an award-winning children's book from the district's elementary schools is "ridiculous," the book's author said. 
Amy Timberlake, author of the "The Dirty Cowboy," said in a phone interview Friday that she was saddened to hear that her book was essentially banned from the district's two elementary schools. 
"I just think it's ridiculous," Timberlake said. "It's sad that now if a child wants to check that book out, they're going to have to go ask their parents for their permission, which is going to involve the parents explaining why they have to get permission to read a story about a bath. 
"They all take baths," she added. "They all remove their clothes to take baths. They're making a situation out of something that isn't really a situation."
Amy continues on her Blog:
Okay, so what if a parent doesn't think this book/this story is appropriate for their child? That's fine. Truly fine. I mean, the parent is the one that is raising the child. They're the one that knows the child and what that child can handle. If they can't handle it, don't let them check it out. Return the book. Whatever. 
But banning a book about a bath gone awry? That's odd. But to call The Dirty Cowboy 'pornographic' is just downright wrong. It's a misapplication of verbiage. Does the library patron have access to a dictionary? Or has that been 'banned' too? (I gotta say I've never been so happy with the way those dictionary companies add new-fangled terminology willy-nilly.)
In a slightly more harsh, but also very true commentary on the situation, the Rogue Librarian Blog has this to say:
I pity the librarian. She gave the student the book because “the little guy is a cowboy fan, and I have provided him with other cowboy books in the library.” She did what librarians are supposed to do—connect readers with books they will enjoy. She praised the boy’s parents for taking an interest in what their son reads, but cautioned that their discomfort with the illustrations did not warrant removal of the book from the library. She spoke publicly that she opposed the challenge to the book. When the board voted unanimously to ban the book from the library, she walked out of the meeting room in protest. What the school board did with their unanimous decision is not just ban a book; they stripped the librarian of her professional authority. The board’s decision told parents that they are better qualified than a licensed professional to decide what should be in the library for their children to read. The school board effectively nullified the librarian’s professional education and experience.
Even with all of this controversy (and actually, probably because of the controversy), the Lebanon Daily News notes that "Amazon.com sales of the book have shot up in the past 48 hours," since April 20, 2012.

I am disappointed, frustrated, and upset with the decision of the school board.  What do they think they are trying to accomplish by taking this book out of the hands of children in their elementary schools?  Do they seriously think children are so dumb that they would view this book as pornography?  Or that they would somehow sexualize the story, and therefore make it something dirtier (excuse the pun) than it was meant to be?  Do the parents of this child seriously believe that a book about a bath and some rather humorous consequences will actually negatively affect the development of their son?  Let me just say this: Argh!!

Thanks for reading, and as always, please feel free to comment.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Tucson School Board Fires Ethnic Studies Director

On April 11, 2012, a truly sad even occurred in Tucson, AZ: Sean Arce, director of the Mexican American Studies program was fired.  The director of a program that improved student achievement scores, expanded students' understanding of different perspectives on ethnic minorities through history, and was overall fantastic, was let go because of his failure to cooperate with the State's despicable decision to shut the program down.  An article in Common Dreams had the following to say:
Sean Arce, the director of the embattled Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, Arizona was fired last night after a split vote by the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). Students, teachers, and community members gathered before the vote to champion Arce as a vital member of the school district and berated the TUSD board members for targeting Arce for dismissal due to his outspoken support for the ethnic studies program. 
Calling the board’s move “irresponsible, unlawful and reflects yet another step in TUSD’s descent into abysmal discrimination,” Arce’s attorney Richard Martinez warned in a letter on Tuesday that the non-renewal notice sent to the former MAS director also failed to follow proper legal procedures. “The Pedicone era at TUSD,” Martinez added, “has proven to be a complete disaster, one that has allowed racism to prevail over the educational needs and rights of our students.”
Another article in the Tucson Sentinel reported on the proceedings prior to the vote from the School Board, noting that "A call to the audience lasting over two and a half hours saw nearly four dozen supporters of the Mexican American Studies program alternately berate the board and praise Arce. No one rose to speak against the program during the meeting."  Support for the program and the director were shown through displays of "anger, tears, raised voices and sometimes quiet dignity as [those in the audience] pleaded for the board to retain Arce and restore MAS classes...."  At least I can rest with the assurance that the general public in Tucson are NOT in support of this decision.  

It's interesting, in this age of censorship and book challenges that one or two parents can get a book removed from the hands of hundreds of children, but when dozens of supporters speak up, students protest, and organizations write letters of protest, the School Board is suddenly deaf, and the State's support is nowhere to be found (mostly because the State ordered the dissolution of the program to begin with, but the Tucson School Board did nothing to fight the decision.)

To remind us of the importance of these sorts of programs, and article in Education Week states:
“On Arizona’s achievement tests in reading, writing, and math, its students also outscore students of all racial and ethnic groups in the same schools but not in that program—a remarkable record. As schools nationwide struggle to close racial achievement gaps, Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program should be one from which we are learning.”
Thanks for Reading!

And for interest's sake, here are a few other articles of interest for the week:

Monday, April 9, 2012

Top ten most frequently challenged books of 2011

(According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the ALA)

ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

My Mom's Having A Baby! A Kid's Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones
Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit

Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Reasons: offensive language; racism

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Male-on-Male Penguin Affection Still an Issue...

Book controversy shines light on obscure Rochester committee

The Committee for the Reconsideration of Resources in Rochester, MN made a decision to keep And Tango Makes Three on the library shelves, despite the dissenting opinion of one family. This is the way it should be, and the way the policy is laid out is quite clear. Unfortunately, despite the policies in place to discuss book challenges, the committee's decision "was later overruled in a joint decision by Rochester School Board Chairwoman Julie Workman, Vice Chairman Gary Smith and Superintendent Michael Muñoz. It was reversed again when, amid growing public criticism, officials admitted that they had not followed district policy governing controversial materials." It is sad when officials feel they can simply overrule the proper procedures that have been set in place for specific types of challenges. There was a possibility that because of the mishandling of the situation by the School Board officials, the challenge would have to be taken to the committee again for re-review, but thankfully the family that originally brought the challenge forward has decided not to pursue further action.

Parents won't pursue challenge of 'Tango' book

The parents of a Gibbs Elementary School student who sought to remove the book "And Tango Makes Three," the story of two male penguins who raise a chick together, have decided to not refile their challenge. 
The "temporary resolution" was reached Tuesday during a meeting between the parents and Rochester schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz, officials say. But the agreement also requires that one of the parents who challenged the book be present when their child checks out books from the Gibbs media center in the future.
I'm still amazed that this book is stirring up so much controversy so many years after it came out. Are people so seriously threatened by two male penguins who bring up a baby? Technically speaking, the book isn't even about homosexuality, so much as it is diversity in the animal kingdom, but apparently everything that has male-on-male affection of any kind must obviously be G.A.Y.

Signing off for the month of March!

Thanks for Reading.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In the News This Week...

In December 2010, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America was under fire by residents of Bedford when a few parents decided the book was unsuitable for use in schools because, according to these parents, the book went against the conservative views of the community [see earlier post here.]  A group of parents later signed a petition to keep the book in the curriculum and the review committee later agreed and stated that the book was suitable for classroom use [see post here.]  Now, over a year and a half later, the book is again under fire by an Easton resident by the name of Eric Adams, according to the NazarethPatch in an opinion piece by Margie Peterson.
In a recent letter to The Morning Call, Adams was back arguing against Nickel and Dimed and that school boards should be monitoring textbooks closely to make sure the curriculum doesn’t “deviate too far from the core values of the community.”

Certainly, school board members are entitled to weigh in if they think a particular book used in classes is a poor choice. But unless you have third-graders reading “Mein Kampf,” boards should be reluctant to start pulling books every time someone objects to content. Plenty of great literature has been banned or challenged in schools at one time or another.
Having gone through the passages that were originally taken as being inappropriate for students, I am unsure why this is still an issue, seeing as the offending statements were very few (two that I can remember) and far between.  The majority of the book is actually quite effective in teaching about the difficulties of making it in the tough economy of modern-day America, especially when attempting to actually make a living in the customer service industry.  Margie Peterson agrees:
In my teens and twenties I waitressed in several restaurants in Maryland, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., and the memories of my aching shoulders, back and feet are with me still. Ehrenreich captured the petty indignities, condescending customers and autocratic managers well. She writes: “Managers can sit -- for hours at a time if they want – but it’s their job to see that no one else ever does…When, on a particularly dead afternoon, Stu finds me glancing at a USA Today a customer has left behind, he assigns me to vacuum the entire floor with the broken vacuum cleaner which has a handle only two feet long, and the only way to do that without incurring orthopedic damage is to proceed from spot to spot on your knees.”
Adams, in his complaint, declares that school directors seem to like controversial books in the classroom.  I can only agree with the author of the opinion article when she states that "One can only hope so."
The remedy to controversy over books is not to remove them but to teach more of them. 
"We read books like this to spark debate, get kids thinking about what they actually believe in, and stand up and defend it. That's really what this is about, trying to reinforce our democratic principles."
Controversy for the sake of controversy is not the best way to get students thinking, but in this particular situation, the book is controversial only because it seems to go against the thinking of some members of the communities in which it is being taught, and not because it is just a ridiculous or incendiary argument.  Ehrereich makes valuable observations and puts forward much food for thought, with the occasional amusing anecdote or comparison (at least to some.)  And the book gets discussions going about real-life issues, which is exactly what they should be doing!  I don't see how this case of using a textbook to provide material for debate is in any way negative, especially at the secondary school level.


In Other News, Criminal Charges were dropped in a Canada Customs case against Manga this week. The Press Release is produced below:

For Immediate Release
Contact: Charles Brownstein

Criminal Charges Dropped In Canada Customs Manga Case

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund are pleased to announce that the Crown has withdrawn all criminal charges in R. v. Matheson, the case previously described as the “Brandon X case,” which involved a comic book reader who faced criminal charges in Canada relating to comic books on his computer.  The defendant, Ryan Matheson, a 27-year-old comic book reader, amateur artist, and computer programmer has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.
The total legal costs of this case exceeded $75,000.  After taking the case last summer, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund contributed $20,000 to the defense, and the Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund contributed $11,000.  The CBLDF also participated in shaping the defense, including recruiting expert testimony for the trial.  The organization is currently seeking funds to help pay off the $45,000 debt Matheson incurred as a result of his case, and to create new tools to prevent future cases.  To make a contribution to these important efforts, please visit www.cbldf.org.

Read the rest of the release after the jump...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Censoring Free Speech

The 112th Congress and the US Senate have passed a law that should make people very, very angry.  Granted, it is a law that is in complete opposition to the First Amendment and will most likely be overthrown within a relatively short period of time--hopefully at least--but at the moment it is incredibly disturbing that the law was passed to begin with.  The Senate passed it unanimously and Congress passed it with a vote of 399 to 3.  HR 347 would make political protest and other forms of free speech a felony, leading to up to 10 years in prison.  This censorship of freedoms to protest and freedoms of speech fly in the face of the first amendment and I, personally, can't believe that it even passed with the majority that it has!  A post on Open Salon reads as follows:
Obviously aimed at the Occupy Movement, these modifications to U.S. Code Title 18 Section 1752 will seriously diminish the right of American citizens to petition their Government for a redress of grievances by outlawing protests where key government officials or other VIP's may be nearby. Federal law enforcement agents will be empowered to bring these charges against Americans engaged in political protests anywhere in the country, and violators will face criminal penalties that include imprisonment for up to 10 years.
What I want to know is, how is this not a problem, and how does Congress think it's okay to actually pass this in the first place?  If Obama signs off on this, it's not going to be long before, hopefully, somebody brings it to a court of law to have it overturned.  I really don't know all that much about politics in the US, but I know this is a move in a very, very bad direction.

In other news, a request to reinstate the Mexican American Studies / Ethnic Studies Program in the Tucson School District was denied.  According to the Huffington Post, "The federal U.S. District Court judge in Tucson, judge David Bury, who denied the request to reinstate the MAS program, said that the elimination of the courses didn't intentionally segregate students, nor did it tip the racial or ethnic balance of students in any TUSD school."

The program was initially shut down because the Superintendent believed the program was indoctrinating students in a way that would cause resentment toward a specific group or class of people (in this case, it would seem, he was worried that the non-white population of the school [60%] would learn to resent the white population of the school.)  Oh, and yes, sarcasm was intended there.  The program was a huge undertaking and, if the literature being used was any indication, was far from one-sided:
"What has occurred here is that [Huppenthal] has taken away from our entire community a curriculum that was adopted by our school board, that was developed by our school district, and that had successfully operated for well over 10 years," said Richard Martinez, the attorney representing teachers and students trying to save the Mexican American Studies program according to Democracy Now. "It’s just part of the same kind of tactics that have been employed in Arizona... It is the anti-Latino perspective that exists in this state."
The entire situation in the US at the moment is driving me nuts and I can't help but get interested / pissed off / upset / anxious.  Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave comments or questions below.

Oh, and if you're interested, here is an interesting interview with some publishers about issues of pre-censorship.  Here's Part 1 and Part 2.