Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on trial...

Albemarle School Board to vote on expelling 'A Study in Scarlet'
Aaron Richardson
The Daily Progress (July 13, 2011)
A parent asked that the book be removed from reading lists because, he says, it casts Mormonism in a negative light. After reviewing the work, a School Board-appointed committee determined that it wasn’t age-appropriate for sixth-graders. According to the parent’s complaint, the book repeatedly refers to Mormons as violent and intolerant, and accuses them of murders and kidnappings.
Okay, fair enough, the book is seen as religiously intolerant and has false views of a religious group, but since when is that good enough grounds for removing a book from a curriculum?  How many books have racism and are still taught?  How many books are intolerant of Islam, and are still viewed as just fine to read?  In fact a textbook that is apparently too tolerant of Islam, was requested to be removed from a school by Tea Party members in Prince William County, VA.

That being said, it is a bit disappointing that instead of talking about how a book mis-represents something, people feel it is better to make the book disappear or to take it away.  At least this would only be taking the book out of the curriculum and not the library.  And the board is following the challenged books process.  That does not mean that I'm not disappointed in the situation.  It still kind a sucks.
“When you look at the work, the basic question is, if someone says it shows a lot of cultural or religious bias, you have to look and see if that work has enough value to where the regard for the work outweighs the cultural bias,” county schools Secondary Education Director Matt Haas said. 
School Board member Harley Miles stressed that the schools have followed the established policy for reviewing works that parents find offensive or destructive. Once a complaint has been filed, Miles said, a committee reviews the work to see if the complaint has merit. If it does, the committee can recommend that the work be removed from reading lists.
It seems that this is not a common occurrence in Virginia, to get complaints such as this.  The School Board Chairman, Stephen Koleszar, said "this is the first time in 16 years he has seen a request like this. For Koleszar, keeping children from learning about cultural or religious prejudice is dangerous...."
“I personally believe that kids should have a wide range of material available to them,” Koleszar said. “While it places Mormonism in an unfavorable light, we can’t pretend prejudice in this country isn’t real. Still, it probably isn’t age-appropriate.”
Again, I am not going to rant and rave against the School Board since it is doing its job.  And unlike the post prior to this one, the Board is actually reading the text in question.  I'm disappointed about the attitude that starts proceedings like this in the first place, that thinks the removal of texts is better than a discussion about the shortcomings of the views in the text within the classroom where biases and prejudice can hopefully be redirected in a constructive way.  Two other Mormons spoke up in response to this situation, being quoted in the comments section after the article on newsplex.com:

by Blair
I do not live in the area, but I am a Mormon who would like to voice my admiration for the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is a classic character, still deserving our attention. I've recently read "A Study in Scarlet," and while its depiction of Mormonism is wildly off-base, I still believe the book is still highly entertaining. As a Mormon I actually chuckled several times at the depiction of Mormons, I enjoyed it. Granted, it would be nice if the teachers gave some background to make sure kids have a better understanding of the conditions of the period, but in this way students could take the opportunity to learn about how people with different beliefs have been depicted in popular literature in the past.
by Kent Larsen
As an active and heavily involved Mormon, I'm deeply embarrassed by this action. Hiding the misunderstandings of Arthur Conan Doyle and others who wrote about Mormonism is not a useful approach to changing perceptions of Mormonism. To the contrary, instead it makes Mormonism look like something secretive. Yes, Conan Doyle gets most of what he writes about Mormonism wrong. But the book is still a good read, and could give a good teacher the opportunity to talk about prejudice in writing. Lets not hide materials from students just because we think they might get incorrect ideas. Instead, lets teach children to think critically about what they read, and help them to learn to discern the difference between truth and error.
Let me know what you think!  Comments please!

Thanks for listening.


  1. Get them all to read Latter Days, that'll shake their boots.

  2. Haha! I'm sure that will work out really well ;)