Friday, December 31, 2010

Books and Correctional Facilities

I hope all of you readers out there have had a fabulous holiday season and a wonderful Christmas.  Before the New Year comes along this evening, I thought I would pass along one story that ended up in my Inbox recently.  Best Wishes and Happy Party-Times!

David Hudson Jr, a First Amendment Scholar, writes, "A recent decision by a federal judge in Indiana shows that prison officials must provide at least some justification for broad-based bans on reading material."  This comes in response to a situation in which an ex-inmate's Hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was confiscated and destroyed.
Plainfield [Correctional Facility, apparently,] has a policy of banning all hardcover books as inmate personal property, claiming that they present security risks and could be used to smuggle contraband. However, inmates can check hardcover books out of the prison library and can possess softcover books.
This policy was challenged by Michael N. Newsom, a former inmate at Plainfield, after the incident.  While I understand that inmates are under more strict rules, and safety and security are incredibly delicate, books in prisons should be allowed if they pass certain criteria.  The inmates are allowed to take hardcover books out of the prison library, so should they not be allowed hardcover books that have been searched and that present no threat in terms of their subject matter.  I can hardly see how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would threaten security in the prison environment, unless one of them happens to be looking for the Deathly Hallows themselves!
U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson refused to grant [Superintendent Wendy] Knight and the other defendants their request for summary judgment — to have Newsom's case thrown out. She wrote in her Dec. 21 opinion in Newsom v. Knight that “defendants have not shown that a wholesale prohibition on the receipt or possession of hardcover books, even those sent directly from the publisher, is a reasonable response to these security concerns.”
What do you think of this situation?  I have done some research on the ways in which literature can help in the rehabilitation of inmates, especially juvenile delinquents.  In light of this, I think the Judges ruling is very much appropriate and I applaud her decision.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Hello Everyone! 

I apologize for the lack of posts during this time of the year, but I am sure most of you understand how busy things can be with final assignments, family get-togethers, Christmas in general, etc, etc.  I am just checking in to let you all know that I will start posting again once I get back from a trip to see my family, so hopefully I will back to full-steam by next week Friday.

Also, a huge Thank You to all of you who read my blog on a regular basis.  This site has been read no less than 6,000 times (and no, I'm not counting my own times checking in!)  Have a wonderful Christmas and see you in the New Year!



Friday, December 17, 2010

Books on Stevenson High's reading list offensive...

What is the role of a school?  I have started to question this more as I read story after story of parents saying what schools should and shouldn't do with their public funding.  As far as I'm concerned, the public funding aspect is exactly what allows schools to teach things that challenge the status quo and to encourage students to think about issues they wouldn't normally think about at home.  Teachers are not the same as parents in a school situation.  They are there to teach many perspectives and opinions.  Parents, on the other hand, are there to teach children certain morals and values at home, and if they have taught their children well, then the introduction of other perspectives should not be seen as such a threat! 

Do parents these days have so little faith in their own ability to give their children a moral compass that they think schools should start whitewashing the world?  Once these children leave school and leave their homes for university or to start their own families, they will encounter the things they could have been taught in school.  But without being taught to look at different perspectives and how to defend their own ideas, these young people will only flounder and be more likely to desert what many are calling "traditional values."  I won't even start on what that means because I really have no idea what a "traditional" value is.  If anyone can give me a workable definition, I would be most grateful.

The article in question today is found in the Daily Herald and concerns Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, IL.  A parent at the school became concerned after reading a few titles on the reading list that his children are asked to follow.  Some titles include The Flamingo Rising and a short story entitled "The Casual Carpool."  Mr. Dreyer is opposed to both of these stories for the ways in which they undermine these so-called "traditional values" that he holds so dear.
A sexual encounter depicted in the novel was definitely something you could consider “X-rated,” he said. He called the book offensive.
Dreyer also objected to “The Casual Carpool,” a short story that his youngest son recently was assigned in class. He was critical of a lesbian character's desire to find a sperm donor so she could have a baby.
“The values that I've held dear my whole life are being redefined,” Dreyer said. “I don't believe for a minute that the majority of the parents in this community think this is OK.”

The thing to pay attention to here is not necessarily that the stories are that "objectionable" (methinks he's overstating the "X-rated" sex scene in Flamingo) but that the values Mr. Dreyer holds close are being challenged.  Are these values built on such a weak foundation that a novel and short story in a classroom are enough to shake them to the core?

At least one parent stood up for the other side during the meeting:
“My children all read ‘Flamingo Rising' and they found it a very thought-provoking piece of literature,” Slivnick said. “The opening of ideas … is the way to have our children learn.”
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat over the issue of free speech, I want to say this: I am glad that these parents are able to express their views, and I actually applaud them for taking a stand.  I also think it is great that they are taking part in their children's education.  What I have a problem with is the reason for their intervention.  Children need to start learning to think for themselves, especially by the time they get to High School.  The majority of students are already being influenced by peers and the real world more than they are by the fictional narratives they are being asked to read.

I could go on for hours, but I'm still flummoxed, trying to figure out the definition of a "Traditional value."  Well, I will sign off now.  I think this rant is suitably exhausted for today.  Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nickel and Dimed [Updated]

Recently a debate was started over the appropriateness of the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.  The Nashua Telegraph recently reported that the debate was taken to new heights at a "School Board meeting Monday night, as dozens of parents, teachers, residents and students showed up to speak their minds on the issue."  Bedford High's personal finance class was using the text until someone found an excerpts that contained profanity and some apparently objectionable statements about Jesus Christ.  Dennis Taylor, one of the parents who originally complained, said, “I believe the school, by purchasing this book, by looking at it, is either intentionally agreeing with (Barbara) Ehrenreich by taking the position that Jesus was a drunken bum or that they’re careless with their students."
They offered their own alternatives that offer the “same message,” including Adam Shepard’s “Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream,” Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations.”
Dennis Taylor also suggested the administration establish committees that would rate books in a similar way that movies are rated, with PG-13 and R-rated books only given to students who want them.
The problem does not seem to be regarding the merits of the book as a whole, considering it has won a number of awards and contains valuable lessons about finances and those who are poor.  The problem here seems to be that one sentence in the book was taken badly by a couple of people and now they want to upset the system by replacing the book and challenging the merits of the text, which not only costs money that need not be spent, and it disrupts teaching because suddenly the text being used is challenged.
Jordan Dempsey, senior class president at Bedford high, defended the book and said the accusations against it were “absurd.”
“A book cannot be judged by a few lines within it,” he said.
Chad Johansen, also a senior at Bedford High and member of the student government, said the book “sparked discussion about the working poor” and he thought it was interesting how the book started a conversation about how to help the less fortunate.
“It widened my view on the world and outside of Bedford,” he said.
Some are upset that it is taking so long for the situation to proceed, but such a decision is not something to be rushed.  Daniel Rosenbaum, "a resident and member of the curriculum committee, said no matter what people think of the book, the process to remove it 'should not be easy.  No matter how just you are in wanting a book to be removed, it takes time to get other parents and representatives involved.'”

What do you think? Are one or two instances of profanity or religious disdain cause for a challenge, especially if the book as a whole is helping kids think about finances and economy, and sparking discussions?


The Infamous Passage:
The preaching goes on, interrupted with dutiful "amens." It would be nice if someone would read this sad-eyed crowd the Sermon on the Mount, accompanied by a rousing commentary on income inequality and the need for a hike in the minimum wage. But Jesus makes his appearance here only as a corpse; the living man, the wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist, is never once mentioned, nor anything he ever had to say. Christ crucified rules, and it may be that the true business of modern Christianity is to crucify him again and again so that he can never get a word out of his mouth. (p. 68-69)

A response from the blog Total Drek:
The interesting thing about this passage is that Ehrenreich isn't insulting Christ or Christianity per se, but rather a practice of it that ignores Jesus' deep concern for the poor and less fortunate. In other words, she's making an admittedly flowery argument that one can't be Christian and holy and yet unconcerned with the deep and serious economic inequalities that characterize American society. It's a provocative point and my students and I often have an interesting time discussing it. Often one or more students ask whether anyone is really like this, whether anyone can consider themselves a devout and committed Christian and yet miss the essential need for concern for the poor.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Brave New World" lives on...

I am happy to announce that Brave New World  "will remain on the list of approved materials Seattle high school teachers may use in their language arts curriculum" writes Linda Thomas on  "The Seattle School Board vote last night to continue allowing its schools to use the book was unanimous."

In case you missed the earlier post this decision is in response to a mother who wanted all schools in the Seattle area to remove Brave New World from their curricula because of the treatment of Native Americans within the text.  I wrote in the earlier post about context and the tone of the book, hoping beyond hope that others would note these aspects of the text somewhere in the process of reviewing the title.  It would appear a number of people actually responded directly to these issues:
"I am opposed to banning of any book," says Harium Martin-Morris. "If we go down that road, it is a road that is a dangerous one. Do we now say we won't do Huckleberry Finn because of its portrayal of African Americans. Do we get rid of Native Sun ? The list goes on and on."  He called these kinds of books an "opportunity to talk candidly with our students - our very capable and knowledgeable and quite frankly very savvy high school students - about these topics."
Another board member, Peter Maier, says he re-read the book recently and it is clearly satirical. He supports making the Aldous Huxley novel available as a high school text.
"I don't believe that censorship is the right answer," says Steve Sundquist, board vice president. "If a teacher wants to teach this text, clearly I want it done in a culturally sensitive and appropriate way."
It's nice to know I'm not totally "out there" while I'm writing these blog posts.  I sometimes get caught up in my own personal objections and then rant and rave about this and that while making points that can be considered questionable at best.  But this time, I was not far off the mark.  It's nice to know that a school board is finally standing up for a text based on it's merit and teachability rather than backing down based on an unwillingness to deal with conflict.

Way to go Seattle!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let's Set Things Straight...

Due to recent feedback about my blog, today will focus more on the concepts of censorship and book challenges rather than on one specific instance.  The purpose of this blog is not to argue the existence of censorship or book banning, but to act under the assumption that these acts occur and so bring to light current instances of censorship.  There is some indecision that keeps surfacing surrounding parenting vs. censorship.  I believe (and therefore this blog acts under the assumption that) parenting can involve acts of censorship for the purposes of child protection. 

I have no problem with parents taking an interest in what their children are reading, and therefore, at times, deciding that something is inappropriate for their own child.  What I find reprehensible is the decision of some parents to take their own views and attempt to spread them over entire schools or school districts.  This sort of behavior expands parental rights into a form of attempted dictatorship.  Strong words, perhaps, but true nonetheless.

I would also like to point out that while I have links to certain larger organizations in the sidebar of this site, that does not mean that I believe any of them are the be-all or end-all of censorship authority.  Each organization does valuable work and therefore deserves to be heard, but this does not endorse any group as the final word on the subject.  With that in mind, I would like to turn to the 2009-2010 list of banned and challenged books by Robert P. Doyle.  This is a resource put out by the ALA, but also endorsed by a multitude of other organizations.  The foreword contains some valuable information and defines censorship and challenges in a particularly enlightening and simple way.  So without further adieu, I end today's entry with these words:

Sex, profanity, and racism remain the primary categories of objections, and most occur in schools and school libraries. Frequently, challenges are motivated by the desire to protect children. While the intent is commendable, this method of protection contains hazards far greater than exposure to the “evil” against which it is leveled. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson, said, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Individuals may restrict what they themselves or their children read, but they must not call on governmental or public agencies to prevent others from reading or seeing that material.

The challenges documented in this list are not brought by people merely expressing a point of view; rather, they represent requests to remove materials from schools or libraries, thus restricting access to them by others. Even when the eventual outcome allows the book to stay on the library shelves and even when the person is a lone protester, the censorship attempt is real. Someone has tried to restrict another person’s ability to choose. Challenges are as important to document as actual bannings, in which a book is removed from the shelves of a library or bookstore or from the curriculum at a school. Attempts to censor can lead to voluntary restriction of expression by those who seek to avoid controversy; in these cases, material may not be published at all or may not be purchased by a bookstore, library, or school district.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Parent your own kids...

Check out Neil Gaiman's comment!
I find it disrespectful and overbearing when a parent decides that they know what's best for everyone's children, over and above their own.  This is the problem at the center of yet another challenge aimed at Sherman Alexie's incredibly popular text, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  “I feel protective not only for my own daughter but of all children,” said Michele Smith in an article on the Helena Independent Record.  This comes after a teacher already helped Michele's daughter to find a different book to study in place of Alexie's.  But this, yet again, is not enough for some parents.
Michele Smith submitted a request for reconsideration of educational materials to the central office for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie. A public hearing is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2, at the Front Street Learning Center.
There have obviously been objections, though mostly from those who are the educators.  And we all know educators know nothing about how to educate children or teach literature in an insightful and critical manner (sarcasm is intended here).
Padraic McCracken, teen services librarian at the Lewis and Clark Library, has read the book multiple times. McCracken said feeling like an outcast is a fairly universal experience for adolescents and, therefore, most young people can relate to the story. The parts that may be objectionable are brief, he says.
“Any kid who’s ever felt like an outsider, being the new kid, being different and all that comes with that will be able to relate,” he said.  “And, honestly, they help make the book more engaging to young readers because they are honest. … Thank God there is someone like Sherman Alexie to talk honestly about that.”
I would like to point out something incredibly profound and worthy of mention about this librarian.  "He applauds parents for getting involved and monitoring what their children are reading, but says any sexual parts are more heartfelt and touching than they are filthy."  He not only defends the novel, but that he also defends the right of the parents to monitor their children's reading materials.  But that's just the thing, each parent has the right to protect their own children.  Parents are not responsible for the reading habits of all of the children in the school.

He also acknowledges the needs of the children who are reading books at this level: 
“At that age you are talking about trying to engage kids with books when there are a million other things to be distracted with,” McCracken said. “This could be the book for some.”
I applaud Mr. McCracken and his well-rounded response to this situation.  I do not applaud Mrs. Smith and her desire to parent all children in the school while also depriving them of relevant and powerful reading materials.  I know some will disagree with me, but I find this to be yet another disturbing instance of book challenging with a very poor argument behind it.  I only hope that the review committee meeting in February will vote to keep the book in the system.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Poof! They're gone...

Many library books simply disappear from circulation, suggests Judith John, a scholar who has been studying book challenges since 1993.  This isn't new, but it's a disturbing aspect of book bans and challenges and it makes it difficult for groups such as the American Library Association and the National Coalition Against Censorship to track such challenges.

Fortunately, there have been a number of publicized challenges in the last decade, which has made it slightly better for these groups to get an idea of which titles are under fire most frequently.  This also makes it possible to hold Schools and other institutions accountable for following proper procedures, something which has been ignored in a number of recent challenges.  I will cover these later in the post.

An article in USA Today, by Didi Tang and Mary Beth Marklein, takes these issues into consideration and discusses the increase in groups, as opposed to individuals, who are responsible for book challenges today.
Whereas challenges once were mostly launched by a lone parent, Caldwell-Stone says she has noticed "an uptick in organized efforts" to remove books from public and school libraries. A number of challenges appear to draw from information provided on websites such as Parents Against Bad Books in Schools, or, and, [Deborah Caldwell-Stone, and attorney with the American Library Association] says.
This can be seen throughout a number of my posts over the last month or so.  A few complaints have been made by one or two parents, but a number have come from larger organizations as well.  These groups have more clout than an individual and are therefore able to put more pressure on schools and libraries to remove texts.  The problem here is that a lot of these School Districts and Libraries do not want to be publicly denounced and so they attempt to quietly remove the books without following proper procedure.  The article from USA Today points out three instances:
• In Plano, Texas, last month, the school district collected a textbook, Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities, from classrooms after a parent voiced concern, then reissued the book after former students launched a social-media campaign to object. "This decision was made behind closed doors without discussion," says Ashley Meyers, 22, a 2006 graduate who had used the book.
• After the school board in Stockton, Mo., voted in April to ban The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, English teachers who assign the book said they should have been consulted about its educational value. "We expected a more thorough, well-developed process before a book was banned," English teacher Kim Chism Jasper said during a public forum in September.
• A chapter of Glenn Beck's 9.12 Project, a conservative watchdog network, was a force behind the removal of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from the school library at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Burlington County, N.J. The ACLU of New Jersey requested documentation from school officials regarding how the decision was made.
These controversial instances of book challenges make it possible for anti-censorship groups to track such cases.  It is necessary to see evidence of these challenges, otherwise people won't realize how prevalent it really is.  This follows the whole purpose of my blog, to bring attention to challenges and censorship issues relating to books in the hope of enlightening people to the fact that this isn't a thing of the past.

Book banning still happens, and censoring of valuable literature is still a problem.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The right to not sell a book...

A short while ago, Amazon began selling a book on Pedophilia; not just about pedophilia, but about how to be a pedophile. This, understandably, caused some uproar. But when Amazon removed the book from their virtual shelves, some people cried that it was a violation of free speech. An article in the Vancouver Sun had a few things to say on this situation: "there's a distinction between banning a book and asking a seller to take it off the shelf. A boycott is a market mechanism between sellers and customers. It isn't a form of coercion."

This article argues that the removal of the book is not a form of banning, since it is not trying to get rid of the book from ever existing, but simply a marketing strategy that conforms to the desires of consumers. I have no reason to counter this argument. Personally, I wouldn't want that book on any bookstore shelves at all, but that is not to say that I don't think the author had a right to write the book and get it published. There are differences there.
And, in fact, a positive conception of freedom of speech can lead to some perverse consequences. If everyone has the right to read books on pedophilia (distinct from the right to be protected from a government ban on such books), then they have the right to demand those books from bookstores -- which means someone might have to compel those bookstores to sell them.  
Any attempt to silence unpopular speech, even when it doesn't violate the right to free speech, is counterproductive. Denying someone a platform, in a democratic country with vigorous media, is the best way to make sure they get lots of attention.
Of course, other issues ensued from this debate.  Amazon defended the right to sell the book and defended the rights of those who may buy it, but soon after the book disappeared from the website with no fanfare, no statement, no defense.  They simply went against their policy at the last minute with no explanation.  This behavior from such a large and influential company is in itself rather disturbing.

Do you have any thoughts on the subject?  Do you think there is a distinction here between the right to free speech and the right to purchase literature?  

Friday, November 26, 2010


I was going through some old sources on books banned and challenged in the last few years and I thought I would post a simple, non-ranting post today because ranting just gets me upset for the rest of the day.  Today will be about the facts only regarding the removal of Laurie Halse Anderson's Twisted from the Montgomery County High School curriculum in 2009.  This information comes from "Books Challenged or Banned in 2009-2010" by Robert P. Doyle.

Withdrawn from classroom use and the approved curriculum at the Montgomery County, Ky. High School (2009), but available at the high school library and student book club. Some parents have complained about five novels that contain foul language and cover topics — including sex, child abuse, suicide, and drug abuse — deemed unsuited for discussion in coed high school classes. They also contend that the books don’t provide the intellectual challenge and rigor that students need in college preparatory classes. The titles appeared on suggested book lists compiled by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, for twelve- to eighteen-year-olds who are “reluctant readers.” The superintendent removed the book because it wasn’t on the pre-approved curriculum list and couldn’t be added by teachers in the middle of a school year without permission.

Source: Jan. 2010, pp. 16–17; Mar. 2010, p. 56.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Appleton SD Book Review Update...

On Friday, October 29th I wrote a post about the Appleton School District and a challenge to the novel The Body of Christopher Creed.  The review committee met and voted 13-0 to keep the book in the classrooms according to Kathy Walsh Nufer on  A review committee is specifically created to bring a number of people together in one room to discuss a novel critically and to determine its usefulness as well as all of its positive and negative qualities.  This committee met and made their decision, and this, one would hope, should be enough.  But alas, such is not the case.

A parent has decided that because of the unanimous vote to keep the book in place, the system must be flawed!
Krueger questioned how the review committee could truly represent a cross-section of the community when its vote was unanimous to keep the controversial book as part of the required curriculum.
"I find fault with how the committee is assembled," he said. "The selection process itself reeks of cronyism, where the end result is a group of like-minded individuals and where a book challenge that is not politically correct is destined to fail."
I find fault with this parent's way of thinking.  Just because something is unanimous does not mean that it's a failure of democracy.  A review committee is, in some ways, like a jury.  While it does not have to decide unanimously, each member must provide all of their reasoning for their decisions regarding the book, and in doing so, some members may be persuaded of certain things or swayed in a direction they did not originally intend to go.

What did make me happy in this case, was the Superintendent's decision to actually follow policy and defend the decision, telling Mr. Krueger that "once a book has been challenged and a determination made, it cannot be challenged again for two more years."

There you have it parents, if you don't like the book and you feel it's just too unfair somehow to opt your own kid out of reading it, go ahead and come back in two years to try and take it away from every other child in the district again.  K, thanks, bye.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quick! Cover up those sculpted genitals!

You heard me right, sculptures are the culprits in this round of "Ban That Textbook!"  Actually, I just came up with that category right now, and it probably won't last long because I'm forgetful, but it sounds catchy, so I'm keeping it this time.  Anyway, back to genitals...

According to Kim Williams at the Plano Star:

The content in a Humanities textbook has brought complaints from some parents, followed by the book’s removal from the shelves of the schools by the Plano ISD.
The district removed the textbooks after two people complained about photos of nude sculptures and other works of art from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as the Italian Renaissance.
How much further is censorship of images going to go if not even 1,000 year old sculptures aren't safe from simple minds.  Did I say simple?  I meant to say simple.  Whoops, there I go again.  Sorry, perhaps too many incidents in one week has just gotten me upset, frustrated, befuddled, or all of the above.  But back to the article.  Kim Williams continues,
“Initially, the material was to be replaced with alternative resources,” Range-Stanton [director of communications for the school district] said. “After further review of local board policy EFA, our secondary curriculum staff has determined that the book, ‘Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities,’ should be considered a supplemental instructional resource for the course, since it is locally chosen and purchased and is not provided within the state textbook adoption process.”
Thank goodness the book is back!  But that's not the story here.  The story is that the book was removed in the first place due to only two complaints out of hundreds and thousands of students.  And not only that, but the official process of review was not even followed in the first place.  The initial removal of the book sparked intense public outcry, especially from former students:
Ashley Meyers, a former Plano student, used the book seven years ago; in response to the district’s decision to remove the book, she started a Facebook campaign which received support from 576 Facebook members. The Facebook campaign inspired letters and e-mails to be sent to the district out of concern. 
Maran Nelson, another former student who used the text in her humanities class, said she joined Meyers’ group on Facebook and even sent out e-mails to more than 600 people in hopes of their support.

Nelson, as it turns out, shares my perspective:  
Nelson was glad to hear that it was all a 'big mistake' but said she believes that a single parental grievance does not constitute a mob of opposition, which she feels is what happened when the district pulled the book. 
"This unwarranted textbook replacement would have had a deleterious impact on the Humanities course curriculum and the reputations of PISD schools,” Nelson said. “The district has already done a great disservice to its local and national public image by allowing the non-issue to progress as far as it did.”
So, why am I ranting about this when it's all been taken care of?  As I said before, I'm upset that it was an issue at all.  I stated in a previous post that I'm surprised how often School Districts are simply allowing one or two parents to throw a wrench in the entire system.  The School Districts are not standing up for their schools and their teachers and the decisions made to bring students a good, well-rounded educational experience.  They don't want a "problem" but they end up with more and bigger problems when they don't make any effort to defend the texts or the teachers, instead throwing them in front of the proverbial train first.  Katherine Terrell, yet another former student, said that, 
she appreciates the desire of parents to protect their children from content they consider inappropriate, but she wanted to encourage both parents and PISD to consider the consequences of that action.

“As the college application process becomes increasingly competitive, parents should encourage the highest possible quality of education for their children. Part of that education is an appreciation for world culture and arts, and artists from the ancient Greeks to Michelangelo to Picasso have chosen to represent the nude form,” Terrell said. “To erase these works from a course in art history is to misrepresent history itself.”

 Let's not mis-represent history if we can help it.  We all know there is enough bias already in textbooks and it's difficult to find quality texts that actually inform and give solid representations to students.  So how about we try not to get rid of those that are doing a good job simply because we don't like the fact that a sculpture is naked.  If it's that big a deal, take away your child's textbook and place sticky notes over the "naughty bits" you don't want them to see.  Not too difficult, and a whole lot less messy than removing the book from everyone else's more educated hands.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dear Mr. Huxley, I wish this wasn't the case...

See, even Mr. Huxley can't believe it.
A Brave New World is under attack yet again, but not for sex this time.  No, this time a mother/daughter team has decided that because the book contains depictions of "Native savages" that it should be removed from the curriculum immediately.  There are several problems here.

The first problem revolves around the "Native savages" themselves.  Huxley's book was published in the 1930s and attitudes toward Native Americans were very different than they are today.  Attitudes change, but the text, since it is printed, does not.  It becomes a social artifact that reminds us of how we have treated people, placed them into categories, presented them as stereotypes.  These depictions are lessons in change, not something that should be taken as offensive in an entirely different social setting.  This is the exact same thing that is happening with To Kill a Mockingbird and the use of the "N word."  Again, it's contextual and reveals social attitudes during specific time periods.  The words are on the page already: Deal with it!

Secondly, the mother declared that "We are not about book burning and we're not radicals.... We're not trying to in any way censor that book, we're just saying it does not belong in high school. It is not appropriate for the curriculum."  Well, unfortunately getting a book removed from a curriculum for unfounded or personal reasons can be considered a form of censorship, especially since the school chose to comply so readily.

What I find just as difficult to understand, is the willingness of schools to sacrifice their teachers so readily.  The teachers who help choose and refine classroom texts and lessons, and those who put so much effort into defending their decisions, are turned away so easily:
The chair of the language arts department, Shannon Conner, defended the merits of the book calling it a "superb warning book about our future. Huxley cautions his future readers from becoming too reliant on, and compliant with, technology." But at the same time, the high school apologized and determined that the "cultural insensitivity embedded in this book makes it an inappropriate choice as a central text in our 10th grade curriculum."
I really don't know what to say.  It's infuriating, saddening, and discouraging to know how easy it is to force your own personal views onto entire schools and larger populations.  This woman and her daughter could have easily asked for an alternative text to work with, but instead they felt it necessary to take the book entirely out of the curriculum in an attempt to prove that they were somehow wrongly harmed by reading a book that could have served as a learning experience regarding social attitudes over time.  Needless to say, I'm incredibly disappointed.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Teens Take a Stand...

Tom Dalton wrote an article on November 10th about students in Salem who staged an all-night reading of Banned Books in celebration of their freedom to do so.  
Jefell Campos, a junior at Salem Academy Charter School, drew stares yesterday as he walked down the school corridor.
"I decided to go all out," said the 17-year-old, who was wearing red, white and blue one-piece pajamas and a Patriots stocking cap with dangling dreadlocks.
On most days, Campos would have been sent home.
But yesterday, he was a celebrity — one of 40 seniors and juniors taking part in "Banned Books Jim-Jam!" a nonstop reading of banned or controversial books. It was part educational sleepover ("Jim-Jam" is British slang for pajama party) and part living lesson about a precious freedom.
When I read this, I smiled, something which happens all too little these days as censorship and literary challenges become ever more prevalent, and for worse reasons than ever.  The students heard of one incident in which a book was banned because the last name of the author could be confused with a Marxist writer.
"Just because your last name is a communist's name, why would you ban a book?" [Campos] said. "This country is getting stupider. People's freedom of speech is being taken advantage of, and I think it's time for people to stand up and say, 'Enough!'"
These students reminded me that some young people actually care about their freedoms; they don't take it for granted and forget that it is something to celebrate and appreciate.  I wish more schools would partake in such activities, but for now I will have to be satisfied with the work of one such institution.

Even more impressive is that teachers were involved as well!
It was 15 straight hours of public reading, by teachers and students, from the American Library Association's list of books that have been banned, restricted or challenged in communities across the United States. [emphasis added]
 The students read from a number of books throughout the night, being kept awake with Red Bull, sub sandwiches, and popcorn.  They were even treated to a pancake breakfast in the morning before they went away to catch up on sleep.  The following books are a sample of what they read from over the course of the event:
The Color Purple
A Separate Peace
The Kite Runner
The Call of the Wild
Of Mice and Men
Brave New World
To Kill a Mockingbird

It's great to finally hear a positive story of students standing up for their rights to read literature with important ideas and for them to realize that this right is important enough to stand up for.  They did have fun as well, but that's part of the appreciation.  Have you seen this sort of event put on by schools near you?  Or even in libraries or other institutions?  It would be great to hear if this sort of event is happening in other places throughout the world.  As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Another Mockingbird Article...

I would like to bring your attention to another article on the To Kill a Mockingbird performance controversy.  I think it has a lot of good things to say and the author of the article takes a very well-rounded approach to the situation, citing a number of members of the review committee.

Read the article here.

***UPDATE (Nov. 16)***
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, "A committee of nine district employees and parents decided Monday morning that the material is appropriate for high school students but did not say whether the school should produce the canceled show."

Hopefully a decision will be made soon and the students will be able to put on the production.  As the drama teacher mentions in the article, it's the drama students that are the most hard hit by this whole mess.  They are the ones who were shut down and are now waiting to hear if they can go on.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There's such a thing as context, people!

One of the many things that confuses me, is the sudden--and by sudden, I mean over the last decade--attempt to get rid of classic works of literature, from A Brave New World to 1984 to To Kill A Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn.  I'm not going to lie and say that I love each one of these books and that I want to read them again and again, but I feel that each work is definitely important and has many lessons to teach.  I can't figure out why there is such a sudden rise to leave these out of school curricula or to remove them from library shelves.  I've spoken a bit before about perceived innocence in youth and children, and here again I wonder where these perceptions come from.  This idea that children and young people are somehow innocent of racism, sex, offensive language, etc., is just plain confusing to me.

I recently came across an article by Mark Lane, of the The Daytona Beach News-Journal, which speaks to the removal of a school production of To Kill a Mockingbird at Flagler Palm Coast High School, on the basis that it used the "N-word," as if people have never heard the word.  People seem to forget about context a little too often.  There is a difference between yelling "nigger!" (this is one of those context moments, so please don't go saying I'm racist) at someone out of anger and a desire to inflict emotional or psychological pain, and using it in a play that is describing the harm associated with racism and racial slurs.

There is also a second issue that raises its head in a situation like this: censorship breeds publicity.  Mr. Lane writes:
Speaking as the parent of a former high school theater student, I can tell you that had this play gone forward, a few people would have complained during intermission, only to forget about it by curtain call. An assistant principal would have had an animated telephone conversation with a parent who was offended after talking to someone who had heard about the play. And an angry letter to the editor may have found its way to this newspaper.
And that would be about it.
Instead, administrators now find themselves talking about censorship and political correctness to out-of-town television and newspaper reporters.
This is the same case as the banning of Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which subsequently led to higher book sales in nearby book stores.  Censoring only leads to more interest, which leads to more fighting.  It is undeniably counter-productive.

Another issue at play here is the age of the students, and the perceived innocence that adults place on them.  This was a high school production!
Remember, these aren't little kids we're talking about here. These are high school students. They are allowed into R-rated movies all by themselves. They know how to read things on the Internet. A student play is unlikely to harm their sensibilities.
It is here that I will leave you because I wish to remain somewhat neutral (even though this blog is obviously subjective and biased) and I don't want to end up ranting and raving for pages and pages.  What I want to leave you with are the following three reminders:

1) Children are not as innocent as adults try to pretend.
2) There is such a thing as context, and this should never be forgotten.
3) Censorship only leads to greater publicity.

Monday, November 8, 2010

On a lighter note...

I wanted to start off the week with happier story, possibly something that wasn't an example of exclusion, but an example of inclusion.  Yesterday, I received an email from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table of the American Library Association (GLBTRT), describing reactions to the new Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Awards, which was announced on November 1st.  According to a blog article in the New York Times,
The new award, called the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, is for an English-language book “of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience,” the association said on Monday. Stonewall Awards for adult books have been handed out since 1971.
Roberta Stevens, the president of the American Library Association, said in a statement that children’s books that include the experiences of gays and lesbians “are critical tools in teaching tolerance, acceptance and the importance of diversity.” 
The books chosen for ALA awards are often sought out and used by a great many teachers and schools because the association is known for its high standards and careful scrutiny of works of literature.  It's a good day way a new and growing genre gets this kind of attention and praise.  And that's it for today.  Have a good week!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Scared New World

Brave New World is Aldous Huxley's famous satire about a world gone to extremes with science, technology, and ethics.  Now that same satire is part of another satire in which groups of parents go to extremes trying to protect their children from good, classic, quality literature.  Someone should write a book about that!  Oh wait...

North County High, according to the Maryland Gazette, has been asked to remove Brave New World from the curriculum in both a new Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics program as well as the advanced placement honors program.  One member of the group advocating for the book's removal had this to say:
 "If you were to have images in what is depicted by this book - you would go to jail," said petition organizer David J. Cole of Linthicum. "If that's the type of literature that (the schools) think is appropriate for children … I disagree with that."
What Mr. Cole doesn't seem to realize is that the same can be said of other books, such as The Holy Bible as well as Judy Blume's Forever.  Not only that, but there is nothing explicit within the book itself (it's not erotica!), but some descriptions and suggestions can definitely lead to interesting visuals in the imagination.  But again, that can be said of many, many books, and has more to do with the individual reading the text than the text itself.
Linda Poole, who heads up the Secondary Reading, English and Integrated Literacy program, called the book an "excellent example of satire."  The supplemental text deals with ethical issues revolving around science and technology, she explained.  "This is a satire written with that in mind - what could happen if science is misused," said Poole. "It is an internationally recognized text."
I don't think I will ever truly understand what drives parents to attempt such blatant attempts at censorship with such poor reasons and arguments.  Not only that, but as in other similar challenges that I've blogged about, I wonder why these parents can't just be satisfied with an alternative text being used for their child, instead of having to deprive every other child in the school of the chance to read important works of artistic merit.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A recent article in Publisher's Weekly took up the issue of censorship on a very broad scale.  Andrew Albanese reported that a federal judge halted the implementation of a Massachusetts law that would ban certain works from the Internet and punish distributors of works deemed to be “harmful to minors,” deeming it overly broad and in violation of the First Amendment.  The law was highly contested by publishers and a large group took matters into their own hands shortly after the law was passed:
The decision comes after a group of booksellers, advocates and trade associations sued the state in July, arguing that the sweeping new law breached the First Amendment because it could be used to ban virtually anything from the Internet, including material adults have a First Amendment right to view.  Plaintiffs included the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Harvard Book Store, the Photographic Resource Center, Porter Square Books.
This is a perfect example of how defense of one cause can lead to limitations of human rights in other areas.  While I am most definitely against promoting gratuitous sex and violence to minors or works/texts that exploit minors, attempting to enact a blanket law is an incredibly ineffective way to go about it.  The article quotes Carol Rose of the Massachusetts branch of the ACLU:
“The problems with this law show the danger of legislating out of fear, and in a hurry,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “This case is a reminder that we need to remain ever-vigilant in the defense of basic civil liberties against lawmakers who try to capitalize on cases involving children to expand government power in ways that could be used to silence booksellers, artists, healthcare providers, and the rest of us.”
Issues surrounding children, innocence, and the protection of both, are volatile at best.  Those who wish to argue for human rights are often seen as "the bad guys" because by allowing certain rights, there is the opportunity for that right to be abused.  And that is why I so often advocate for the family relationship to be one in which certain rights are regulated.  Parents have the right to know what their children are reading, but not to place their values on every other family in a school.  And people certainly have the right to protect children from potentially threatening literature or sources on the internet, but not by attempting to create some sort of blanket law that hinders the right of the majority of the population to read or seek out the materials they want. 

I know, it's a slippery slope, but certain things on slippery slopes are worth fighting for.

Friday, October 29, 2010

one book (hopefully) stays, one book's a maybe

Happy Friday!  Two new stories have come to my attention via ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom.  One in Appleton and one in Belleville, both regarding recent book challenges.  Each of these events is rather sad since in both cases, the parents decided that instead of simply opting their own children out of reading the books, they feel they need to push their parenting styles on all students.  The first is an article, written by Kathy Nufer on  A parent challenged the the book The Body of Christopher Creed:
Hash said she chose to opt-out her son from reading it in communication arts class last school year because of its "profanity, vulgarity, sexual slang, sexual references, sexual situations, underage drinking, computer hacking, breaking and entering," and other situations, but also felt compelled to take her complaint further to the building and district level.  "It disturbed me so much that I decided I would be doing a disservice to our students if I left it at that," she told the panel.
After listening to Hash and other presenters, and working through a checklist to determine whether the book fits the goals and objectives of the freshman curriculum, the panel recommended unanimously to School Supt. Lee Allinger that the book remain where it is.  Allinger, who attended Monday's session, said he will review the recommendation and let Hash know his decision soon.
Meanwhile, in Belleville, another of Chris Crutcher's novels, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, was challenged according to  The decision is still pending: "The process started in September and a decision has still not been made."  The mother made a statement, saying,
"I am just one mom that cares what her son is reading at school. This is a required book in a required class.... There is pornographic and other sexual content on several pages. There are at least 52 pages where the Lord's name is taken in vain or there are swear words and other vulgar words. Also characters "portrayed as Christians" are sometimes ridiculed or portrayed in a negative way. This would not be allowed if the characters were Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, or any other religion. This book is not required by the state of Wisconsin and is not being used at all Wisconsin schools. I believe the Belleville School District could choose a better book."
A school district committee made a decision supporting the book, but the mother appealed the decision.  The superintendent now says that he is currently reviewing the way that the book is being used in other schools and is hoping to make a decision soon: "Ultimately, the question is probably not 'good book, bad book.' It's probably a case of might we find something better. There's a 'maybe so' component, like maybe we can find something better."  Freese said he has more work to do before making a decision on the matter.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No First Amendment protection for Teachers

"Teachers have no First Amendment free-speech protection for curricular decisions they make in the classroom," a federal appeals court ruled on October 21st, according to an Education Week article on School Law.  The following are excerpts from the article:

"Only the school board has ultimate responsibility for what goes on in the classroom, legitimately giving it a say over what teachers may (or may not) teach in the classroom," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, said in its opinion.

The decision came in the case of an Ohio teacher whose contract was not renewed in 2002 after community controversy over reading selections she assigned to her high school English classes. These included Siddhartha , by Herman Hesse, and a unit on book censorship in which the teacher allowed students to pick books from a list of frequently challenged works, and some students chose Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman.

"When a teacher teaches, the school system does not regulate that speech as much as it hires that speech," Sutton wrote, borrowing language from a 7th Circuit decision in a similar case. "Expression is a teacher's stock in trade, the commodity she sells to her employer in exchange for a salary. And if it is the school board that hires that speech, it can surely regulate the content of what is or is not expressed, what is expressed in other words on its behalf."

What do you think of this decision?  Does it limit the abilities of teachers to make decisions in the classroom to best suit individual classrooms?  What sort of impact do you think this decision will have on teachers in the future, if any?

Friday, October 22, 2010

We all knew it was coming

We all knew it was coming ever since the books became a hit only a short time ago.  The Hunger Games are now under fire in New Hampshire from a parent who objects to the story being read aloud to her daughter.  Lauren Barack wrote about it in an article for the School Library Journal on October 19th:
A New Hampshire parent has asked the Goffstown School Board to remove Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games (Scholastic, 2008) from her daughter's class, claiming that it gave her 11-year-old nightmares and could numb other students to the effects of violence.
I remember when I used to be afraid of dinosaurs and my grade 5 class was watching Jurassic Park during a class party.  I saw the opening sequence in which the guard gets eaten and was traumatized for a good two weeks.  My parents were concerned about me, but did they go to the school board and ask that every child be kept from watching scary movies?  No, because it's up to me and my parents to decide what kind of things frighten me and therefore it is up to us to decide what I should watch.  And my mom even watched Jurassic Park, so she knew what was going on.  In this case, however, the parents hasn't even bothered to read the book.  And she has decided to try and make everyone else follow her parenting style:

To censorship expert Pat Scales, the main concern is one parent attempting to set policy for the children of others. And this challenge, which comes on the heels of the American Library Association's (ALA) Banned Book Week, is a cautionary tale other parents should note, she adds.
"When a parent objects to a book being taught, a lot of school districts say a parent can take a child out," says Scales, a former school librarian and member of ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee. "And a lot of parents have an objection because they say their child is being singled out. But you have already singled your child out. And no parent has a right to select the curriculum."
The principal has gathered a review committee, much like the committee which just finished reviewing Kaffir Boy in San Luis Obispo.  The committee has 30 days to review the book and report their findings.  This is being done even in the absence of a formal request for review from the parent.  This is all being done in good faith from the school.  They are not, however, bowing to the parent's wishes as has happened in some circumstances:
Although the school district requests that formal book challenges be handled by filling out a request for reconsideration form, LaSalle has yet to do so. To date, The Hunger Games is still being read in class, and LaSalle's daughter is removed from class during that time. Three copies of the book remain in the school library.
The article states that "Mrs. LaSalle asked what this book teaches students as far as honor, ethics, and morals. Mrs. LaSalle stated there is no lesson in this book except if you are a teenager and kill twenty-three other teenagers, you win the game and your family wins."  This parent has obviously never bothered to look at critical reviews or hear opinions from others because there is a lot about morals, and honor, and ethics in the book.  I'm hoping that the committee will see it the way Scales presented the argument in the quotations above, and that they will therefore keep the book in circulation at the school and in classrooms.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finally, some good news

In an act of pure sensibility, the review committee at San Luis Obispo High School that was charged with deciding the fate of Kaffir Boy (written about earlier this month here), voted unanimously to keep the book both in the school library and in the honors program curriculum.  Pat Pemberton, writing for the San Luis Obispo Tribune recapped the situation, saying,
Controversy arose when anonymous letters complaining about “Kaffir Boy” were sent to [history teacher Carrie] Zinn, school administrators and the school board. The letters complained specifically about a single page describing boys prostituting themselves for food.
The principal had put together a 7 person review committee shortly after the complaint.  The committee met with an audience of 50 people, including students, teachers, and parents.  Pemberton writes,
The audience unanimously favored keeping the book, both in the library and as a part of the honors class curriculum. When a committee member asked if the anonymous letter writer was in the audience, no one responded.
A few said high school students were old enough to handle the language used — one student suggested she heard similar language daily. And a couple of teachers expressed concern that banning “Kaffir Boy” would lead to challenges to other books, including classics such as J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye.”
These concerns are certainly not unfounded, especially considering the challenge that recently occurred in Florida, where a mother requested that her son's school ban Catcher in the Rye because it took the Lord's name in vain and used to many "f" words.  Hopefully the review committee in that case will look at the handling of this situation and will not allow a single parent to limit what every student in the school reads.

There was a suggestion that there be a revised copy of the text used, that didn't contain the graphic details of the original, but that was removed from discussion early on. 
While teacher John Franklin suggested that the abridged version still conveyed the horrors of apartheid, others contended an edited version whitewashes history and disrespects victims of segregation.
Any comments, thoughts, or rants about this story?  I, for one, applaud the common sense of the individuals on this reviewing committee and congratulate them on their unanimous vote to keep the book in the curriculum.

Monday, October 18, 2010

the unintelligible mess that is book banning...

Marcus Smith, in an article on The Daily Cougar, wrote an article at the closing of Banned Books Week 2010, talking about some of the unintelligible reasons for banning or challenging books.  Some books are challenged based on sincere concerns which, unfortunately, tend to breach American First Amendment rights, but many are challenged for seriously stupid reasons.  Smith writes:
Book banning is rarely done on the basis of logic or thoughtful consideration, but more so on ignorance and prejudice. When books are banned for absurd reasons such as pro-communism in George Orwell’s “1984” or pro-racism in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” — the exact opposite of what these books advocate — you’re left wondering if some people have even read the books they challenge.
I don't often wonder, because in so many cases it's proven the challengers haven't read the texts, based solely on the argument brought forward in the challenge.  In the examples listed above, it is obvious that the challenger either didn't bother reading the text, or they are just unable to bring a critical eye to the reading experience.

In his article, Smith brings forward a very absurd challenge that is enough to make me wonder if the majority of book challengers even use common sense.
The Texas Board of Education [...] banned the children’s picture book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin, a book that helps toddlers learn about colors and associate meaning to them. The reasoning behind this was that they confused the author with another Bill Martin, author of “Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation” despite the fact that a simple glance at the book would have prevented this.
Silly, you say?  I concur.  This seems to be a lesson about the emphasis we place on political correctness rather than critical thought.  Books are meant to encourage thoughts and ideas, which they cannot do if they are challenged and kept away from children's curious hands.
Book banning does not protect children; it harms them, chiefly by attempting to instill political correctness or agendas and ignoring a novel’s core meaning and values. When books are banned and kept out of the grasp of children, you effectively limit their potential understanding of the world through other viewpoints.
Thanks Mr. Smith for your intelligent analysis of the effects of keeping books away from Children for truly ridiculous reasons.

Friday, October 15, 2010

At least learn how to write...

I am all for expression and encourage people express their opinions about literature in whatever way they feel necessary, as long as it doesn't obstruct others from making their own opinions.  That's the point of this blog.  I want to encourage people to see the impracticality and destruction caused by certain groups or individuals by trying to limit access to books and other forms of literature (graphic novels, films, plays, etc.)  This week I was wandering the unlimited hallways of the internet, trying to find content for today's post.  I came across an opinion piece on
Wesley Scroggins is an associate professor of management at Missouri State University, and he wrote this article criticizing book choices in classrooms.  He claims that "In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography."  The books specifically targeted are Speak, Twenty Boy Summer, and Slaughterhouse Five.  The article is frightening enough simply because Mr. Scroggins is trying to limit access to literature and knowledge.  He doesn't just stick with High School but also spotlights sex-education classes in all grades.  Where am I going with this, you ask?  If you read the article, I'm sure you'll understand.  I'm trying to say that if you're going to share your opinion, at least learn how to write a sentence!!!

Mr. Scroggins... I'm sorry, Dr. Scroggins, writes sentences that would cause certain grammar critics to feel faint.  An entire blog post on The Rejectionist is devoted to the horrific grammatical errors that cause one to laugh rather than take anything he says seriously.  Here's one example from The Rejectionist's blog entry.  The bold is from the original article:

The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.
The comma, Dr. Scroggins, is a friend, not a foe; and a loyal, staunch friend it may be to a writer who treats it with the respect and admiration it is due. Yet you, sir, appear determined here to heap upon this hardworking little ally all manner of abuses; unsurprisingly, in your hour of need the comma has betrayed you, thanks to your callous disregard for its proper employ.
Another sentence that proved quite difficult to interpret was as follows:
In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.
And how, pray tell, does a drunken teen use “condoms to have sex”? We consider ourselves pretty worldly, good sir, but we are quite baffled as to the exact logistics involved in “us[ing] their condoms to have sex.” Perhaps you are more well-versed in the vagaries of kink than this innocent Rejectionist, Dr. Scroggins. A little light shed on the technicalities of this activity would be most useful, as we are left here to our imagination, which we must admit is failing us entirely.
Perhaps this is going to get taken as me just being rude.  But that is not the case at all!  I simply think that if you are going to go to the trouble of making random claims in an attempt to place limitations on what people can read, the least you can do is put together a thoughtful comment, and check your spelling.  Dr. Scroggins, unfortunately, did none of the above.  Of course he also thinks that the sex is Speak is bad for High School students to read.  The sex that takes place is rape.  It's tragic, not sexy.  Come on, Dr. Scroggins, there's this thing called context!

Laurie Halse Anderson spoke out against Mr. Scroggins on her own blog:
My fear is that good-hearted people in Scroggins’ community will read his piece and believe what he says. And then they will complain to the school board. And then the book will be pulled and then all those kids who might have found truth and support in the book will be denied that. In addition, all the kids who have healthy emotional lives but who hate reading, will miss the chance to enjoy a book that might change their opinion.
Thank you to Laurie Halse Anderson for her well-written and grammatically correct response.  And to reiterate, I do not hold anything against Dr. Scroggins if he wishes to be of the opinion that Speak and Slaughterhouse Five are soft pornography.  What I am against is the idea that because he holds these opinions, others should not be allowed to read the literature.  That is what truly scares me; that people who can't take the time to write a strong argument are being listened to and are able to impose limitations onto others.

Care to share your thoughts and opinions?  Feel free to talk about the original article's meaning or the horrible construction of it, The Rejectionist's blog post, or Laurie Halse Anderson's response.  It's all fair game.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

in other news...

"The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a South Carolina jail over a policy that prohibits inmates from having any reading materials other than the Bible."  The article on highlights actions that the ACLU is taking in an attempt to overturn the jail's Bible-only policy.  Publishers had been trying to send self-help literature and magazines to the prison, but starting in 2008, their attempts were thwarted.  The literature was either sent back, or seized.  An email was sent out by First Sgt. K. Habersham stating that "Our inmates are only allowed to receive soft back bibles in the mail directly from the publisher.  They are not allowed to have magazines, newspapers, or any other type of books."  The ACLU is attempting to overturn this policy, saying that it violates First Amendment rights.  "In addition to unspecified punitive damages, the lawsuit asks a federal judge to order the Bible-only policy halted and to let a jury hear the case."

Also in the news this week is the re-classification of a book at the Waukee Public Library.  The notes that "'The Notebook Girls,' a diary cataloging the real-life experiences of four New York City high school girls, will now be housed with the library's adult nonfiction collection."  This comes in response to a book challenge last month about foul language in the text.  The article also notes that the book originally "created a stir in the publishing world with its frank discussions about adolescent sex, drinking and drug use when it was released in 2006."

The book is a diary-style account of the lives of four girls living in New York.  Do we really expect it to be devoid of any sort of language or sexuality?  And if so, why would it be published if there was no public desire for books with such content?  There is obviously a market, so should we make the book disappear because it appeals to it's demographic?  I think not.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Risha Mullins' Story

I recently read Risha Mullins' story on SpeakLoudly and was almost brought to tears by the injustice of the entire situation that occurred.  Risha Mullins was a teacher who brought a love of reading to the classroom, creating an environment of open appreciation rather than stifled analysis.  Not desiring to burden the students with classics that they could not and did not want to read, she brought forward texts that the students would enjoy, could relate to, and ultimately those novels created a desire to continue reading outside of the classroom.  The Moo Moo Book Club is particularly inspiring, being nurtured from a starting group of 15 kids and growing to 130.  In her post Mullins writes,
Remembering when the Moo Moo Book Club kids taped posters of their favorite books all over the school—totally taking ownership of their books by taping “recommended by” plaques beneath each poster—and how after that, non-club kids would stop by my room and ask to borrow a book. Remembering Teen Read Week of 2008 when the 130 book club kids marched through the school, boom box blaring, tossing bookmarks through the Ag. department, the Science and Math wing, the Freshman hall, and the Board of Education building, dancing, chanting “Moo Moo Book Club,” proudly sporting their recommended book posters on strings around their necks.
This account is enough to remind anyone that kids don't hate reading if they can relate to and enjoy what they have in their hands.  They hate reading when they are stifled by expectations of reading and understanding The Classics.  And then it all changed with one email from an ignorant adult:
Remembering the email that stopped it all. Two years ago this week. A parent whose child had chosen to read Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles, and how that parent sent an email to the superintendent, the board members, the principals, and me saying that I taught “soft pornography.”
After that email, my curriculum coach told me—in the principal’s office, with him present—that she had to beg the superintendent not to shut down the Moo Moo Book Club, and that she quoted him when she said, “one more problem with books and the club is gone.” I remember asking if he could do that. And I remember her laughing. Then on October 10, 2008, I received the edict—on signed letterhead: “After investigating the situation and discussing it with Ms. X, I have decided that all books in question in your classroom library and on the Moo Moo Club reading list will be pulled and reviewed…” Every book. Class and club. And yet not a single official challenge had been filed, as board policy required for a book to be suspended.
And the situation got worse.  Risha Mullins was subjected to interrogation and intellectual abuse, in my opinion.  She was constantly under surveillance, had her book choices challenged at every turn, and was required to follow procedures that no other teacher was subjected to.  And yet it still got worse:
That’s when the letters to the editor started. The entire community suddenly had opinions of me and my books. As a result, the faculty got heated. Students came to me several times saying what this teacher and that had said about me and the “godless” books I forced students to read to “advance the ALA’s gay propaganda.” Yes, a student said that to me. Several district administrators, teachers, and lunch ladies stopped speaking to me after the letters in the paper. And one Sunday, while working in my room after church, I heard mumbling in the hallway. Parents were praying in the hallway outside my door. Defeated, I retreated to my room where I proceeded to work with Jimmy Buffett blaring in the background.
To be subjected to this kind of treatment is beyond an issue of fairness.  This is despicable.  A teacher is hired to help children learn, to introduce them to subjects that they can be interested in, and to engage them in critical thinking so they can go out into the world with a mind that can work independently of some rigid structure that some would use in the classroom.  She was later forced to resign and was unable to obtain another job for a while because of all the pressure and the negative press from the situation.  She did, however, have the opportunity to speak in a number of conferences and was backed up by the NCAC as well as a number of prominent authors (Chris Crutcher, Ellen Hopkins, etc).  Her story highlights the usefulness of YA books and shows how well students can perform when introduced to literature they want to read.
Last month, Montgomery County’s test scores came out. Reading went down six points. As I sit here right now, still remembering, I think of how my students’ predictive assessment scores had been amazing all year before the test. According to the data, my classes had surpassed the Honors-track sophomores’ reading scores. I’m remembering the discussions I had with my classes about peaceful resistance, about trying on the tests because it was our only way of showing the district that reading YA worked.
This story is tragic, but at least it brings greater publicity to the injustices of imposing moral boundaries on books.  Read the whole story.  It's inspiring and amazing.  And maybe even send off a note to Risha Mullins and let her know that she is appreciated and her bravery is inspiring. 

Thanks for reading!