Thursday, July 28, 2011

Scroggins Strikes Again

It is a sad day in the city of Republic, MO.  Three books that were targeted by the infamous Dr. Scroggins (you can read my previous post on Scroggins and his horrible grammar and opinions) and two were removed from not only the curriculum, but from library shelves as well (from  The two books removed were Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut) and Twenty Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler).  Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson was allowed to stay, much to the disappointment of Dr. Scroggins, who claims that Speak is soft pornography.

The reason these books were challenged?  "The resident who filed the original complaint targeted these three books because 'they teach principles contrary to the Bible.'"  Um, wow...  In the article Scroggins states: “I congratulate them for doing what’s right and removing the two books.  It’s unfortunate they chose to keep the other book.”  Not only am I incredibly disappointed in the actions taken by Scroggins to have important works of literature removed from schools, but I am also increasingly disappointed in the actions of school boards when voting on these sorts of issues: "It is important to note that, out of the four School Board Members, only one has actually read all three books."
Melissa Duvall, the only board member to have read all three books proposed to be banned, said the school board's vote was more about policy and less a criticism of the books in question. (From
This behaviour from school boards is incomprehensible and irresponsible.  How can school boards expect students to make their own informed decisions if they are not willing to do the same themselves.  By not reading the books in question and saying the vote is about policy is ignorance, pure and simple.  If the vote were about policy, the books would be used as examples in an argument, but in this case, the books are the objects in question, therefore making the vote ABOUT THE BOOKS.  If this were so, a policy would have been voted on, not books.  And since it was about the books, Ms. Duvall, EVERY member of the board should have been REQUIRED to read them!  How is this so difficult to understand at the administrative level!

I will stop writing now for fear that my keyboard will melt under the fury of my quickly typing fingers.  To leave off on a slightly more "fun" note, I am including, below, a passage from The Rejectionist (a site no longer available) in which the writings of Mr. Scroggins were put under a microscope and then ridiculed merrily passage by passage.  Enjoy!  And comment!

Thanks for listening.

Scroggins wrote, about Twenty Boy Summer: 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.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Inmate's Right to Read Upheld, but Policy Still in Need of Change

The following is directly from a short piece in the Baltimore Sun this week, an article on the decision of Hagerstown prison to allow an inmate to read an autobiography about Marshall "Eddie" Conway, a Baltimore Black Panther.
Our view: Correction authorities make right call in reversing ban of inmate's book from the Hagerstown prison, but policy still needs to be changed. 
Maryland corrections officials made the right call today when they lifted the ban on a book written by a inmate Marshall "Eddie" Conway, but the troublesome — and almost certainly unconstitutional — policies that led to the banning in the first place remain. The book "Marshall Law —The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther," is no longer prohibited reading at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, but the prison system is sticking by its assertion that it can restrict inmates' speech rights beyond what is necessary to maintain security. 
Originally prison officials said the autobiography had been banned because the author and the inmates whose photos appear in the book failed to notify the victims of their crimes of the book's publication. A lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union had questioned this procedure, saying giving the victims tacit veto power over an inmate's right to speak out is a violation of the First Amendment.
While prisons are around for the purposes of punishment and reintegration of people into society with a hopefully less criminally-minded way of life, I don't quite understand how keeping certain books out of the hands of inmates is at all helpful.  Late last year I noted two other instances of books being kept away from inmates: The Bible-only policy in a South Carolina jail and the confiscation of Harry Potter in the Plainfield correctional facility.  As I said in my post on Harry Potter:
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!
I can understand the removal of certain texts perhaps, but the removal of books such as Harry Potter, autobiographies, and Bibles that aren't softcover seems a little bit ridiculous. It is good, in my opinion, that organizations such as the ACLU are around to take notice of these situations and defend First Amendment rights, even when prisons and correctional facilities want to pretend they don't apply to inmates.

What are your thoughts on books in prisons?  Do you think that books should be confiscated for any specific reasons?  I would be interested to see what you all have to say.

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

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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Richland Reverses Previous Ban on "Part-Time Indian"

The Richland school district reversed their decision to ban The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian after finding out that not all members of the Instructional Materials Committee had read the text.  After reading the book for themselves (which the probably should have done in the first place!) two board members changed their minds and called for a re-vote, which is only allowed if a member of the majority vote asks.  Rick Donahoe, one of the board members, said that he actually found the book to be "outstanding."  Mary Guay also changed her vote.  The lone dissenter was Phyllis Strickler kept her vote against the book.  But, two in the crowd at the last meeting still spoke out against the novel, according to
David Garber read from a Wall Street Journal article critical of coarse themes and language in young-adult novels that names Absolutely True as an example. Garber is a member of the IMC and of a group that rates novels based on how much of their contents it finds offensive. 
Dave Hedengren questioned if board members lost the ability to know when a book went "over the mark," and equated some of the books taught in Richland schools with internet pornography, which is electronically blocked from school computers. 
The district cannot meet the exact standards of every parent in its votes on novels, which is why the last say over what a student reads is with the parent, Jansons said. 
"That's why we have the opt-out policy," he said. "I trust the process we're using."
After the results of the new vote were given, Guay and  Donahoe assured everyone that they would be reading every novel they vote on.  While I do applaude their decision to reverse the vote, I'm not sure why the reading of contested novels is just now being lauded as a good idea.  Has voting on the opinions of others ever been a very good way of doing it?  Especially, in this case, a Review Committee on which all members don't even bother to read the books in question?

If the board had simply read the book to begin with, perhaps all the political hearsay and controversy wouldn't have been as big of a deal as it is now.  But what do I know?  I'm just a guy who reads books.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What are libraries for?

Libraries are gigantic holding tanks of information on a vast array of topics, available for anyone.  At least, that's what they're supposed to be.  And many are definitely still doing their best to make a variety of materials available to the public, but that's not to say there isn't a struggle at times.

Tulsa library, according to an article on, receives about a dozen complaints each year, or 45 complaints since 2008.  But it's not all bad news, says Laurie Sundborg, chief operating officer at the library.  She goes on:
"We appreciate when someone does this [files a complaint] because we can review our decision to include the item in our collection and convey to customers what public libraries stand for in the community.  We represent a diversity of viewpoints in the community and the people who make up our community.  
"As a parent, I may have something I'm completely comfortable with while a parent next to me may not. We encourage each family and each parent to take an active role with their child and talk about the values they want passed down to them." 
It's good to know that some libraries at least have a positive perspective on challenges and that there is a process in place with which to confront such challenges.  It is also good to see that there is still support for the idea that libraries are for providing materials of all sorts to people of all sorts and not just keeping items that won't cause too much fuss.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Gloucester Public Library removed a display of LGBT related materials during Pride Month after a few patrons and one politician expressed feelings of discomfort.  According to an article in, the display was taken down two thirds of the way through Pride month after "A few library patrons complained, and county Supervisor Gregory Woodard objected to the idea of 'promoting gay rights.'"

Promoting gay rights made a few people uncomfortable and so the display was taken down:
It's the queasiness of people like Woodard with people who happen to be gay that ruins even innocuous public expressions of what should be, yes, pride.  
It's Woodard who chose to sabotage a display in a public library based on his own discomfort with members of the public who are different from him.   
At least one member of the Board of Trustees spoke out against the decision to take down the display.  Jody Perkins stated that she was "not happy the library would 'cave in to bigoted individuals."
She's also not happy library staff ignored protocol for removing an exhibit or materials based on complaints. The library's policy manual directs a complainant to fill out a form and discuss it with the library director. If that doesn't resolve things, trustees meet for a final decision.  
Instead, after four or so complaints trickled into the library and an anonymous message appeared on the county administrator's answering machine, staff took the exhibit down last week.
Sure, there were complaints and the Library Director felt it would "ease the concerns" to take down the display, but that doesn't excuse the fact that protocol was ignored and the opinions of a few individuals was enough to get rid of a display meant for an audience that also uses the library.  Everyone should be able to find materials at a local library and the opinions of four or five people should not be enough to keep materials away from an entire people group that seeks representation in library collections.

If you go into a library and find something that makes you uncomfortable, instead of immediately trying to get it removed, why not put it back on the shelf and just don't read it?  I can't answer this because that's not how I think.  But I am glad that more often than not, libraries follow Tulsa's example and follow procedures to address concerns, but ultimately leave (most) materials in their collections for those in the community who want access to them.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How to teach about censorship in the (post-secondary) classroom...

I was recently able to attend the 2011 Children's Literature Association Conference in Roanoke, VA.  The conference was on a variety of topics all over the map, but on the last day a syllabus exchange was held, in which a number of teachers gave talks on how to teach about censorship and book challenges.  The following is from the syllabus exchange and was sent out by Edwina Helton afterward.  Included are some facts and statistics as well as a few exercises to use with students, and some definitions from the National Council of Teachers of English that can hopefully clear up some ideas about what is meant by censorship in most cases.  I hope you find this useful!  Feel free to write in the comments if you have ever taught classes on censorship or if you have been in a class on censorship, and please let me know about your experiences!

Cultural Context and Censorship

There are times when a book selected by a librarian or teacher for school study provokes criticism from the community or parents.  In some cases, a parent asks that their child not read a particular book, and this request can be accommodated.  Sometimes, a community member or parent requests that no child be permitted to read a particular book.  This is a much larger problem.  The suppression of reading material is censorship.  Choosing a book that we like or matches our taste in a non-offensive manner is selection.  “Censorship is the attempt to deny others the right to read something that the censor thinks is offensive...  selection is the process of choosing appropriate material for readers according to literary and educational judgments” (409).  The controversy surrounding many books is often rooted in an explicit attempt to impose censorship by limiting student access to a book grounded in religious and political views.  Many national organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of English, have worked to develop strong guidelines and polices on censorship.  Helpful documents to support parents and teachers in contending with book challenges are outlined in NCTE’s The Students’ Right to Read (1972) and The Students’ Right to Know (1982).  These documents offer specific guidelines to follow when a book is challenged. 

NCTE offers five means for distinguishing between guidelines for selection and censorship:

1.    Censorship excludes specific materials; selection includes specific materials to give breadth.
2.    Censorship is negative; selection is affirmative.
3.    Censorship intends to control the others’ reading; selection intends to advise others’ reading.
4.    Censorship seeks to indoctrinate and limit access to ideas and information, whereas selections seeks to educate and increase access to ideas and information.
5.    Censorship looks at specific aspects and parts of a work in isolation, whereas selection examines the relationship of parts to each other and to a work as a whole (1983).

Suggested procedures for contending with book challenges include:

1.    Establish book selection procedures before the censors come.  Make your procedures public.  Keep the community informed and involved.
2.    Involve professional librarians, teachers, parents, administrators, and lay community members in the book selection process.
3.    When complaints are registered, have them put in writing.
4.    Ask the person who makes the complaint to read the entire book and put the incident or language in question in context.
5.    Meet the person who makes the complaint to discuss alternatives.

From: Bernice Cullinan and Lee Galda’s Literature and the Child, pages 409-10.

Activity on Censorship

In this activity, you will gain experience in exploring the significance of censorship using a formerly banned text as a site of your study. 

Part I:
Read your book carefully.  Create a dialog with the following characters:

A.    Unhappy citizen who wishes the book removed from children’s access
B.    Parent who reads the book for the first time before attending the meeting
C.    School principle who is strongly against censorship
D.    Administrator concerned with public opinion on the school

In your dialog activity, your characters are having a meeting to make a decision about your controversial book.  Carefully create voices from the position you are depicting to show the perspective of the role you are playing.  Your goal is to come to some decision by the end of your meeting.

Part II:
After creating your dialog, discuss what you learned from your activity.  On a separate piece of paper:

1.    List your observations and what you learned through your dialog activity.
2.    What is your position on the book.  Is it potentially offensive?  What cultural values are advocated?
3.    Offer your analysis of the book’s meaning with attention to the artistic strategies.
4.    Review the handout of book reviews on your book.  Do they support the position you took on the book?  How do the book reviews complicate your reading of the book?