Saturday, March 31, 2012

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

Book controversy shines light on obscure Rochester committee

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

Parents won't pursue challenge of 'Tango' book

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

Signing off for the month of March!

Thanks for Reading.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

In the News This Week...

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

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


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

For Immediate Release
Contact: Charles Brownstein

Criminal Charges Dropped In Canada Customs Manga Case

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

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Censoring Free Speech

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

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

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

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