Wednesday, June 21, 2006

District Requires That All Books be "Approved" by Principals

The squeaky wheels in Raleigh, North Carolina, have just got their grease: administrators are now requiring that middle and high school teachers get permission from principals to teach any book not on the district's approved reading lists, and they must also now provide reading lists of these books to parents:
Teachers will have to fill out forms requesting permission from their principal...[explaining] why they want to use a book and provide reviews from professional sources. They also will have to identify any potential challenges such as objectionable language, sexuality, violence or cultural/ethnic concerns.
Why has this change come about?
The reading issue came up in April when some parents and Called2Action, a local Christian activist group, complained to the school board about students being required to read three books -- "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, "Beloved" by Toni Morrison and "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier.

The parents objected to what they called the "vulgar and sexually explicit language" in the books and said families should have been warned about them.
Needless to say, I think this is a terrible idea--but not because I don't want parents to have information about the books their kids are reading. That might be a real concern, but it's also a non-problem. That information is already available to any parent simply by asking their kid what they're reading! This new policy just creates a huge, pointless bureaucracy. Why a "solution" to a non-problem? Because it's not really about keeping parents informed at all. This is about intimidating teachers so they that don't teach anything that anyone might consider "controversial" in any way--and so administrators won't have to deal with the headaches caused by far-right protest groups like Called2Action.

But good luck with that. Book banners and book challengers have a nasty habit of moving the bar. This year, it's The Chocolate War that they're upset about, because it's not on a pre-approved "list," or because it has swear words. But next year, they'll be targeting others books, books that are on the pre-approved list, or that are "offensive" in some other way, because the characters don't submit to authority, or are perceived to be disrespectful to a certain brand of religion. Today, it's The Color Purple, but mark my words: next year, it will be The Great Gatsby, or Of Mine and Men, or Shakespeare. And the consequence, of course, is that the whole point of literature, which is to expose readers to diverse and challenging ideas, is lost.

But the last word must go to one of the teachers who must operate under these new rules:
"It's an insult to teachers to require them to do this," said Sharon Winzeler, co-chairwoman of the English department at Broughton High School in Raleigh. "You rely on us to be professionals."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Concerned Women Hoping to "Audit" Gay Books

"Are your local schools promoting homosexuality?"

That's the question being asked by the far-right activist group Concerned Women of America and its director, honorary "woman" Robert Knight.

Concerned citizens can find an answer to their question by employing a ‘School Risk Audit’, a check-list of "gay agenda" risk factors created by a coalition of very influential conservative activist groups. And one of their big red flags is, of course, the presence of gay-themed books in school libraries and curriculums.

On a personal note, I looked at their list of "dangerous" gay-themed books and saw that it contains pretty much every such book ever written...except my books, Geography Club and its sequel The Order of the Poison Oak.

I'd love to be able to report that they don't find my books dangerous, but alas, I think it's more likely that they just cribbed their list from a list of gay-themed books recommended by the ALA...which also includes every gay-themed ever written except mine (which, frankly, stung a little when I first saw it, a little like being the only participant to not even receive a "participant" ribbon in the spoon-egg race!).

But I digress...

Are your local schools promoting homosexuality? Probably not, but hopefully an increasing number of them are incorporating literature that appeals and is relevant to all their students, even their gay and lesbian ones.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How is an Anti-Communist Like a Communist?

Today's New York Times reports that the Miami-Dade School Board "voted 6 to 3 Wednesday to ban the book, 'Vamos a Cuba,' and its English version, 'A Visit to Cuba,' from its libraries, against the recommendation of two review committees and the school system's superintendent."

Why? Because "a parent objected to its contents, saying it contains deceptive information."

Among the "misleading" information are such controversial statements as "People in Cuba eat, work, and go to school like you do."

One of the six board members who voted to override the recommendations of two committees--one at the school level and another at the district level--explained that the decision was not a political one. It's simply a matter of accuracy. "We want it replaced with a book that talks about the facts of what Cuba is today. Cuba is a dictatorship, and we want the material in our libraries to be factual, not misrepresented."

The book is part of a twenty-four volume series, which Publisher's Weekly describes as "informative and colorful," offering information "in simple statements without commentary." As a result of the school board's decision, thirty-three sets of all twenty-four volumes will be removed from the Miami-Dade elementary school libraries.

Because in America, we value freedom.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How Is a Book Like a Potato Chip?

I think this Agape Press article, "Poison in our Libraries," does a pretty good job of inadvertantly exposing the real issue behind many book bannings. I was struck by one paragraph in particular:
Laurie Taylor is the mother of two school age children. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Like most parents, she cares about her kids' education. So, when she discovered the school library had a sexually explicit book, It's Perfectly Normal, aimed at elementary age students, she did what any concerned parent would do: she went to the administration and asked that it be removed, along with two other books with similar themes.
Maybe it's just me, but disliking a book and immediately trying to then get it removed from a library does not strike me as what "any" concerned parent would do. Talk with the teacher and the librarian? Sure. Forbid his or her own child from reading the book? Maybe. But to immediately try to ban a book from a library because you don't like the content? To me, this woman doesn't sound like a "good parent," but rather, a fanatic, especially coupled with the fact that she then tried to get "dozens" more books banned.

Speaking of which, I thought another part of the article was interesting too:
At first, school system leaders seemed to agree with Taylor, and placed the books in a "parent library" section with other books geared more to parents than to children. But when Taylor found dozens more books with sexually explicit content, and asked that they not be made available to students without parental approval, the school reneged. It overturned its earlier decision and voted to leave all of the books on the shelves with unrestricted access by the students.
In other words, it sounds like the school tried to appease this woman, only to discover that when it comes to book banners, books are often like potato chips: one is never enough. If the library agrees to ban or restrict this book, well, then why not this book too? And this book, and this book, and so on and so on. But as I've blogged before, who gets to decide what goes in a library? If every parent gets a veto over every book, libraries would be effectively bare, and they would certainly be stripped of absolutely anything that might be interesting or relevant to a large number of students.

For the record, I should point out that the industry reviews of the book that started this hoopla, It's Perfectly Normal, unananimously say that it is age-appropriate, and a good choice for school libraries. But they also point out that it is frank in its approach to sexual education, and it is non-judgemental, especially on topics such as homosexuality.

In short, this openness, and the library's giving access to age-appropriate information, is the real issue here, not anything to do with "poison".