Thursday, March 08, 2007

Howell, Michigan, Books not "Obscene"

Last week, we cheered the announcement by U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy III and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox that there is no merit in the complaints made in Howell, Michigan, that recently-challenged books by Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut, and others are "obscene," and that teachers are not, in fact, distributing "pornography to minors" by assigning them in class.

Why are we at AS IF! making such a big deal about this? Because this was a very big deal.

This was not just another book being challenged. Book challenges are a fair expression of freedom of speech; everyone has a right to make them, and every school and library should have a process in place to consider them.

But in this case, people need to understand: for having assigned classic books by acclaimed authors, these English teachers were being reported to the FBI, accused of distributing "pornography" to kids. If this travesty had been allowed to continue, these educational profressionals would have had to hire lawyers; their characters would have been brutally and maliciously attacked, they're careers would have been threatened, and they may very well have faced prison time. It's possible they would have had to register as "sex offenders" for the rest of their lives!

It's not hyperbole to say that this is like something out of 1984--it really IS something from 1984! There is literally criminalizing books, and education. And don't tell me if the FBI had investigated and a precedent had been created, even if they hadn't actually pressed charges, it wouldn't have had a HUGE chilling effect on what books can be taught in classrooms, and on the very nature of education in the US. The very notion of academic independence and intellectual freedom was at stake.

Had this been allowed to continue, this would not have been the America I know, the land of the free.

The National Coalition Against Censorship has released a press release supporting the decision not to consider throwing English teachers into jail for teaching classic literature:
We are pleased to see that the U.S. Attorney, Attorney General, and County Prosecutor have made the right decision in this case and deferred to the school officials, who had undertaken an appropriate and thoughtful review of the educational value of these books,” NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin said. She added, however, that “the case demonstrates the need to educate more parents about how the First Amendment applies in public schools.” ABFFE President Chris Finan added that U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy III had taken the case too far on March 1st when he sent Fyke’s letter to the FBI for investigation. "It is disturbing that it has taken the U.S. Attorney so long to conclude that he has no jurisdiction in this case,” he said. “It should never have been referred to the FBI in the first place."

While expressing satisfaction in the outcome of the Michigan case, Bertin and Finan noted that there has been a rash of censorship incidents in recent weeks involving books used in public schools. Parents have challenged Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk in Missouri Valley, Iowa and Carolyn Mackler’s Vegan Virgin Valentine, Eddie de Oliveira’s Lucky, Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes, Robert Cormier’s Beyond the Chocolate War, and Kevin Henkes’ Newbery Honor-winning Olive’s Ocean in Duval County, FL. In addition, school librarians have hesitated to purchase this year’s Newbery award-winning book, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, for their school collections because the word, “scrotum,” appears on the book’s opening page.


Blogger Karen said...

I'm from Michigan and Howell is known as a racist city. The KKK has roots there. It's not a place that a minority ever wants to run out of gas at.

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please! This area is not minority friendly. I have witnessed with my own eyes the abuse and discrimination of a wonderful Hispanic family! When a 9yr old boy played on the local Howell junior football league, he was verbally abused, mentally abused and discriminated against terribly. The coach called him racist names, made fun of him around the other kids, teased him that he would get to play, and then laughed at him when he asked if he could go in the game. All the other coaches and parents saw the behavior (including myself) and did nothing. I did speak with his mother and let her know what I saw during practices. She was also being treated poorly, her family was being terrorized at their home, racist letters being dropped off, people banging on their kids bedroom windows in the middle of the night, banging on their doors, this went on for years. Police would do NOTHING!!! She had no where to turn. The local Chiropractor ran the league and allowed this racist behavior to go on for years. Very Good Ole boys town. Minorities beware.

6:40 AM  
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