A recent spate of book challenges and bans highlight a growing concern that the freedom to read is under attack in our public schools. From middle schools to higher education, books have been attacked across the country. In many recent challenges, the book have been successfully restored to library shelves (sometimes with CBLDF’s help). In some cases, the fate of the books — and even the institution’s funding — remains precarious.
Let’s take a look at some recent cases.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Any reader of the CBLDF blog is no stranger to this case. In South Caorlina, a battle is being waged in the state legislature. The stakes are the freedom to read and the academic freedom of public universities in the state. The legislature is considering punitive budget cuts for teaching two LGBTQ-themes books. The budget cuts specifically affect two schools: College of Charleston, which had used Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home in a voluntary summer reading program for incoming freshman, and the University of South Carolina Upstate, which had used Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio for a similar program. Neither school required students to read the books, but lawmakers are on the attack regardless.
Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barth DeClements
In an unqualified victory for the right to read, a book review committee in the Rosemount – Apple Valley – Eagan public school system in Minnesota has voted 10 – 0 to keep Barthe DeClements’s Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You in the district’s elementary school libraries.Parent Jenna Boutain filed a complaint against the book over the use of the word “retarded,” which she considers hurtful language. Her daughter had been given the book as part of an accelerated reader program in the district. The school offered to restrict access to the book for Boutain’s children, and Boutain agreed but she filed a request to remove it from elementary school libraries in the district anyway.
CBLDF joined a coalition led by the National Coalition Against Censorship to defend the book. CBLDF joins coalition efforts like these to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye was returned to library shelves last week at Durant High School after a review committee denied a parent’s request to have the book removed. Michele Williams challenged the book’s presence in the school library last month after reading hyperbolic accounts of its contents and the author’s intent via social media. Although some members of the school board said they shared her concerns, they did follow district policy by appointing a review committee comprised of a librarian, principal, counselor, teacher, and parent. After reading the book in its entirety, the committee “determined [it] was suitable for the high-school age range.”
This isn’t the first challenge for The Bluest Eye, and CBLDF has joined coalitions to help defend it.
Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
In what is certainly one of the more ironic cases we’ve seen lately, a would-be censor Gilford, New Hampshire, parent was arrested during a school board meeting over his challenge of Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Parent William Baer used his subsequent 15 seconds of fame to claim his First Amendment rights were violated, when in fact, he was busy trying to supersede the First Amendment in getting the book banned.
Baer challenged the book over a passage on page 313, claiming that it “reads like a transcript for a triple-X porno movie,” when it actually describes a sexual assault. Baer became combative during the school board meeting, refusing to follow procedures and allow other parents to speak. He was arrested and released on $700 bail. Fortunately, the school district does not seem inclined to remove the book, as alternative assignments are readily available.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
The Brainerd, Minnesota, school board voted to keep John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men — a school stalwart and frequently challenged book itself — in the school’s curriculum. Parent Doug Kern filed a complaint against the book, citing profanity and racial slurs as the foundation for his argument against the book’s inclusion in classrooms. In response, the district’s Resource Selection Committee upheld the use of the book, but Kern appealed the decision to the school board. During the meeting, Kern provided a list of 108 profanities and 12 racial slurs in the book that he found offensive. But he was the only person in attendance who spoke against the book; three residents spoke in favor of the book during the meeting. Local parent Ed Shaw argued that “If we ban what offends someone, we won’t have anything left in the curriculum, because everyone will inevitably be offended by something.”
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
In a comedy of errors, the Wilson County, Tennessee, school board unilaterally banned The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon over one word: fuck. They immediately turned around and rescinded the ban, citing possible violation of procedure, not the freedom to read, as the reason behind the move.
The Curious Incident centers on a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, who decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor’s dog. It is one of the few books to feature the first-person perspective of a protagonist who has a social disability, and it received multiple awards and critical acclaim. The book has been a fixture on reading lists around the country because of the unique perspective it offers. It was required reading at Mt. Juliet High School, Wilson Central High School, and Lebanon High School, but parents and students are able to select a replacement if they aren’t comfortable with the material.