David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green might have survived a challenge in the King’s Canyon Unified School District, but the way the challenge was handled has many free speech advocates concerned. This week, CBLDF-sponsored Kids Right to Read Project sent a letter to the Kings Canyon School Board to voice those concerns. CBLDF joined KRRP on the letter.
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.
Parents in the district demanded the removal of Black Swan Green from the high school curriculum, with one father calling the book “inappropriate, amoral and disgusting.” Upon receiving the complaint, school authorities removed the book from a high school library and told teachers to withhold it from classrooms. The book was neither reviewed nor was a clear challenge policy followed at the time of removal.
The case is further complicated by the fact that students were never asked to read the entire book. They were taught excerpts, none of which contained the “the most graphic scenes of lust and fornication,” that one parent claimed were found in the book. A review committee was convened, and they determined that the complaint was unfounded. However, the committee also decided that the material would not be taught this year, giving the challengers a short-term victory.
Even though the challenge was defeated, the act of keeping the material out of classrooms prior to review has many concerned. The school system removed the material without following a clear challenge policy, and keeping the material away from students this year opens the door to future challenges. From KRRP’s letter:
We remain troubled, however, by the premature and disruptive removal of the book from classrooms on the basis of objections that were ultimately determined to be unfounded and prior to the completion of a review process to assess its educational value. Such a process – removal first, review second – will encourage complaints, since those who object to materials may reasonably believe that the mere act of filing a complaint will remove the material at least temporarily. Instead, we urge the district to follow a clear policy that requires
a thorough review before removing material that has been selected by professional staff for its educational value. Any other approach threatens to compromise the educational experience of students and impose unreasonable burdens on teachers.
In the letter, KRRP strongly urges Kings Canyon to adopt a review policy that ensures “that no material is removed from the curriculum without a careful professional review of its literary and educational value.”
The entirety of KRRP’s letter follows.