Gilbert, Arizona, public school system is once again in the news for a book challenge. This time it is Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-Prize winning seminal novel Beloved. The Gilbert school board recently received more than 100 letters from members of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children urging the district to pull the title from reading lists.
On Tuesday, board members met to discuss the book and in a 4-0 vote decided to keep the novel on the reading lists for advanced placement classes. Despite the letter-writing campaign against the book, none of the complainants attended the meeting. Superintendent Christina Kishimoto commented on the board’s decision, noting that the book’s inclusion on the list doesn’t necessarily make it required reading: “If a parent requests a book be replaced, a book with similar themes and topics would be offered to the student.”
Not backing down in the face of pressure and keeping this book as part of the school’s AP curriculum is a big step for the Gilbert Public School system. You might remember last year that the Gilbert board decided to physically redact two pages from the popular biology textbook Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections 7th Edition for factual information regarding abortion and contraception, citing Arizona state law 15-115: Preference for childbirth and adoption as justification. After complaints from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Arizona Department of Education, American Civil Liberties Union, and other free speech advocates, the school district aborted the plan.
This time, the Gilbert school board stood up for free speech and the fundamental right for their students to have access to an enriching education. As board member Jill Humphrey’s said, “Our goal is to graduate critical thinkers.” Another board member, Julie Smith, — although not the book’s biggest fan — acknowledged the value of the title as part of the reading list and called out protesters’ unfounded pornography claims saying, “It is not pornography. I recommend that if you disagree with me, go get the book and read it.”
Sadly, as we see in many of these cases, protesters objected to specific points in a way that would suggest that they didn’t read the entire book or that they resorted to superficial reading, impulsively reacting to what one complaining parent notes as the “disturbing and inappropriate” plot points and not the greater literary message. Despite 100+ complaints, the Gilbert school board supported the right to read.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!