The mother of a student at Markham Intermediate School, who wishes not to be named, had Yusei Matsui’s best-selling manga Assassination Classroom pulled from the library shelves after her daughter borrowed the books. According to Annalise Knudson writing for SILive.com, “Citing recent school shootings, [the mother] explained that she is worried that the books could be available in other schools. She added that they contain sensitive content and profanities.”
In the U.S. where school shootings are not just a fear but a devastating reality, the title for the comic sci-fi manga series is unfortunately misunderstood by many unwilling to delve into its pages. Assassination Classroom is not about the real-life violence that plagues schools, but rather a class of misfit students pledged with saving the world by killing their alien super-villain teacher (who has already blown up a decent chunk of the moon).
Danielle Filson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education (DOE), told SILive.com “We have policies in place to ensure that our school libraries stock high-quality, age-appropriate books. I.S. 51 leadership met with this parent after she raised her concern, and decided to remove the book from the library.”
The DOE also said that Assassination Classroom isn’t rated for middle school students and isn’t available for other middle schools in Staten Island. National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), wrote eloquently about some of the inherent problems with book ratings when they were imploring Common Sense Media to adjust their metrics in favor of a more pedagogical approach. NCAC warned, “Ratings take material out of context and deny the message, intent, and value of the book as a whole.” They also counseled,
“Reading has intrinsic educational value. Children become discerning learners and thinkers by reading broadly. There are many positive aspects of reading, even in the context of complex and challenging books.”
It seems clear that this situation that the parent and the school leadership took the manga and its title out of context, likening it to the genuine epidemic of school shootings, even though it is a fantastical work of comedy and science fiction that has nothing to do with that problem. And while a parent has every right to say they don’t want their child reading something called Assassination Classroom, they don’t have that right to make that book unavailable to other students. Some of whom may find the storylines of students who don’t excel at school being earth’s only hope and of a tentacled super villain teacher being the first to believe in this underdog class resonating to their own experience.
New York City’s DOE has guidelines in place for librarians if items are challenged in their collections. It’s unclear from the DOE’s statement whether a librarian was present when discussing the manga with the mother of the student who checked out the book. However, according to the guidelines set forth for librarians, a priority should have been placed on intellectual freedom. Here are the suggested collection development procedures from the NYC School Librarian Guidebook:
If a complaint is made, the librarian /library teacher or principal will follow the following procedures:
- Have a conversation with the complainant to listen carefully to his or her objections. Be courteous, help the complainant determine all facts related to the issue, state the rationale for making the material available through the library, but make no commitments for any actions.
- If the complainant is not satisfied, invite him to file his objections in writing and offer him a copy of “Patron’s Request for Reconsideration of a Work” (see APPENDIX A) to be submitted to the principal for consideration by a Materials Evaluation Committee. The principal will ensure that all appropriate staff members are informed about the possibility of a challenge.
- Upon receipt of a written request for reconsideration, the principal shall inform the Office of Library Services, who will designate a Materials Evaluation Committee composed of the following representatives selected from the Region, but not the school with the challenge:
- A representative from the central Office of Library Services (chair)
- A representative from building level administration
- A librarian or library teacher
- Two classroom teachers familiar with the subject matter of the material involved
- Two parents
- A student, where appropriate
- No material shall be removed from use until the Materials Evaluation Committee has made a final decision.
- Within two weeks the Materials Evaluation Committee shall:
- Examine the referred materials
- Check general acceptance of the materials by reading reviews
- Weigh values and faults against each other and form opinions based on the materials as a whole
- Meet to discuss the material and to prepare a report (See APPENDIX B)
- File a copy of the report in the school and central administrative offices
- Send a copy of the report to the complainant
- The findings of the committee will be implemented
- The decision may be appealed to the Executive Director of Literacy and AIS
It seems that these guidelines were either not adopted by Markham Intermediate School or not followed. And though few parents will probably stand up and fight for this manga, it’s a shame that for some student at the school who may have found Assassination Classroom a gateway into comics and reading, it will not be on the shelf for them to discover. As Lori Henderson wrote in her review for School Library Journal
“Underneath the veneer of violence and comedy is a story about a bunch of misfit kids getting the attention they deserve…The kids are never in danger from either Koro Sensei, who has promised not to hurt them, or the weapons. The bb-guns and knifes are made from a special plastic that can only hurt Koro Sensei…But it’s the connection that Koro Sensei makes with the kids, by really caring about them and helping them to learn and be better, whether it’s at communicating or assassinating, that makes this series really shine. When everyone else has given up on these kids, it’s the superpowered, tentacled weirdo who shows them they are worth something, and sometimes that all that is needed for kids to excel.”
Want to read Yusei Matsui’s Assassination Classroom? There’s still a few hand-signed copies available for CBLDF supporters! Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to keep up with First Amendment news as it happens!