Two New Jersey High Schools Restrict Fun Home

February 20, 2019
By

funhomeTwo High Schools in North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District New Jersey have chosen to restrict access to Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home. Administrators based their decision to examine the best-selling comic on a challenge to at another High School, likely one that wasn’t held up. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, co-sponsors of National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids Right to Read Project (KRRP) wrote a letter to Superintendent Jeffrey Bender defending Bechdel’s acclaimed memoir and the students at North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District’s right to read.

In the interest of preserving intellectual freedom and equal protection in your district, we urge you to respect your students’ constitutional rights and return Fun Home to library shelves where all who choose to read it may do so. We also encourage you to familiarize your administration with the relevant district policies in order to ensure that future decisions about instructional materials are based on pedagogical motives, rather than ideological ones.

National Coalition Against Censorship reported school administrators at the two high schools objected to one out of the 233 pages in Fun Home, which undoubtedly removes the imagery out of the context of the whole. The administrators decided to ignore their own district’s policies and limit circulation only to “students with explicit parental permission.”

From the KRRP letter to Superintendent Bender,

Not only does restricting LGBTQ books like “Fun Home” likely violate the First Amendment, it further stigmatizes and marginalizes LGBTQ youth and fosters an atmosphere of intolerance. Fun Home is so highly regarded for LGBTQ teens that “Seventeen” magazine included the book on its list of ‘13 Beautiful Books Every LGBTQ Teen Should Read.’

In addition, as you may be aware, on Jan. 31, 2019, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed legislation requiring boards of education to include instruction, and adopt instructional materials, that accurately portray political, economic, and social contributions of LGBTQ people. As a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant-winning author of an acclaimed work that redefined the memoir genre and became the basis for a Tony-award winning Best Musical, author/illustrator Alison Bechdel is a pioneering LGBT contributor worthy of study and inclusion in your libraries.

Fun Home is considered by many to be an exemplary graphic novel and memoir which is not just cannon for LGBTQIA contributions in the comics world, but a critical piece of creative nonfiction in every realm of literature. The Kirkus’ Starred Review of Fun Home declared “Bechdel…takes her formal cues from comic books, she receives more inspiration from the likes of Proust and Joyce as she attempts to unravel the knots of her family’s twisted emotional history.”

Certainly, there is merit to allowing access to a work that stretches students vocabulary at a time they are seeking high scores on their SATs. Sean Wiley of the New York Times wrote,

If the theoretical value of a picture is still holding steady at a thousand words, then Alison Bechdel’s slim yet Proustian graphic memoir, “Fun Home,” must be the most ingeniously compact, hyper-verbose example of autobiography to have been produced. It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions, with panels that combine the detail and technical proficiency of R. Crumb with a seriousness, emotional complexity and innovation completely its own. Then there are the actual words… In 232 pages this memoir sent me to the dictionary five separate times (to look up “bargeboard,” “buss,” “scutwork,” “humectant” and “perseverated”).

By limiting the circulation to only those with “explicit parental permission” they are taking the memoir away from those too uncomfortable to ask their parents for permission. They are taking Fun Home away from students afraid that mentioning the desire to borrow an LGBTQIA book might alert their parents to questions they aren’t ready to share. Administrators are taking this important work from those teenagers whose parents have different values from themselves, or parents who are more concerned with optics than content. While any parent can direct their individual child’s reading, putting undue restrictions on all students reading access is an erosion of their rights, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund hopes that the administrators in New Jersey reverse their decision on this important comic.

Check out the full letter below.

KRRPFunHome by on Scribd

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