Committee Recommends Against Restoring Books in Florida Middle Schools

June 19, 2019
By

Beloved Toni MorrisonBack in February, CBLDF reported on a political group in Florida demanding the removal of 14 books from Marion County School District. Reports have just come in that the committee has finished reading and discussing the works officially challenged, and their recommendations, along with those of the Superintendent, have been given to the school board to make the final decision. Though in all nine cases, they recommend retention on the high school level, it appears the middle school libraries will not fair so well.

Of the 14 books that It’s Your Tea Party, Florida demanded removed from all schools in Marion County, only ten were actually available for loan in the libraries. Of that ten, only nine were officially challenged, and so the committee only read and made recommendations on the nine. Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier immediately removed any copies of the books on the list from middle school shelves, saying they were not “age appropriate” but opted to leave them in high school libraries, as she claimed not to believe in banning books.

Nine Complaints

The books reviewed by the committee and Superintendent Maier, and their recommendations are as follows:

  • Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher (available at Forest and Lake Weir high schools)
    Committee: Allow in high school libraries.
    Maier: Supports.
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (available at all Marion high schools)
    Committee: Allow in middle and high libraries.
    Maier: Supports.
  • The Women of Brewster’s Place by Gloria Naylor (available at North Marion High)
    Committee: Allow books in high school libraries.
    Maier: Supports.
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (available at all Marion high schools)
    Committee: Allow books in high school libraries.
    Maier: Supports.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison: (available at all Marion high schools)
    Committee: Allow in high school libraries, case-by-case in middle schools.
    Maier: Only in high school.
  • Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia (available at Dunnellon High School and West Port High School)
    Committee: Allow books in middle and high libraries.
    Maier: Only in high school.
  • Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan (available at all Marion high schools except Dunnellon)
    Committee: Allow books in middle and highs libraries.
    Maier: Supports.
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin: (available at all Marion high schools)
    Committee: Allow in high school libraries.
    Maier: Supports.
  • Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (available at Dunnellon, North Marion, Vanguard and West Port high schools)
    Committee: Allow books in high school libraries.
    Maier: Supports.

Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

Superintendent Maier spoke of her pride in the committee’s execution of school board policy while handling these reviews, saying that the works were extensively discussed via email and in person. Still, Maier’s own recommendations seem harsher than the committee’s in some cases.

Before the review took place, Maier told the media that she “found it difficult to defend [Toni Morrison’s Beloved] educational value at the middle school level, as well as in ‘some’ high school settings.”

For the committee to admit that there may be reasons to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in middle school settings, and for Maier to categorically deny that, after all, their supposed discussion about these works, makes her decision seem like self-fulfilling prophecy, and lacks the insight to offer her district’s students the same intellectual freedom she boasts of being offered as a child.

Also before the review took place, Maier spoke of an incident of book banning she was affected by in the fifth grade. Maier says she often brought her own books to school to read in her free time, and one day she brought Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family with her. Her teacher took the book from her, citing it inappropriate for her age. When Maier’s mother heard about this later that day after school, she went and confronted the teacher, explaining that as the mother, those decisions were hers to make. She got her daughter’s book returned to her.

What’s striking about this anecdote, is that if her mom only went by recommended age of books or pedagogical worth in a fifth-grade curriculum, she might not have bothered to get that classic American story back for her daughter. Roots is primarily taught in high school. Maier’s mother trusted her daughter’s own judgment and must have understood the merit in her avid reading habits. For Maier to say now, 40 year’s later that she can’t defend the pedagogical merit of Beloved by Toni Morrison for middle school, goes against what her own mother fought for so many years ago. A book’s merit cannot be seen by those staring at the book’s cover or the Florida core requirements, it can only be seen by those reading the text. And as someone who was obviously touched by her mother’s fierce commitment to her own intellectual freedom, she should have stood and defended those students who depended on her to protect their own.

Still, the final decision rests with the school board, so there is one last chance, however small, that the majority of these books will not be withheld from middle school libraries. As a society, we should be praising children interested in reading beyond their prescribed shelves, and not working against their rights and interests by banning books that adults find upsetting or mature. Each student, each reader, each person is different and libraries are meant to be a bastion for everyone to find books that speak to them – especially for those non-average students, who seek knowledge and voraciously devour books, to be able to stumble across life-changing works of fiction without being told it’s not for them.

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