VICTORY: Censors Fail in Of Mice and Men Challenge

In a 4-1 vote, the Coeur d’Alene School Board rejected a review committee’s recommendation to restrict John Steinbeck’s classic novel Of Mice and Men.

Early last week, an ad hoc review committee comprised of both parents and community members came together to protest the inclusion of the 1937 novel in 9th grade classrooms, citing the books “dark” themes, “negative” representations, and even the fact that the book has as, one committee member put it, “too darn much cussing.” Their goal was to prove that the title should be restricted only to smaller 9th grade groups that they deemed more able to handle the difficult material.

In response to the call for restricting Of Mice and Men, CBLDF joined NCAC and other free speech advocates to protest the committee’s attempts to censor the book. The letter pointed out the historical significance of the book both contextually and narratively, as well as Coeur d’Alene’s own criteria to “represent diverse eras and aspects of our culture and other cultures.”

The school board met on Monday to make their decision. The board examined the past complaints about the book — there have been absolutely none up until this point — and its inclusion in the 9th grade curriculum since 2002. They voted 4-1 to keep the book as part of the curriculum as is. As trustee Tom Hearn said, “We need to trust the judgment of our English teachers to use this book wisely, as we have since 2002.”

What does this mean for the ad hoc committee, though? In the Summer months, the group will reconvene to begin reviewing additional titles, some of which they might also deem inappropriate for the classroom. That being said, though, the district is taking preemptive measures to prevent attacks against educational materials with cultural significance and strong, positive track records by requiring that two teachers to be part of the committee. Hopefully, the inclusion of educational professionals in the review group will help remind concerned parents and community members that, as Sarah Hoffman of NCAC notes, they should “keep looking at the whole, rather than the sum of its parts. What offends one person will not offend all, and remember that with an opt-out policy, there always is ‘parental choice.’”

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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!