School Board Stands by Curious Censorship in Florida

Earlier this week CBLDF joined the Kids’ Right to Read Project to protest Principal Allen Burch’s decision to pull Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time from the summer reading program at Lincoln High School in Leon County Florida. Despite the protest, the school board has stood behind Burch’s decision.

The initial decision to pull the title came after Burch received several complaints from parents regarding the book’s use of profanity. In order to “give the opportunity for the parents to parent,” Burch determined the book inappropriate and had it removed as required summer reading. The decision violates school policy, which requires that contested materials be evaluated by a review committee before action is taken to remove the book from any classroom or library setting. The school board convened this week and announced that they will not be reinstating the book into the summer reading assignment.

“Parents’ concerns come first. That is what we do best — listen to parents’ concerns and adjust as needed,” said Alva Striplin, a member of the school board who has openly protested the book’s inclusion on the district’s required reading list. “It is solely the language of the book that is the problem.”

Amanda Claire Curcio with The Tallahassee Democrat reported on the challenge, speaking with one of the complainants:

“I am not interested in having books banned,” [parent Sue] Gee said. “But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain — I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing and that’s why I was asking for an alternative assignment.

“I know it’s not realistic to pretend bad words don’t exist, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my daughter knows what is right or wrong,” she added.

Listening to parents is one thing, but bypassing school policy and making the decision to pull a book from the summer reading is problematic at best. But Burch and the school board maintain that they did not need to convene a review committee because summer reading is not part of the official curriculum. However, as Sarah Hoffman with KRRP points out to Curcio, “A handful of parents are making choices for every other parent in that school.”

The Curious Incident centers on Christopher, a 15-year-old boy on the autism spectrum, who decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor’s dog. It is one of the few books to feature the first-person perspective of a protagonist who has a social disability, and it received multiple awards and critical acclaim. The book has been a fixture on reading lists around the country because of the unique perspective it offers.

Author Mark Haddon is “puzzled and fascinated” by the controversy. He spoke with Alison Flood at The Guardian about the irony in this situation:

“Christopher is completely unaware of the offence that swearing is intended to cause and therefore it simply washes over him,” said the novelist, adding that while he has received complaints in the past about the novel’s language, “no-one has ever complained that the book is about a mother abandoning her son or that it contains a scene in which a father hits his son”.

Haddon seems to be taking the controversy in stride, adding:

“The assumption is that I should be morally affronted when this happens — and it has happened surprisingly often — but the truth is that it always generates a really interesting debate among school kids and librarians and parents, not just about Curious, but about literature and freedom and language, and this is an undeniably good thing,” said Haddon. “I have no way of proving it, but my suspicion is that more people read the book as a result and read it with more attention and interest than they might have done.”

This case is still developing, and CBLDF will provide more information as it becomes available.

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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!