Virginia removes “To Kill a Mockingbird” from schools for “racist language”

In these censorious times, made even more censorious by liberals’ counter-reaction to Trump (his election heightened fears by Leftists of more “Islamophobia” and racism), we can expect to see even more calls for bowdlerizing books or removing them from libraries. This is the case with two wonderful books—To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberrry Finn—in some schools in Virginia.  As the Guardian reports, parental complaints have led to both books being removed from school libraries.

Harper Lee and Mark Twain’s literary classics were removed from classrooms in Accomack County, in Virginia after a formal complaint was made by the mother of a biracial teenager. At the centre of the complaint was the use of the N-word, which appears frequently in both titles.

The woman who made the complaint said her son struggled to read the racist language, telling the Accomack County public schools board: “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.” The challenge also appears to be motivated by the current political landscape in the US, as the mother told the board: “Right now, we are a nation divided as it is.”

. . . . As a committee has yet to discuss the future of the books, a permanent ban has not yet been placed on the two books. However, they have already been removed from classrooms in the district, a move the National Coalition Against Censorship described as “particularly egregious”. The NCAC slammed the action in a post on its Kids Right To Read website, writing: “By avoiding discussion of controversial issues such as racism, schools do a great disservice to their students.”

The worst thing we can do in a time of increasing conservatism is to abandon our liberal values.  And, in fact, neither of these books are racist. In both cases they express racism of time and place, but that is simply an accurate depiction of American attitudes at the time. Huck Finn was raised in a racist milieu, and absorbed some of that, but as the novel unwinds he becomes more sympathetic to Jim and even expresses opposition to slavery and fealty to Jim, the former slave. The the Harper Lee novel is explicitly antiracist, with Atticus Finch defending a black man unjustly accused of rape, and Atticus’s daughter Scout observing the trial from the “colored section”. It is a moving novel and and a wonderful movie.

To deprive children of these books because they contain expression of racism, including the hot-button word “nigger”, is to deprive them of not only a knowledge of American history, but of empathic human emotions and the idea that a man is a man, whether black or white.  It scares me that this kind of censorship might increase simply because Donald Trump appeals to bigots.

We liberals shouldn’t change our values because of unfounded charges of bigotry. (As progressive, of course, we’re conditioned to hate racism, and to imagine ourselves as racists is about the worst thing we could think.) This change happens when we retreat from confronting the homophobia and misogyny of Islam, and it happens when we censor books because they depict an unpleasant but realistic history of America. For that deprives children, both black and white, of their heritage. And seriously, kids are tougher than you think.

________

UPDATE: At 1 pm today EST the National Coalition against Censorship hosted a reddit discussion of the banning of these books in Virginia. Sadly, there wasn’t much discussion, and the live bit ended at 2:30 EST. But the NCAC did do its bit:

NCAC will explain the importance of reading these classic novels; each book enables readers to gain a historical understanding of race relations in America and invites them to examine race in the present day. Although discomforting to some, the racial slurs are realistically depict American history and should be addressed under the guidance of a teacher. By avoiding discussion of controversial issues such as racism, schools do a great disservice to their students.

h/t: Barry

103 Comments

  1. Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  2. Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    “his election has heightened fears of Islamophobia and racism among the Left”

    And rightfully so.

    • Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Yes, but it’s also lead to more censorship, and will continue to do so. Read my last paragraph.

      • Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes I agree, that being said I’m finding it extremely difficult to express support for inflicting additional suffering on people who are already suffering the election of Trump. Accuse me of being overly empathetic if you will.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

          J’accuse!

        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:14 am | Permalink

          I don’t understand. How is a novel explicitly about a fight *against* racist injustice inflicting “additional suffering”, or indeed any suffering at all?

          • Posted December 6, 2016 at 3:47 am | Permalink

            “I don’t understand. How is a novel explicitly about a fight *against* racist injustice inflicting “additional suffering”, or indeed any suffering at all?”

            No, you apparently don’t.

            • Jonathan Dore
              Posted December 7, 2016 at 3:35 am | Permalink

              Then I’m sure you can explain it to me.

              • Jonathan Dore
                Posted December 11, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                I’m serious Mike — I’m genuinely puzzled. Of course reading the book is partly an upsetting experience, but it’s upsetting to anyone of normal moral sensibilities. If that were all it did, it might not be worthwhile, but by the end there’s also a sense of catharsis and vindication that makes it overall a hugely positive experience. The key point is that one needs to read it to the end to get the full effect. Stopping partway through because you’re afraid of reading particular words is, to put it mildly, foolishly missing the point.

      • Carl
        Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        Regarding that last paragraph, I’m pretty cognizant of this:

        And seriously, kids are tougher than you think.

        What worries me is the adults, starting with those of college age. Sheltering those tough kids turns them into tomorrow’s pampered failures, unwilling and unable to defeat real challenges to true liberal values.

  3. Phil_Torres
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    As a white male, I also don’t see what the big deal is. What’s so bothersome to black people about a class full of white people saying the “n” word?

    • Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      “As a white male, I also don’t see what the big deal is. What’s so bothersome to black people about a class full of white people saying the “n” word?”

      Yeah don’t those delicate snowflakes know we just elected a black man president, oh wait no we didn’t, we elected a racist….umm nevermind.

      • Posted December 5, 2016 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        This hysteria took over campus life under Obama so it’s bullshit to justify it as a necessary response to Trump.

        If Hillary had won would you oppose campus censorship or just use a different excuse?

        • GBJames
          Posted December 6, 2016 at 7:33 am | Permalink

          Blaming on any president elect would be wrong. In any case, it goes back well before Obama came on the scene.

        • zoolady
          Posted December 11, 2016 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

          Oh, sure….blame Obama. He’s been blamed for everything except excema and celiac disease already….

    • Posted December 6, 2016 at 2:30 am | Permalink

      The child in question was biracial, so we do not know whether the complaining mother was white or black. I suppose she was the white parent, because my observation is that the push for censorship usually comes from whites.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 6, 2016 at 7:38 am | Permalink

        It makes no difference at all what race the complaining parent is.

  4. Patrick Clark
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I can’t speak to how use of the word makes minority populations feel, though I hear people use it all the time and it is all over the media, in music and in standup comic performances, despite it propensity to inflame. Speaking only about these two books, is it a shame that two novels that seek to undermine racist attitudes are being taken off the table. Sanitizing one’s life of exposure to anything that is objectionable doesn’t give one much of a chance to learn about life.

    • eric
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Words can certainly be legitimately offensive in some contexts and not in others. So “its used in rap videos” does not magically render the n-word acceptable in an English class.

      Having said that (and to answer both your post and Phil’s #3 post), reading and class discussion are two entirely different things. If students think its extremely inappropriate and offensive for kids to be slinging the n-word around in English class under the excuse of ‘I’m just quoting/analyzing Huck Finn,’ then the solution is not to ban Huck Finn. Everyone can still read it. The teacher just has to lead the class discussion in a way that is appropriate to the age and maturity of the students.

      Lit analysis is kind of like comedy. Some comics do excellent comedy with obscene language. But many others simply use it to hide mediocre jokes. I’m sure some student out there can write a spectacular analysis of Mockingbird that absolutely requires offensive language as an integral part of their essay. But I’m also pretty sure most of the students using the n-word in response to reading Huck Finn aren’t that sort of kid, and are only using it to appear shocking or rebellious.

    • Zado
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Since you mentioned standup, I’ll link this clip of Louis CK talking about the censorship of Huckleberry Finn in 2011.

      It’s the best take I’ve heard on the subject, notwithstanding PCC’s post. Money line: “[Racism]’s not being celebrated, it’s being illumi-mother-fucking-nated!”

      • jeremy pereira
        Posted December 5, 2016 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        I love the Mark Twain quote they mentioned:

        Censorship is telling a man he can’t have steak because a baby can’t chew it

  5. Doug
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Are we going to start censoring history books next? Suppose a Black teenager says, “I don’t want to read all that stuff about slavery, segregation and lynching. It offends me to have to read that.” I’m sure this is going to happen, if it hasn’t yet.

  6. eric
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    I fully agree that these books shouldn’t be banned. But as someone who moved in and out of a lot of various school systems and thus missed most of the “required” reading assignments, I also don’t think its going to kill anyone to miss reading any specific “classic” novel. IMO its a truism that it almost doesn’t matter what they’re reading as long as they’re reading and thinking about something.

    And even if someone doesn’t accept that philosophy, there still are many more great, classic novels than a high schooler could (or would) ever read in their three years of English classes. So if you want to coerce kids into reading good books, you could still give them a variety of age- and quality- appropriate books from which to choose. Heck, if the teacher wants to focus the class on a discussion of racism in America, let the kids read either of these books, plus give them three or four other options, and let the classroom discussion be about how each book addresses the problem differently.

    • Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      Books should not be banned for children or adults. Words and ideas not understood is unlikely to remain in consciousness (who knows how the unconscious might interpret it). If the person is curious enough, research will be done and understanding/knowledge may occur. I hazard a guess that more is learned in this way than in traditional forms of education. Many, many of us who are lifelong readers have read numerous age-inappropriate books with no permanent damage. Curiosity is a good thing. Rewriting history or putting it off-limits is bad (although putting it off-limits may entice kids to read it!)

      • Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        “Words and ideas not understood ARE (not “is”)…Sorry for flub.

      • eric
        Posted December 5, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        Yep I agree. A kid curiously reading 4-5 books that aren’t “classics” is going to be much better off in the long run (IMO) than the kid that is forced to read 1 “classic” against their will. Particularly in this day and age, when video games are the go-to entertainment. Give them options with the goal of getting them to like reading. That doesn’t mean you have to accept every silly choice as legit, but it does mean giving a bunch of choices for an assignment, when practically possible.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 6, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          Wasn’t it Twain who defined a “classic” as something everyone wants to have read, but nobody want to read?

    • GBJames
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      “I fully agree that these books shouldn’t be banned. But…”

      You started out quite well. And then you wandered off to claim that it doesn’t matter what you read. Huckleberry Finn has nothing more to offer than one of these gems?

      This is a simple situation of ignorance-based censorship. There’s no reason to try to pretend it doesn’t totally stink.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

        (and sub)

      • eric
        Posted December 5, 2016 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        Try again. I said give options. I didn’t say allow any substitute the student wants.

        But yes, I do think its better to inspire a love of reading via mediocre books than compel an understanding of a set group of classics. Vocabulary, understanding simile and metaphor, an understanding of common themes and the ability to identify parallel structure and tropes in books – these abilities come from reading many books. They don’t come from reading one good one. If you make a kid read Huck Finn and they don’t like it and go back to playing Halo 3 all the time, you have probably failed moreso than if you had let them read the Harry Potter series. Huck Finn is orders of magnitude better, but reading lots of books is better still.

        • GBJames
          Posted December 6, 2016 at 7:35 am | Permalink

          You’re just excusing censorship by “offering options”.

          Sorry, but the options aren’t the same. And the point is the prevention of access to important books, not the fact that there might still be other books around.

  7. johnjfitzgerald
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your anti-censorship position. As a retired history teacher, I like to think that I always tried to put the material that I was teaching into the context of its time. “Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” belong in our public schools, where they should be read with a critical outlook that takes note of the time period in which they were written and the society that they criticized. They are not escapist literature with a goal of entertaining people. They were designed to provoke thought. Try to teach a course in American history that does not make reference to “The Jungle”, “All Quiet On The Western Front”, “Hiroshima”, “The Diary of Anne Frank” to name just a few. The course would be a farce. All of these books contain horrific passages, but they are part of history. The grade level of the students should be taken into account, of course.

    John J. Fitzgerald

    • Christopher
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      As someone who abandoned history teaching for special education, I also agree. We can’t sanitize history, ignore classic literature, pretend racism isn’t real, and expect the world to go on all sunshine and butterflies. Unfortunately, the only history anyone cares for these days is their browser history. If it didn’t happen on tw*tter yesterday, it didn’t happen. We are raising and (poorly) educating a generation of emotionally disabled fools. These kids’ parents won’t educate them, and they won’t let the educators do so either.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        all sunshine and butterflies.

        It doesn’t end well for the butterfly.
        Come to think of it, having done enough pyromania with a magnifying glass, sunshine isn’t without it’s nasty side either. A couple of miles walk in a hot desert is … educational for those who live in temperate climes.

      • Stephen Mynett
        Posted December 6, 2016 at 3:09 am | Permalink

        I also agree that we cannot and should not sanitise history. A point here is that some words were considered acceptable at a time and that as some of us became more enlightened/tolerant we strove to stop their use. Of course there are still people who will happily use them as derogatory and insulting terms and we are not going to help the cause of eradicating racism by banning books with racist words in. It is better to analyse what we were, how far we have come and how much further we have to go.

        The word cripple used to be used a lot and as a slightly disabled person I am not fond of it but certainly would not ban literature that used it. Sometimes I use it of myself just to annoy the overly politically correct. A few years back there was a PC idea about not using disabled but “differently-abled”, I found this euphemism as, possibly more, disgusting than cripple. I am disabled, fact, but that does not mean anyone should think for me or tell me how to describe myself.

        Of the n word, I remember a BBC documentary about the attack on the Ruhr dams during WWII. The PC brigade had got hold of it and the commentary sounded farcical as we were told the various code words used by the pilots to describe whether certain dams had been breached or not, all were listed normally until we came to “and one was the name of commander Guy Gibson’s dog”. If anything this made it worse as it was, in England, well known he had a Black Labrador called the n word, that is a historical fact and in 1940s England no one would have thought twice about it. Denying history serves no good purpose but admitting it and realising we must not return to those days is positive.

        • Posted December 6, 2016 at 6:37 am | Permalink

          The grave of the black Labrador named Nigger, companion to GRCPT Guy Gibson VC (RAF)is or was located at RAF Scampton Lincs UK complete with the name inscribed on the gravestone.
          There is also a memorium to those who participated in the “Dam Busters” operation.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Try to teach a course in American history that does not make reference to […] “Hiroshima”,

      Is that the one by the journalist who went into the city days after the bomb dropped? Digging for the name … “Hershy”? Wikipedia tells me it’s John Hersey, and that’s the book I’m thinking of.
      Stomach turning and terrifying. I read it while the Raygun administration was building missile targets 15 miles to either side of my home, so was glad that for us, the war would be over as soon as it began.
      Certainly should have been compulsory reading at school. Whether in History, Biology, or Physics is another question.

      • Posted December 6, 2016 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        I read that one recently after picking it up used at a fundraiser. Harrowing, to say the least: and a good “microcosm vs. macrocosm” study.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted December 6, 2016 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          Harrowing – good agricultural tool. Wouldn’t want to see one from the underside though.
          Going over to the other thread – on Montreal “car curling” – I once saw the results of a car driver not paying enough attention to the tractor in front and it’s rack of ploughs. Tractor and ploughs weren’t damaged, and driver and passenger were having a little bit of a gibbering fit as we drove past a few minutes later. Educational.

    • somer
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      +1

  8. busterggi
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I hate the whole ‘n-word’ crap – everyone knows what the word is and pretending not to say it by using a euphemism is hypocritical.

    • Carl
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      I noticed our host didn’t fall into this foolishness.

      • Posted December 5, 2016 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

        Yeah but without a trigger warning, I had to go hug a cat. So not all a bad thing……

  9. eric
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Last thought on the subject

    “There’s so much racial slurs and defensive wording in there that you can’t get past that.”

    Sure, I believe you that he can’t get past that…without practice. And that’s what high school is; practice for the real world. Let your kid practice. Let him fail to get past it and hate the book and not understand it. Its okay to try and fail and have to try again – that’s called ‘learning.’

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    What’s next, banning the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass, or the novels of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin?

    Or is this really a sub silentio objection to white folk appropriating the stories of black folk?

    • Posted December 6, 2016 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      To me, “Mockingbird” never aimed to be the story of the black victim, it is the story of a white folk minority trying to resist an outrage. (BTW, I do not like the book, but I think banning it is a poor idea.)

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 6, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

        Mockingbird is Scout’s book through and through (with a heavy side of the nobility and rectitude of Atticus Finch — a little too heavy, you ask me). If the book had been told from the viewpoint of Tom Robinson, it wouldn’t have sold nearly as well, or been nearly as “beloved.”

        I like it alright, but as a work a lit, it’s nowhere near in the class of Huckleberry Finn.

  11. Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    This is really dumb as shit. And shows how utterly facile this identity politics stuff has always been. These people don’t understand *why* words like nigger are problematic, and thinking about it might be strenuous, so they just shout slogans and ban any mention of the word.

    They don’t know how to construct an argument, and are too scared to try in case they lose.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      “really dumb as shit”

      There you go with the abstruse lit-crit jargon … 🙂

      • Posted December 6, 2016 at 4:25 am | Permalink

        Well, we Tasmanians are known for our eloquence!

  12. veroxitatis
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Is this not simply a sub group of the appalling trend whereby steps are taken by places of education to preserve students from having to see or hear or be faced with anything which may cause them discomfort?
    BTW, here is the worst example of this which I have come across recently.
    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/skip-lectures-if-sight-of

  13. rickflick
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    This is a hell of a way to treat school kids – keeping from them books they really, really, should read. I hope once the dust has cleared, the school will bring these important books back in.

  14. Martin Levin
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been blathering on about “Huck Finn” for years. here’s a piece I wrote about it’s anti-racism for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/Op-Ed/2016/04/10/In-defense-of-Huckleberry-Finn/stories/201601170005

    • Martin Levin
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

      Argh!!! Its, not it’s.

  15. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    By avoiding discussion of controversial issues such as racism, schools do a great disservice to their students.”

    And they do a great service for racists who want to disseminate aspirations (e.g. “we don’t have a racist society”) as reality, because that suppresses action on the covered-up topic.

  16. geckzilla
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I had a verbal discussion with some online friends a few months back wherein I used the “n-word” uncensored as a way to explain how it went from being used frequently and shamelessly just as the “r-word” (retard) is now used to show how one day retard might also change in usage. Days later I learned that after that discussion they thought I was the most racist person they’d met in a long time. Sigh.

  17. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    This is outrageous!

    I dread some people think retiring the confederate flag is equal to this.

  18. zoolady
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    This is OUTRAGEOUS! What’s next? “Political Correctness,” European style? Where you can be prosecuted for language?

    • Tom
      Posted December 6, 2016 at 12:04 am | Permalink

      Sorry, as a European I can say that there is no “European style Political Correctness” some nations have one idea of correctness and others have another idea, as a recent post on this very blog can confirm.
      What appears obvious to we Europeans is that that Mr Trump has successfully exploited what is the same great diversity of PC in America by convincing people it is really something monolithic and out of control.
      The dreary “snowflakes” we see quoted so depressingly often seem to be a boon to Mr Trump’s cause as thay appear to confirm everything he has said although they represent a minority of a minority of a vocal minority.

  19. Posted December 5, 2016 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I think limiting the kinds of books used in high school classes is appropriate.

    However, I think that To Kill a Mockingbird has all the traits of a book that SHOULD be used in high school classes. It is amazingly well written and accessible to young people. It deals with important issues about growing up and about society and its problems. It provokes thought. The language used can hurt people and that itself is worth discussing. Everyone should read this book.

    • Posted December 6, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      There’s “used in class” vs. “banned from the library” (or worse again, banned from use period).

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    [Huck]becomes more sympathetic to Jim and even expresses opposition to slavery and fealty to Jim …”

    Hell, Huck decides to sacrifice his immortal soul to eternal damnation (as the townspeople have told him will happen if he assists a runaway slave to escape) rather than to betray Jim back into bondage.

    Humanist agape doesn’t get any purer than that.

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh for fox sake! My highschool wouldn’t let us read The Merchant of Benice because of Shylock but they banned after I already read it. They need a banned book party.

    • Martin Levin
      Posted December 5, 2016 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

      But I’ll bet they’d now let you read “The Merchandising of Beyonce.”

  22. Posted December 5, 2016 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Christopher Hitchens argued correctly, when he said ‘if you want to censor books, start with bible and qoran, hypocrites!’ (Not exact quote).

  23. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    I know of more subtle objections to these books that carry a teent tiny more weight but this is utterly silly.

  24. eric
    Posted December 5, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    If you want to make the fundies really squirm, I guess a school district could offer this option: if you don’t want to tread Twain’s Huck Finn, you can read his Letters from the Earth instead. 🙂

    [Aside: personally I don’t think Letters is anywhere nearly as well written, which is not surprising because its composed of notes published posthumously. But thematically, its far, far more socially dangerous than Huck changing from pro-slavery to pro-Jim over the course of a hundred pages]

  25. Steven Carr
    Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    In Britain, we get around the ban on the n-word, by explaining that we don’t like ginger people.

    After all, who can be offended by an anagram?

  26. Ken Phelps
    Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    Feed the Goddamn whiny kid some yogurt from yesterday’s article and move on.

  27. Kingasaurus
    Posted December 6, 2016 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Frankly, I’m disturbed that the complaint of ONE parent can cause the removal of the book.

    I find it disquieting that the powers-that-be moved so incredibly quickly without a groundswell of people making the request.

    On how many other issues will these schools rush to censorship when only one person complains?

    • Posted December 6, 2016 at 6:16 am | Permalink

      “Frankly, I’m disturbed that the complaint of ONE parent can cause the removal of the book.”

      According to the Washington post it’s apparently district policy to pull a book temporarily, and form a committee to review it when a parent files a formal complaint.

      I guess it makes sense to err on the side of caution in a case like this. I mean who wants to be a member of a school board, or the superintendent who choses to temporarily keep a book on the shelves pending review, if it’s ultimately banned. This seems like a reasonable way for everyone to cover their @ss.

      • Posted December 6, 2016 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        The specific policy:

        2. A review committee consisting of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher (if involved), a parent and/or student, and the complainant will convene. Materials cited in the complaint will be temporarily suspended for use pending determination by the committee.

        http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/accomack/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=8N9JT44E9CA1# listed under KLB PUBLIC COMPLAINTS ABOUT LEARNING RESOURCES.

      • GBJames
        Posted December 6, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        “I guess it makes sense to err on the side of caution in a case like this”

        This is exactly backwards, IMO. If you are going to err, it is better to err on the side of not banning books. Every time.

        • Carl
          Posted December 6, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          I applaud your attitude in general, but there are some books that should be kept out of the hands of children and young teenagers.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted December 6, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

            When you say “kept out of their hands,” do you mean simply that such books shouldn’t be made required reading in school? Or are you saying that youngsters should be prohibited from reading such books under all circumstances, even on their own time? If the latter, would that include when they had their parents’ permission to read a banned book?

            Do you have particular books in mind?

            • Carl
              Posted December 6, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

              What young people do on their own time shouldn’t be the school’s burden, and if kids are anything like I was, beyond the school’s control and likely that of their parents to a larger degree than they can imagine.

              I’m thinking of books like Juliette and modern day equivalents. Any teacher who saw a colleague teaching Juliette to an eighth grade English class, should immediately involve the principal and get the teacher suspended, at the very least.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted December 6, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

                Had a sneaking suspicion you had de Sade in mind when I read what you wrote. 🙂

                We had a lively discussion at this site a while back, here, regarding an award-winning high-school teacher who was forced to resign after reading aloud to his class a bit of Allen Ginsburg’s homoerotic verse. (He had invited his AP English students to bring a favorite work to class for discussion, and one brought Ginsberg’s “Please Master.”)

                Safe to surmise from your comment that, if a teenager has the permission of a parent to read Justine or Julliette or something similar, it’s no business of the authorities?

        • Posted December 6, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          “This is exactly backwards, IMO. If you are going to err, it is better to err on the side of not banning books. Every time.”

          From a principled standpoint of perhaps, but from a practical “I don’t want to lose my job I have a family to feed” standpoint it makes sense to cover your @ss, and TEMPORARILY remove the book until it’s reviewed.

          I only say “perhaps” because if you don’t know the book, and want to have a consistent policy are you really arguing for leaving a book that might have inadvertently gotten into an elementary school library encouraging incest until after a review committee is formed, and takes a look at it?

          • GBJames
            Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

            Well, if there are school administrators who don’t know what Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, (or numerous other books that are habitually removed to “protect” children) then they are in the wrong line of work. And if there are librarians who are stocking the shelves with books encouraging incest then they, too, are in the wrong business.

            Establishing a “censor first, then review” policy is based on fear of a probably fictional situation… in the face of real world history of what book banning is actually about. Because of that the “erring” should always be on the side of non-censorship.

            In the end you’re going to get The Bible banned because of all that hubba hubby between Lot and his daughters.

        • Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          “This is exactly backwards, IMO. If you are going to err, it is better to err on the side of not banning books. Every time.”

          And once again to clarify, they have not been banned, they have been temporarily removed pending review. So are you actually arguing no books should ever be banned for any reason, or are you arguing we shouldn’t err on the side of temporarily removing them pending review?

          • GBJames
            Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

            That’s a difference with little distinction. A temporary ban is still a ban.

            And, putting on my nut-job-religious-wackaloon hat, all I need to do is to get together with all of my fellow church-lovers to submit one “remove” request after another. Timed right you have a much more permanent ban.

            A whole lot more sensible to make people who want to ban a book justify it before removing the book from the shelves.

            • Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              “And, putting on my nut-job-religious-wackaloon hat, all I need to do is to get together with all of my fellow church-lovers to submit one “remove” request after another.”

              I suspect once a book is reviewed it isn’t removed again based on additional complaints. In that case I see no significant problem with removing a book one time temporarily for a few days.

              If that isn’t the policy, and it could be abused as you state then the policy should be changed to prevent that.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

                “I suspect once a book is reviewed it isn’t removed again based on additional complaints.”

                Why would that be? Why is parent B’s objection any less worthy of review than parent A’s?

                Why not just require people who want books banned to demonstrate why they should be banned before removing them?

              • Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

                “Why would that be? Why is parent B’s objection any less worthy of review than parent A’s?”

                Because once a review is complete there’s no good reason to repeat it. That being said I suppose based on changing cultural context their might be good reason to reconsider.

                “Why not just require people who want books banned to demonstrate why they should be banned before removing them?”

                Because in some admittedly very very rare cases a book may be so egregious that waiting weeks to present evidence at the next school board meeting would be problematic.

                Here’s an example for you. A book about the world trade center being at least temporarily removed after 9/11. Would you object to that? How about it being removed from NYC elementary schools?

            • GBJames
              Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              After 9/11 there was more interest in the World Trade Center than before. Why on earth would you remove a book about it? If someone is too traumatized to look at the book then they should just not look at the book.

              That you consider a book about the World Trade Center scary enough to justify removing it from a school library, then you’ve made my point. If you want to remove it from the library you need to demonstrate very good reasons to do so, not rely on ambiguous fears of “some scary book” that might conceivably appear while all of our real-world experience is for band on books like Huckleberry Finn, etc.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 6, 2016 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

                Here’s a list of books that are commonly challenged.

                Where’s Waldo is on the list, for Crys sakes. I don’t know why you’d give the benefit of the doubt to people asking for these books to be banned instead of leaving it on the shelf until a review is done. Then you can get rid of Where’s Waldo.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 6, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                Makes me want to find a way to submit books I just don’t like – anything by Charles Dickens because it’s too long winded and boring. Moby Dick because it’s too long and anything about the depression on the Canadian Prairies because it’s too dusty.

              • mrclaw69
                Posted December 7, 2016 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                Why on earth would you ban (or ‘temporarily remove’) a book about the World Trade Center *written before 9/11*?

                Any book about the WTC pre-9/11 would almost certainly be about architecture, engineering or commerce (although it might perhaps be about the 1993 bombing).

                Do you mean it should be removed *because the mere sight of the book or it’s title might ‘trigger’ someone*?

                I imagine the rolling news coverage of exploding planes, falling towers and jumping people would be much more traumatising.

                Why not ban/remove all books about or featuring aircraft? After all, the hijackers crashed them into the towers.

                Why not ban history books on My Lai or the Holocaust, or the Rwandan genocide, or the Great Leap Forward, or the Bengal Famine in case one or more students are upset by them? After all, they’re pretty traumatising episodes in history.

                At Uni (doing a lit & philosophy degree) I did modules on writing in South Africa under apartheid and writing about the Holocaust (featuring the works of many survivors). The lit from those periods is horrifying. In addition, I read non-fiction accounts and, in the case of the Holocaust, watched footage of the liberation of the camps in class. Needless to say it was horrible and upsetting.

                I challenge anyone to read Auschwitz survivor Tadeusz Borowski’s book ‘This Way for the Gas Ladies & Gentlemen’ and not be deeply affected by it.

                The thing is, you *should* be upset by upsetting things. It’s part of what it means to be human. If you’re a human not upset by upsetting things then you’re either comatose, have some form of autism or are a psychopath.

                Life cannot be censored and does not carry a trigger-warning. There are wars, genocides, persecutions, pogroms, massacres, famines, droughts, natural disasters, industrial catastrophes, crime, disease, terrorism, extinctions, etc, etc, etc. It’s not possible to hide away from all of it or demand that it be removed or put away in a cupboard lest we have to emotionally engage with it.

                I don’t wish to be rude to you, but it’s precisely the sort of thinking that you’re engaging in (that a *pre-9/11* book about the WTC be removed or censored lest someone get upset) that’s at the root of the madness currently plaguing campuses across the US, Canada and the UK.

              • GBJames
                Posted December 7, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                @mrclaw69…

                It isn’t clear who your comments are directed at because while they are in response to mine they in no way are in disagreement. I 100% agree and couldn’t have said it better myself.

      • Carl
        Posted December 6, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I guess it makes sense to err on the side of caution in a case like this.

        It might make sense for some obscure title, but the ones before us?

        • Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

          “It might make sense for some obscure title, but the ones before us?”

          In a practical sense how would you word such a policy? And who’s going to be the judge of which books should be temporally removed, and which shouldn’t?

          • Carl
            Posted December 6, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

            Mike, I realizes you are just playing God’s Advocate, but I will play along. Teachers, librarians, and school boards should decide which books are appropriate. There shouldn’t be any time wasted worrying about Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and other authors presumably well known and valued by people* in the education field.

            *Please don’t stray into an argument concerning how benighted and ignorant some educators may be, that’s a different and probably more serious problem.

  28. Mike
    Posted December 6, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    bloody ridiculous.

  29. Posted December 6, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Agh, not again!

    What would these teachers etc. think of my grade 9 and 10 English teacher who *told us* that he was *deliberately* assigning works that people wanted to ban or were controversial. He did HF with his grade 11 “North American Literature” elective, so I never did that, but we did over those two years classics like TKAM, _The Grapes of Wrath_ (often banned because of “communism”), Merchant of Venice, The Crysalids, and others.

  30. Posted December 7, 2016 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Reading about the kid struggling to understand racist language reminds me of a completely different take on that: The little girl in a Salinger short story who is all upset because she heard a man refer to a family member (her father, I think) as a “kite”. Will they ban that too?

  31. jeffery
    Posted December 7, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    What interests me is that the, “N-word”, used by many blacks frequently as anything from an insult to a greeting, or even as a seeming term of endearment, is considered the “privileged domain” of blacks. Non-blacks are not “allowed” to use it, and any who do are automatically deemed, “racist”. However, were there an equivalent word about whites, it would be deemed “racist” for whites to insist that only whites should be able to use it.

  32. Posted December 20, 2016 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Fear is definitely leading a large part of our society. We all have seen someone we respect make one insensitive comment and lose their position, status, and career. The solution for figuring this out has turned out to be to simply avoid it at all cost. Instead of learning and working toward understanding, we hide and run away. We suffer and so will the next generation.


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