This is a topic that comes up every single year!
The idea for this post came from a recent article on CNN: These books are gaining ground in an Alaska town after a school board voted to remove them from class.
The books that are under fire in the town of Palmer are F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man; Joseph Heller’s Catch-22; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
Members of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School Board met in mid-April to “approve the district’s High School English Elective Curriculum and reading list.” After lengthy discussions, “an amendment was introduced during the meeting to scratch the five books off the curriculum. Five members voted in favor of the removal, two voted against. The vote has no impact on the books’ placement in school libraries. In the same vote, the board also removed ‘The Learning Network,’ a resource for educators from The New York Times Company as a mentor text for district teachers.”
Palmer is about 40 miles from Anchorage in the southern part of the state. It serves 46 schools and more than 19,000 students.
Board members received a one-page flier from the district’s Office of Instruction regarding the potential controversies. “Concerns about the pieces of literature, according to the flier, included sexual references, rape, racial slurs, scenes of violence and profanity.”
All this to say that the books have not been banned from the district. The article was written to make the point that the school board voted in favor of removal.
What about community members?
According to the article, “No community members had signed up to comment prior to the meeting.” And, “since the decision was made as an amendment, community members didn’t have a chance to give their input.”
“The material for the English elective class were reviewed through a stakeholder survey, a community survey and a council of educators — including teachers, librarians and administrators — among other reviewers in the 2019-2020 year, the school district said.” The recommendations were then brought to the school board.
Positive spin on the situation
There is some good news. A Facebook page was created after the meeting, advertising “The Mat-Su Valley Banned Book Challenge.” Any student that read all the works can enter for a change to win $100. However, the administrators of the page have considered upping the monetary prize because of the interest in the challenge. At the time the article was published, over 200 students had joined the page.
There were several quotes in the article regarding the students, and the school board’s intent to protect them from the content of these books. Many of them depict abuse and violence.
“To think that by not reading ‘Why the Caged Bird Sings’ means therefore children will not be exposed to sexual abuse is … closed-minded and ignorant.”
“‘There are many, many students in our district who don’t know that the trauma maybe they’ve experienced is trauma that somebody else has written about and yes, they can go and talk to somebody then,’ Welton said in the meeting.”
‘”I think you’re putting your head in the sand,’ she said. ‘If you really, truly believe that you are protecting your children, you can protect them by just saying, ‘Don’t take that class.'”
The main takeaway for me is that these books are for an English elective class. To me, however, I think these quotes hit the nail on the head. If these students aren’t supposed to or allowed to read these books in school, what other opportunity would they have to read them? Would these students take them out of the library themselves? Apparently, the chance to win money is plenty inspiring.
If you’re interested, check out the links regarding banned and challenged books below.
- Banned & Challenged Books – ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom
- There’s A Common Thread Tying Together 2019’s ‘Most Challenged’ Books: LGBTQ Issues – The New York Times
- Commonly Banned Books – Butler University
- The Most Frequently Banned Books in the 1990s
For me, I’ve read The Great Gatsby and The Things They Carried. I read Invisible Man and Catch-22 so long ago! I’ve read parts of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I think I’ll add the last three to a future TBR. I re-read The Great Gatsby every year. And I think I should re-read The Things They Carried at some point.
Have you read any of these five books?
Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂