Book Banning is alive and well

Jinglebones - posted on 09/06/2009 ( 27 moms have responded )

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In Brampton, Ontario, a high school principal recently banned (wait for it...) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee from her high school's reading list after ONE parent complained about the use of the N word.



To Kill a Mockingbird is a mainstay on high school reading lists and has been for many years. For those of you who have not read it, read it. (As an aside, Harper Lee was a childhood friend of Truman Capote, who wrote another fabulous book called In Cold Blood, and he was characterized in TKM as Dill, the odd little friend of Scout, the main character). It is a haunting, beautifully written story of racial tensions and growing up in a small, southern town - the characters are entrancing and memorable and it explores prejudice and racism through the eyes of an innocent, yet precocious, little girl.



So a parent (one parent) complains about the language used in this circa 1930's book and voila, the book is pulled. What is going on with Principals and other authority figures these days - did they forget to teach about backbone and common sense when they got their teaching degrees? What do you think about book banning? What do you think about our education system, or any other system for that matter, that reacts after one complaint? (Further note: a New Brunswick school principal stopped the daily playing of O Canada last year after ONE parent complained).

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Jinglebones - posted on 09/07/2009

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Great quote Diana and I appreciate the info re: banned book week. My personal motto, which I hope to pass on to my sons, is to always try and be part of building something up, not tearing it down. Parents who think they can prevent or protect their children by limiting or monitoring the information they digest are operating in a vacuum. Just like the old adage the harder you try to control things the more you lose control... but again, I think it all comes back to fear and ignorance. Besides, book banning usually accomplishes one sure thing - people read the book. I have this lovely visual of all those 13 or 14 year old's reading To Kill a Mockingbird under the covers with a flashlight...

[deleted account]

Oh yes, book banning is still alive and well, though in America it takes diferent forms than other countires. We're actually coming up on "Banned Book Week," a week in which the American Library Association praises our freedom expression through text and raises awareness of the censorship that still happenes. You can find more about it on their website-ala.org or at bannedbookweek.org. According to the list I found there, some of the most commonly challenged books in 2007 and 2008 are Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, virtually all of Rowling's Harry Potter books, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, Lois Lowry's The Giver, and yes, To Kill a Mockingbird. Huck Finn is also on the list, and has topped lists of banned/attempted to be banned books for years. A couple of things are at play here. For one thing, parents do not always read the books, and either see something out of context and mistake it for something it's not. That kind of reasoning is generally used for Huck Finn say, or To Kill a Mockingbird. For another, parents are terribly afraid that children will get ideas from these books, and will *gasp* start to think in ways other than the mainstream that they have been taught-which is generally the case with The Golden Compass and the Harry Potter series. I can't begin to count the ways that this is wrong-and I encourage you guys to participate in Banned Book Week, even if it's just by putting a status message on your Facebook acknowledging how far we still have to go.



"We all know that books burn, yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man's eternal fight against tyranny of every kind."

(Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Jinglebones - posted on 09/06/2009

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I feel the same - I don't think the mother read the book. She scanned it (or had some really bad memories about the Gregory Peck movie..Boo Radley IS a scary dude - and exactly WHAT was he up to following every move of Jem and Scout?!!? does anyone else smell the p word lurking...). But what I take the most issue with is the omnipotent powers of the principal. This does not seem right to me (yes, I have my firstborn just about ready to step over the threshold into some unknown goddess's power so I am a little preoccupied at the present time with this institutional sway that may hold court over my child's future thoughts and ideas...but I digress). Why is it that principals have the be-all and end-all over such important decisions - we are talking about the kinds of things that are taught to our children, essentially the cultural and social context that defines their lives. Why are we so hell-bent on homoegenizing everything? Essentially, taking the colour out of the picture? I know many of you are going to blame political correctness, but I think it runs much deeper than that. For me, PC has become an excuse for everything we don't like the direction or implication of. But I think something deeper is at work (dundundaaaahhhh). I think fear, basic fear, that subdural relative of anger, is coursing its way through our collective psyche and rendering us all (dundundaaahhh) fearful. Afraid of offending, afraid of having an original thought or idea, afraid of being different. Except on this forum anyway (hah!)

Krista - posted on 09/06/2009

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I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school and loved it, and I've since bought the book and read it several more times. It must have either been an incredibly weak principal or a very pushy parent. Being a teacher, I deal with parents' concerns on a daily basis, some legitimate, some crazy. Teachers and principals need to stand their ground and can never make every parent happy. If the parent was just worried about the book being in the school library, then she could forbid her child to read it and no one else has to suffer the censorship. If her child's class was studying the book, the teacher could simply use the presence of the offending word as a teachable moment and explain the history behind it, why it's offensive, and why it appears in the book. A parent who is still not okay with this, can have her child study a different book while the others read and learn from TKM. If the decision had been up to me, I never would have taken that opportunity away from all students because of one disgruntled parent.

Mary - posted on 09/06/2009

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It scares me, quite frankly...what kind of world will Molly grow up in?? TKM is a classic piece of literature that EVERY child should read at some point in high school, but that thought aside...what kind of school is it where the complaint of ONE parent could cause this to happen?? That's just ludicrous. The insanity, stupidity or ignorance of one parent should never carry enough weight to impact the teachings of an entire school.



As for the use of the "N" word...well, that book was written, and took place in a time when usage of that word was common. While not "right", it is an accurate reflection of society in that time period. If that fool had even bothered to READ the book befor complaining, they would have seen that the overall tone and message of the book was anything but prejudicial. Horrible things have occurred throughout history, trying to ignore them, or sanitizing past events will only serve to lesson the effect, and impact that they have on our children, which in my opinion, is a huge mistake.

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Isobel - posted on 11/10/2009

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If that ever happened at my kids school I would hold a rally to get it put back on the curriculum. I'm willing to bet that there would be more parents like me than like them...but then again, I am always amazed to find out how many crazy, non-thinking people there are out there.

[deleted account]

I know this is an older thread but it caught my attention...

I'm an advid readed, so is hubby and I hope my son will too. Growing up my parents encouraged me to read and nothing was off limits (well, maybe Playboy). I don't agree with banning books. If you don't like it, don't read it but don't tell me I can't read it either. The only reason I read the Harry Potter books was because there was so much uproar about it and, surprise surprise, I really enjoyed them. Same for Golden Compass but I really didn't like it.

I remember in high school, the admin. tried to ban Tom Sawyer saying that it was racist, it was the student body that fought back and we won. The book wasn't banned. At the same time my English teacher showed a movie (I don't remember the name) about a school that was trying to ban books. There was a scene where the parents are angry and want this book banned, the teacher gets up and tells them that there's a book much worse than the one they're complaining about, that there's a book that's full of murder, war, adultry, slavery, temptation and all manner of evil things. Well, this sends the parents into a rage, they want this book banned now, they don't want their kids reading it. The teacher stands up and shows them a copy of the Bible. Parents shut up.

I know not everyone is religious but I think the point is loud and clear. Be careful what you want banned, the next thing on the chopping block may be something you enjoy.

(hope this made sense, it's way too early for me to be up but I couldn't sleep)

[deleted account]

=) It works for us, although the part where I actually *write* the papers gets more difficult as my son gets older and is awake and wanting to play more often.



I don't intend to keep him from reading any book he wants to, although if it is something totally age inappropriate I intend to take it from him until he is a bit older-like I don't want him reading Dracula when he's 6, say, but once he's a bit older I'll gladly hand it to him and say "read away."

?? - posted on 09/08/2009

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I used to ignore my teacher when we were reading The Outsiders in school, I would read ahead. I read the book 3 times on my own and a 4th time with the class in the month or so that we were studying The Outsiders. And then I also have re-read it countless times afterwards, and I cried too :(



Little Women, The BFG, Matilda, even those books I remember from before highschool. I always read ahead and reread in class and afterwards too.



I love reading. And after I first read this thread I went to the bookstore and bought To Kill A Mockingbird and ordered In Cold Blood and The Outsiders too. I read them all back when I was 14-16, but 10ish years have passed since then, I think it's time I read them again! I'm already half way through TKM after my bath last night after Gabriel went down - I got out of the tub pretty pruney but even after being a wrinkly prune lady, I had a hard time putting the bookmark in there and closing the cover lol

Jeannette - posted on 09/08/2009

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I am against book banning in schools, unless it is completely inappropriate. I've read TKM and really enjoyed it...my older two have read it so far and liked Scout.
Oh Jo, we all LOVED The Outsiders! Pony Boy...awww I cried.
I love to read though.
My mom was a book banner....I read them anyway, she just never knew.

Jaime - posted on 09/07/2009

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lol...I think I would have done the same with my school papers if I had my Son when I went to University. I love that he is just content to listen to me when I sing and talk...he's an observer and a great listener already!

Krista - posted on 09/07/2009

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Ha! If only my son was around when I was in university! He probably would have enjoyed listening to my philosophy and English papers a lot more than my husband did!

[deleted account]

Quoting Jaime:

I love literature and have a book shelf full of classics that I hope to get back to soon. I started reading "Great Expectations" to my Son, and not because I want him to be a genius by the time he hits kindergarten...I just love old literature and want to share it with him..he's only six months, but right now it's the words and the sound of my voice that intrigue him.



I know what you mean. =) I've read countless "inappropriate" books to my 5 month old son because I want to read them, and so he might as well hear my voice and see me reading as me just sit here doing it alone. I even read my research essays to him when I have to get work done and he's sitting here playing.

Jaime - posted on 09/07/2009

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I love literature and have a book shelf full of classics that I hope to get back to soon. I started reading "Great Expectations" to my Son, and not because I want him to be a genius by the time he hits kindergarten...I just love old literature and want to share it with him..he's only six months, but right now it's the words and the sound of my voice that intrigue him.

[deleted account]

Thank you!



I'm a master's student studying children's literature, so this kind of thing really drives me bananas. We cannot expect to progress if we don't know where we've been; and we cannot expect truth and original thought if we stifle it, especially for our children.

Jaime - posted on 09/07/2009

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Great quote Diana! I love to read and I hope that my Son will love to read as well when he is older...books evoke so much thought and imagination. Books are so important...words are what fuel social networks, build great communication skills, illicit deeper thinking and impact a reader---even if just a little bit!

ME - posted on 09/07/2009

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Book Banning is insane. I taught Huck Finn in my literature classes at an "at-risk" high school in Colorado. I started the section on that book by explaining about the time period the book was written in, and by giving examples of how Mark Twain was fighting against the treatment of African Americans in our country. I asked the students to put off judgement on the book and the author until we had finished the story, and they understood the outcome and the lessons learned by the characters. I will admit that I had one student (he concidered himself a Krip) who was rather enraged by the book, and even "threatened" me a little. His "aha moment" near the end of the story was the most gratifying of all. He even ALMOST apologized to me for his bad attitude, and for not giving the book a chance in the beginning.

As teachers, we have to be willing to help our students deconstruct what they are reading. A lot of times they take everything at face value. A good principal (and I've known MANY) would have helped this parent in Canada do the same with Harper Lee's masterpiece. Literature is a wonderful tool if teachers utilize it correctly; it makes me sad to hear things like this!

Jaime - posted on 09/06/2009

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I was just curious what your thoughts were on one vs. many. I agree with what you have said and just want to clarify that I was curious as to how much more accepted it would be if it were many parents complaining. There is always emphasis on "power in groups", so it's unsettling, like you say, to think that ONE person has single-handedly affected an entire school curriculum.

Jinglebones - posted on 09/06/2009

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I emphasize one because that represents the knee-jerk reaction that people in authority seem to have these days when someone does not like what is going on. This raises my concern because it represents the power of one in a scary way, not a positive way. It means that one person can have an immediate and powerful impact on curriculum not based on knowledge or research or empirical outcomes but because they do not like the idea of, or a single particular word embedded in, a powerful and resounding work of literature that has done more for promoting understanding about the ugliness of hatred and racism than most people objecting, silently or otherwise, to the use of the word "nigger" will ever do in their lifetimes. I object to one person having that much power and influence over an educational institution representing the curriculuum for upwards of 4,000 students, per year. So yes, it may seem a trivial point to make on the outset, but I stand by my vehemence.

Jaime - posted on 09/06/2009

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I don't agree with the book banning, but I'm curious because you emphasize that only ONE parent complained...so, if several parents complained about the book would it be any more acceptable to ban it from the school curriculum? Granted, one person complaining means that it's likely that they took personal offense to the wording, rather than taking a step back and accepting the reality that that is how the world worked back then and it took great strides to change it, but it did change which means it's twice as important for kids to learn how discrimination began and why it has survived so far.... taking the books away will only stifle the learning process and narrow the educational scope of our youth. Kids need a serious reality check these days, not a sugar-coated fairy tale because we don't like the truth and we can't handle honesty.

Jodi - posted on 09/06/2009

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Ditto Lindsay, exactly what I was thinking. That blindfold eventually comes off.

Jodi - posted on 09/06/2009

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I find this ridiculous!! As Mary pointed out, the language of the book is a reflection of society at the time. To Kill a Mocking Bird was on our study list when I was at high school, and I loved it! Has this same school also banned Judy Bloom books because they deal with teenage sex? What on earth has the world come to? Why do some parents not use these things as an opportunity to educate their children rather than just pulling out the blindfold? What absolute ignorance....

Lindsay - posted on 09/06/2009

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I would guess that this parent didn't bother to read the book but solely focussed on seeing the word and running to complain. At some point do we not just have to have hope that we taught our children well and trust that it will stick with them. I'd say at a high school level, kids aren't going to be kids much longer and if you are still trying to censor things for them, you are doing them a huge disservice for the future. If a child in high school has absolutely no idea what the real world is like, as soon as they step out on their own, they are going to fall flat on their face. I'd say if the mother was so distraught over this word in the book, they are censoring every other aspect of their teen's life. It's a bad idea all around in my opinion.

Krista - posted on 09/06/2009

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With regards to O Canada, I wonder what the parent objected to? Our school plays it and all students stand and sing, but I have had JW students in the past who have just sat and listened. The Lord's Prayer is optional; most classes will say it after O Canada, but I do not with my class. I don't have a real problem with it, but we are a public school with children of all religions, and I myself am not religious. Prayer, I feel, is something that can be done at home or church if it is important to a family, but I don't feel obligated to do it in my classroom.



Sorry, I got side tracked...

Amie - posted on 09/06/2009

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That is ludicrous. For ONE word in the entire book? It is not like the kids are going to see it and start using it everywhere they are. By the time kids read this book they are in high school. Fully aware of what is PC and what is not.

I think that she has some more issues behind her if ONE word in a book can cause this much of a fuss. I remember reading it in high school and the N word sure didn't stick out overly for me. People are getting ridiculous on how much they want to shelter their children from.

I swear to god my friends kids and my kids are going to be the only ones left who actually have an original thought that isn't some biased crap that was spouted out of mommy or daddy's mouth first.

Ugh. If that happens here I will BUY the book myself and TELL my kids to read it. Jebus.

Sharon - posted on 09/06/2009

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Oh good lord. Words only have as much power as you give them! And here is some drama queen parent raising a ruckus of the reality of the past presented in fiction form.



Granted out of respect for those who it may hurt I would never use the N word. But in my head is only the real definition.



I think school administrators need new balls.

?? - posted on 09/06/2009

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Wow. That's about equivelent to pulling The Outsiders because it deals with 'gangs.' Which is NOT what The Outsiders is about. I can't believe a principal would cave to 1 parent. The parents of that school should be questioning whether that principal is really there to teach.

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