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July 28, 2011 / schulerbooks

Censorship sadly alive and well in Republic, PA

The good news of this story is that although Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a powerful, thought-provoking novel about date rape, was NOT removed from Republic high school libraries, two other books — Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five (one of my favorite books), and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer — were.

Schuler Books is a big advocate for the freedom to read (co-owner Cecile Fehsenfeld was recently recognized for her years served on the board of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, and we’ll be celebrating Banned Books Week September 24-October 1), and it always saddens us when, rather than using books as discussion points and teachable moments, people would strip others of their opportunity to decide a book’s value for themselves. In this case, at least the children are still allowed to use the books as class material with a parent’s permission slip, but any censorship is a slippery slope.

Check out the story below.

Two books pulled from Republic school library shelves

Republic board yanks novels by Vonnegut, Ockler.

Written by Claudette Riley

REPUBLIC — Two of the three Republic High books singled out in a public complaint last year will now be removed from the school curriculum and library.

Shortly before 9 p.m. Monday, the school board voted 4-0 — three members were absent — to keep Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak,” an award-winning book about date rape, and remove Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” and Sarah Ockler’s “Twenty Boy Summer.”

Wesley Scroggins, a Republic resident, challenged the use of the books and lesson plans in Republic schools, arguing they teach principles contrary to the Bible.

“I congratulate them for doing what’s right and removing the two books,” said Scroggins, who didn’t attend the board meeting. “It’s unfortunate they chose to keep the other book.”

Superintendent Vern Minor said the vote brings a conclusion to the complaint filed a year ago. Scroggins told the News-Leader he has yet to give any thought to pursuing this further.

In making a recommendation to remove the two, Minor explained that “numerous individuals have read the three novels and provided their feedback.” He conceded there wasn’t always consensus about what step to take.

“We had some differences of opinion, I’ll be honest with you,” he said.

Minor said the process took a while because the 4,500-student district didn’t want to look at the three books “in isolation.” Instead, a task force was convened to develop book standards for elementary, middle and high schools.

The panel reviewed existing board policy and the public rating systems that already exist for music, TV and video games.

“We very clearly stayed out of discussion about moral issues. Our discussions from the get-go were age-appropriateness,” he said.

“The discussion we’ve been having was not are these good books or bad books … It is is this consistent with what we’ve said is appropriate for kids.”

The board adopted the standards — which cover language, violence, sexuality and illegal substances — in April and those standards have since been applied to the three books.

As part of that, numerous individuals were asked to read the novels and provide feedback.

“It was really good for us to have this discussion,” Minor said. “Most schools stay away from this and they get on this rampage, the whole book-banning thing, and that’s not the issue here.We’re looking at it from a curriculum point of view.”

Minor provided a quick synopsis of each book in question and explained why it should stay or go:

» Support was strong for “Speak,” which has been taught in English I and II courses.

Minor said only one page is used to “tastefully, not graphically” describe the rape, and there were only three instances of profanity in the entire novel.

By the end of the novel, the girl finds her voice and stops a second attack. “There’s a message at the end that says that’s not appropriate,” he said.

» Minor said feedback for “Twenty Boy Summer,” available in the library, focused on “sensationalizing sexual promiscuity.” He said questionable language, drunkenness, lying to parents and a lack of remorse by the characters led to the recommendation.

“I just don’t think it’s a good book. I don’t think it’s consistent with these standards and the kind of message that we want to send,” he said. “…If the book had ended on a different note, I might have thought differently.”

» Citing crude language and adult themes, Minor said “Slaughterhouse Five” was more appropriate for college-age students.

“The language is just really, really intense,” he said. “I don’t think it has any place in high school … I’m not saying it’s a bad book.”

Minor explained that the book standards apply to required readings, materials read aloud by a teacher, library resources and independent study selections.

He also noted that the “value and impact of any instructional material will be judged as a whole, taking into account the purpose of the material.”

While Monday’s vote will prompt removal of the books from the high school curriculum and the library, Minor said students wishing to read materials that fall outside of the standards — including the two books — can select those books for classwork as long as they have signed parent permission.

“If the parent thinks ‘For Johnny, it is age-appropriate,’ then we’ll let the parent make the call,” he said.

“That would be for independent reading and they wouldn’t get it in our library.”

In addition to the News-Leader only six people were present for the discussion — four board members and two administrators.

Board member Melissa DuVall said districts make decisions every day about what to keep and what to exclude and this is no exception.

“We are not going to make everybody happy — and rarely do we,” she said.

“What we have to be proud of is we took a complaint, we took is seriously and we gave it due diligence.”

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