Imagine it. Perhaps you’ve already experienced it. I must admit, I don’t recall ever going to a school library or public library and asked for a book only to be told that it was banned.
Yet, it happens all the time in the U.S. This map from BannedBooksWeek.org, is quite disturbing, if you believe we should have access to any and all information.
Let’s look at one specific example in Tallahassee, Florida. Principal Allen Burch of Lincoln High School, decided to remove the title “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon.
It’s a story narrated by a 15-year-old mathematical genius who has a cognitive disability similar to Asperger’s Syndrome.
According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Burch claimed about 20 parents felt the book had questionable language and material they deemed inappropriate. Here are a couple clips from the book.
“She was shouting, ‘What in fuck’s name have you done to my dog?”‘ Christopher is chaste in his language, but dutifully records the swearing of other characters. “‘Let go of the dog,’ she shouted. ‘Let go of the fucking dog for Christ’s sake.'”
And Mr Shears said, ‘Jumping Jack Christ.’
And Mother said, ‘Roger, please.'”
Having banned Christopher from interrogating their neighbours (he wants to be a detective and find Wellington’s killer), his father discovers that he has been questioning the old lady who lives opposite.
“Then he said, ‘Holy fucking Jesus, Christopher. How stupid are you?’
The question here isn’t why did the principal remove the book from the class assignment but, why did the school board allow the removal without going through the proper procedures. Because there is a process the school and school board must follow.
Here is the actual language of the Leon County Schools bylaws.
Matters Regarding Instructional Materials
If the request, suggestion, or complaint relates to instructional materials such as textbooks, library books, reference works, and other instructional aids used in the District, the criticism is to be addressed to the Division of Teaching & Learning, in writing, and shall include author; title; publisher; and/or reasons for objection.
No challenged material may be removed from the curriculum or from a collection of resource materials except by action of the Board, and no challenged material may be removed solely because it presents ideas that may be unpopular or offensive to some. Any Board action to remove material will be accompanied by the Board’s statement of its reasons for the removal.
That’s senior Jaclyn Weinell who wrote an editorial piece for the Tallahassee Democrat challenging the move to remove the book. She even went before the school board and the principal to try and get the title back on the reading list.
Weinell had no luck in finding the parents who reportedly complained of the book. I’ve reached out to the principal of the school hoping to get his perspective on the decision and everything that’s followed. If he responds, I’ll post those comments on this site. Again, Principal Burch claims about 20 parents had complained about the book. Weinell wanted to hear from them too.
The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) promotes the annual Banned Books Week in late September. They provide a toolkit for dealing with banned books? I recently spoke with Sarah Hoffman of the NCAC about Weinell’s case and the fact that books are still banned.
The book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, remains off the curriculum, though it’s available in the library. In the end it may seem the principal and the school board won out. Maybe, this time. But, the experience had a profound impact on Weinell.
When I look up book burning, I find cases in other countries, and ISIS seems to come up quite a bit. But, for some reason we remain a fearful society, and sadly some of us still feel the need to impose our fears on others.
I’m curious though, are you someone in a position who has ever considered, or decided to, ban a book? Share that story with us, please.
Listen to my special letter to Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes.