Jan 23, 2007
The lunatic fringe was out in full force last night at the Howell Public Schools Board of Education meeting trying to ban some books that are part of the English curriculum.
An anti-gay hate group called LOVE - (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) – started the controversy some two months ago by trying to ban a book called “The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.” It was approved for advanced 10th grade English class, but the group caused a flap over the book’s alleged profanity and references to drugs and sex acts.
The board was set to approve proposed curriculum adoptions, revisions and changes that apparently include the reading list for English classes, but members of the so-called LOVE group – including School Board Member Wendy Day, who is a member of LOVE and endorsed by the Livingston County Republican Party – got their “small but local minority” out to the meeting to try and disrupt it.
Now, the group is out to ban such subversive books as Slaughterhouse Five" by Kurt Vonnegut, and "Black Boy" by Richard Wright and The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, taught in 11th grade English, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus.
I was unable to make the meeting because I was at another meeting, but I did see the report on the news at WLNS-TV. It was shameful, and this small group of extremists again gave Livingston County a black eye and enforced the image of the county as a small-minded, racist community.
I have sat through a lot of local government board meetings and school board meetings, but I have never seen anyone act as aggressively and out of control as one LOVE member, apparently named Ann Blaine, according to the newspaper.
She read graphic passages from one of the books describing incest and rape, then wagged her finger at the school board members as she asked, "Tell me, what is the redeeming quality of a book like that?"
At every meeting I have been to they hold “call to the public.” It is held at a podium for the speaker, and they are usually limited to speak for two minutes. But I have never seen anyone act so aggressively at a meeting as this woman. It’s amazing she was not arrested or removed. The good news is these people are the fringe minority, and the majority of the sane people at the meeting got to see what they really are and what they are really about. They are angry, frustrated narrow-minded people who resort to screaming and shouting when they do not get their way.
By far the most absurd quoted I saw on the broadcast was from LOVE leader Vicki Fyke. Unfortunately, to further ensure our young people have a narrow view of the world, Fyke is also the advisor for the Livingston County Teen Age Republicans. She said – with a straight face, mind you, “we’re not about censoring books,” she said. “We’re talking about responsibility: we’re talking about what’s appropriate for certain ages.”
She’s kidding right. Here’s the vetting process the books went through.
Before being presented to the board, all the curriculum was approved by a group of teachers from the particular school, a district wide subject-specific content committee, a districtwide curriculum and assessment committee, Farina and Superintendent Chuck Breiner.
Apparently, the so-called LOVE group’s narrow view should be substituted for that of professional educators. I don’t think so. You don’t think sex is something 10th and 11th graders have not been exposed to before?
Unfortunately, the board did not take a vote because the full board was not present, and we’ll have to go through this fringe minority group trashing the image of Howell again next month. However, there is also some good news. Apparently more people in the community are improving their reading list.
Mary Ellen Aria, owner of Aria Booksellers in downtown Howell, said engaging young people in reading is a more important concern than protecting them from profanity. Aria said her store has sold 43 copies of "Freedom Writers" since the controversy began in December. And that's been a pattern for controversial books — they sell well once people object to them.
This in sharp contrast to Day’s reading habits.
Day was the most vocal critic of the books, and made the first motion to exclude them. "We have final accountability for what happens in this school district," she said. "You don't have to read the whole book to know the merit of this."