Feb 5, 2007

School district appears to be caving to book burners

It’s a sad commentary on our world that a small-minded and very vocal minority of community censors may be getting their way, or at least changing the way things are done at Howell Public Schools.

The anti-gay hate group known as the LOVE group - (Livingston Organization for Values in Education) – started a book banning 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.” Since then, they have also tried to ban Nobel Prize author Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," and an acclaimed memoir written by Richard Wright in 1945, "Black Boy." Both books address social issues of blacks in 1940s America and have been used for at least two years in an American literature class. Local and statewide media quickly picked up on the fact that two of the three authors are African-American, reinforcing Howell’s image as a small-minded racist community.

The so-called “LOVE” group claim they object to the books because of the alleged profanity and references to drugs and sex acts.

After tabling the issue two weeks ago the issue is expected to be taken up Monday, led by so-called “LOVE” member and school board member Wendy Day, at the next school board meeting. However, in a report in the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus today it appears the administration is caving and making some concessions to this small, but very vocal minority.

Howell Public Schools is moving toward including more parents in the process of approving curriculum. Marybeth Roose, the district's director of community education and district communications, said the district is planning to add some parents to the Curriculum Council, which approves all new or amended class material.
"Parents will definitely soon be included," she said. "Especially in the book review process."
The council has about 50 members, and while it is a "diverse group," she said, all of the members are either teachers or administrators — although some are also parents as well.
Exactly how many parents will be on the council has yet to be determined, Roose said.

That’s not a bad idea, but the simple fact is this group will not be satisfied with this concession. Any parent can – and always could - opt out of the assigned book and have their child read an alternative title, but that was also not good enough for this group.

To make it to be part of the curriculum, the book and other material has to go through a vigorous vetting process that includes a step-by-step approval process up the chain-of- command. All the curriculum is approved by a group of teachers from the particular school, a district wide subject-specific content committee, a district wide curriculum and assessment committee, the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and finally Superintendent Chuck Breiner.

Does anyone believe adding a couple of parents to the curriculum and assessment committee is going to satisfy this group of censors?

Another well-known anti-gay hate group - the American Family Association of Michigan, led by Gary Glenn – is threatening to sue the Board if it approves the books.

President Gary Glenn said a legal opinion from the national AFA found that distributing a book describing scenes of child rape — as one of the books in question does — violates child pornography laws.
He said he passed that opinion to (Vicki) Fyke, (leader of the so-called “LOVE” group and the advisor of the Livingston County Teen Age Republicans) who may decide to bring it to the attention of local law enforcement authorities.

To most people, comparing literate that won the Nobel Prize to child pornography is totally ridiculous, but not to Mr. Glenn and the so-called “Love” group. I finally got my hands on one of the books in question, "The Bluest Eye," and I am just beginning to read it.

But it just amazes me that our little community is trying to ban a book written by an author who won the coveted and prestigious international Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 for her work. The prize announcement says her work is “characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality." But we don’t want our young people to read her work. That’s just sad.

1 comment:

Michael Motta said...

I have not read this Morrison book, but since (as I see by the cover) it was part of Oprah's Book Club, I would be inclined to guess that it's no less "mainstream" than much of the rest of the modernist and postmodern (and even ancient) literature that are part of collegiate curricula.

For instance, the translation of Plato's "Symposium" that my Straussian conservative professor at James Madison College (MSU) chose to include in a seminar contained drawings depicting both hermaphrodites and homosexual acts. I raise this example partly as a way to show how out of touch certain parents who fancy themselves literary critics seem to be with the history of art and literature. I don't even have to bring in Beat poets or the French Left!

Granted, high school consists mostly of minors, but at some point there needs to be a transition from kitsch or sentimentality to real art and literature that grapple with real issues; especially considering that "drivel illustrated" such as Thomas Kincaid's gets so much exposure. With so much complaining about the state of public education in America, you'd think that parents would want students to be more prepared for college rather than coddled.