I wrote this and submitted it as a “My View” for the Tallahassee Democrat to coincide with Banned Books Week. It was not accepted by the Democrat, and Banned Books Week ends today so I am out of time to try to convince them otherwise. This piece is the most heart-generated and fussed-over composition I have written in a long time, so I want it to see the light of day. If you see fit to share it, please do. After two previous blog posts and countless other interactions on this topic, this post is my last. That sure doesn’t mean I am not watching, though, to make sure procedures are followed in the future and freedom to read remains exactly that: FREE.
A Curiously Close Call With Censorship
There are times when “never mind” is an appropriate response.
For example: change your mind after asking your son to pass the plate so you can take a second helping at dinner?
However, when it comes to free access to the written word, “never mind” is the wrong response.
As Banned Books Week 2015 ends, the “never mind” which was issued in response to a few parents’ complaints about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time at Lincoln High School should not be brushed off.
At the end of the 2014/15 school year, students at Lincoln High School were informed their summer reading assignment was to be The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.
On August 4, the principal sent an email stating that the assignment was being changed from “required” to “optional.” In that email, he said “I understand that the language used in this summer’s selected novel makes this text inappropriate as an assignment for all students…I am lifting the mandatory requirement for this novel.” The email continued, “ this novel will not be used for instruction during the school year.”
In a subsequent conversation with the principal, he told me that parents of incoming freshmen had expressed concerns about the language used in the book. He ultimately decided that the book “set the wrong tone” for an incoming freshman’s first experience with Lincoln High School.
An email which stated, “this novel will not be used for instruction during the school year” felt like a “never mind.”
Over the weeks between August 4 and now, I have struggled to put my finger on exactly why this situation angered me so much. While trying to figure out my own intense reaction, I visited as many articles and blogs about this situation as I could. Countless times, I have responded to people worldwide: “I am a parent of a child at the school in question. To be clear, the book was not banned. The assignment was made optional.”
I want to believe the public statements of my School Board members that this is not “censorship” or “banning.”
Here’s where I have an issue.
If this “never mind” isn’t censorship, what is it?
It falls somewhere between the American Library Association’s “public attack” and “censorship.” A public attack is “a publicly disseminated statement challenging the value of the material, presented to the media and/or others outside the institutional organization in order to gain public support for further action.” Censorship is “a change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.”
The ALA does not have a “never mind” category.
As Banned Books Week ends, we owe it to our students to be vigilant year-round, not just one week a year, and to stop ourselves when and if we inch close to censorship.
We need to know when to say, “I mind.”
My Banned Books Week Virtual Readout:
This post was also published on LinkedIn here.
And for the last word, thank you Judy Blume, without whom my childhood would have been much duller.