Banned Books Readout
Book challenges are of course nothing new and fit perfectly in the context of the broader culture wars. The Chocolate War is controversial because of fowl language, portrayal of masturbation, and violence, but other challenges center on homosexuality and the presentation of political opinions that at least one squeaky wheel finds objectionable. Freedom to petition the government, or in this case public school administrators, is of course protected by the First Amendment. That said, librarians have broad leeway in constructing a collection for their schools, as they seek volumes to contribute to the broader curriculum. The Supreme Court has made it very difficult to remove books once they are already part of a school library collection.
This case, of course, centers on a book required by the curriculum, not a voluntary alternative in the library stacks. Schools offer often students of parents who object to a required book an alternative, but Kinzie is standing its ground. Principal Sean Egan wrote, "This book was selected for the very important, complex themes it covers, including conformity and the ethical implications of choices we make..." He continued, "A few students have objected to the contents of the book, which addresses mature themes and contains some swearing. Decisions regarding the content of a school's curriculum, however, lie with its educators and administrators."
Kudos to Principal Egan and his staff for standing up for academic freedom. In this spirit, the ALA, in partnership with the Newberry Library and the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, will host a Banned Books Readout this Saturday in Pioneer Court adjacent to the Tribune Tower from 1-4pm. Authors of controversial and challenged books will be on hand to discuss their content and read freely from their pages, including Chris Crutcher, Robie Harris, Carolyn Mackler, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Peter Parnell, Sonya Sones, Marilyn Reynolds, and Justin Richardson. Interspersed between these readings will be performances of challenged songs by the Old Town School of Folk Music and theatrical readings by the City Lit Theater Company.
Admission is free, and guests will be provided with a button inscribed with the slogan, "I Read Banned Books." The Freedom Museum will honor all visitors who enter wearing this pin with complimentary admission throughout the rest of the day. The museum closes at 6pm. (For a more elaborate discussion of the event, click here to watch my interview with Judy Krug, Director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom, on CAN-TV)
Back to Cormier. Although not much of a fiction connoisseur myself, I actually read The Chocolate War with a group of special needs students during my training to be a teacher at a high school in the Madison (WI) area. Honestly, nothing in the short, but powerful narrative even caused me to blink an eye. I thought it was an accurate depiction of the struggles that young boys face in an environment filled with peer-pressure, with parallels to Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye.
The the case of Kinzie Elementary, parental objections are coming from parents of students who will not even read the book! Instead, they fear that the contents of the book will be discussed outside of class, as students parlay the content and language to their younger peers. While I certainly don't condone the use of vulgar language, I do feel that we do children a great injustice when we shield them from the realities of the world. Moreover, we should be so lucky if students discussed class materials after the bell rings.
Cormier has since passed, but he left us with volumes of realistic portrayals of the complex world that our children inhabit. Please stand with us during Banned Books Week, attend the Readout, and support the legacy of Cormier and others, upholding academic freedom through these troubled times.