Alaska school board rolls back ban on classic books

Following widespread protests from local citizens and national groups including the National Coalition Against Censorship, an Alaskan school board voted 6 to 1 to reverse its decision to withdraw five classic works of fiction from the Grade 11 English language reading list.

Students will again be able to read:

  • I know why the caged bird is singing by Maya Angelou
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Gatsby the magnificent by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The things they carried by Tim O’Brien.

Before the vote on May 20, Jim Hart, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Matanuska-Susitna School District (Mat-Su) in Palmer, Alaska, argues that a passage of I Know why the caged bird is singing portraying the perpetrator being raped as a child was “inappropriate” for high school students.

“This is one of the most banned books, and I mean the banned and removed books in the country and precisely for that content,” Hart said.

Superintendent Monica Goyette replied that it was a mistake to judge the book by an isolated passage. She added that teachers provide the context for understanding difficult material.

Several dozen residents demonstrated in front of the district offices ahead of the meeting. Kate Steagall, a high school student, told a reporter that she was against the way young people were portrayed. “Being told that we are not mature enough to read these books or that we need to be protected is a little boring,” she said.

On April 29, the CNAC sent a letter to the Mat-Su school board urging it to lift its ban. “The council’s action sets bad policy, which is both educational and legal suspicious, and also disrespects the professional expertise of district educators,” he said.

About Marcia G. Hussain

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