Five classic books banned from the Alaska School District | UPDATE

UPDATE 7/7/2020 – The Mat-Su School Board held a meeting on 6/5/2020 where members were to reconsider their original decision. After hours of testimony, the vast majority of which supported conservation of the books, the board voted to defer their new vote until a meeting later in May. The NCAC will continue to monitor the case and continue to provide support to the District in keeping the books and strengthening their review procedures.

4/29/2020 – The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) School District School Board in Palmer, Alaska, urging it to reverse the decision to censor its own teachers and students . Last week, the board voted to remove five of the twelve books on the Grade 11 English language reading list because classic books were deemed to contain “controversial” content. Removing books is educationally and legally unhealthy, disrespectful of district education professionals, and reflects bad district policy.

The books retrieved in Mat-Su are classic works with long stories in American classrooms: 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 and The things they carried by Tim O’Brien.

Media reports indicate that the council voted 5-2 to remove the texts from the program, although some members admit to having only read the descriptions of the content, not the books themselves. Books should be judged as a whole and not by isolated passages. (United States Supreme Court approves.) Allowing the vague and subjective criterion of “controversial” to limit what students can read and teachers can teach opens the door to discrimination of points of view. The personal opinions of a few, even a few influential members of the community, should not determine what students are allowed to read. These decisions must be made for educational reasons. After all, what better than a classroom, under the direction of qualified educators, for students to encounter complex and stimulating ideas?

Alaska state law already allows parents who do not want their child to read a particular book to request another assignment. As in many states and school districts, this allows parents to influence their own child’s education, but prevents discrimination from views of censoring the education of all students.

The NCAC and its co-signers call on the board to restore the books and allow its teachers to determine how best to educate its students about classic American literature.

Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view:

About Marcia G. Hussain

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