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Book Banning in U.S. Classrooms and Libraries

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William Duke

The ALA has also noted an increase in organized group challenges, possibly fueled by reviews like those offered by Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry whose website (focusonthefamily.org) dissects books from a religious vantage point. Its analysis of Romeo and Juliet, for example, points out that "even the earliest lines of the play, which state that [the pair] are 'star-crossed lovers,' indicate that cosmic destiny, not God, will guide the actions in this story." Candi Cushman, education analyst for the group, says, "Parents should have a role—and in fact have a right and responsibility to be involved in what their children are taught in taxpayer-funded schools, especially when it involves controversial topics. Fact is, there are detailed systems in place for addressing their concerns. We can trust the democratic process to weed out illegitimate complaints."

That's just what happened in Plano, Texas, after the parents of a 14-year-old protested what they considered obscene photos of ancient sculptures depicting male frontal nudity in the textbook Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities. Officials then pulled the volume, which was used by hundreds of freshmen and sophomores in the district's gifted and talented program. But students and parents fought back, launching a barrage of phone calls and e-mails as well as a social media campaign on Facebook, accusing the decision makers of censorship.

They prevailed: The district reversed its decision. "It would be ridiculous for us to learn about Greek art without ever looking at some of its most famous and significant statues," said one 15-year-old student, adding that it was equally ridiculous to remove the text "because of one parent complaint."

To avoid such skirmishes, the ALA urges schools to keep contested titles in the classroom or on library shelves until a committee reviews the works and makes a formal recommendation to the officials in charge. Scales has an idea that could preempt some disputes altogether. During her 37 years as a middle and high school librarian in Greenville, South Carolina, she asked students to write their explanations of why a book was meaningful to them and why they'd like their parents to read it too. She recalls a 14-year-old who chose Forever by Judy Blume, one of the first authors to candidly portray the sex lives of teens. Published in 1975, the novel tells the story of Katherine, who loses her virginity as a high school senior, and a friend, Artie, who is confused about his sexuality and tries to hang himself. "I would like my mother to read Forever so she can see what other kids in their teenage years feel and do," the student wrote. "I don't want her to read it and think that's what I want or intend to do. This book could point out what I am subjected to and, by refusing these things, show her that my values are worth trusting."