Petition Against Oklahoma HB 1380


Oklahoma lawmakers have decided to limit our educational choices. HB 1380 would eliminate funding for Advance Placement (AP) U.S. History. Politicians in the state say they want to ban AP U.S. History because they don’t agree with the content (the true facts and events of history are not fitting to a narrow, revisionist vision of history and maintaining a politically-motivated agenda).
“The bill, authored by Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher, designates a total of 58 documents that “shall form the base level of academic content for all United States History courses offered in the schools in the state.”
Many of the texts are uncontroversial and currently covered by the Advanced Placement U.S. History course, such as the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and Gettysburg Address; but the bill also has an ideological and religious side. The bill will REQUIRE all students to attend a class that focuses on the 10 Commandments, 3 speeches by President Ronald Reagan, and a speech by George W. Bush. NO speeches or documents from any Democratic President since Lyndon Johnson will be permitted.
As a supporter of literacy and the freedom to read, Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge supports and signs this petition.

Banned Books Awareness: “The Working Poor”


thPQ4FUC4XBanned Books Week, which coincides with the new school year each autumn, is usually a time when scholars, book lovers, and legal analysts discuss how censorship impacts society and education. One would expect those in charge of our schools to hold all aspects of education- especially books- most dear.

As it turns out, at least one Superintendent has a different view.

Dawson Orr, of the Highland Park ISD in Texas, made the autonomous decision to ignore district policy and remove seven books from classroom shelves. In doing so, he set off a firestorm that reached the national level.

The books were reinstated and the district’s policies on book selection for classroom use and how challenges to those books are handled is under review.

Move forward four months and The Working Poor, a non-fiction work about poverty by David Skipler, is threatened yet again in the district on accusations that it is “sexually explicit” and “has no place in a high school English course”. The course is Advanced Placement English III and is a college-level course for juniors.

The book tells the true stories of people in the United States living just above the federal poverty line. The English department’s review of the book for the district listed an acknowledgement that the book contained some material that could be considered controversial, but deemed the work an asset “to build students’ capacity for empathy and knowledge of an issue facing millions in America and millions more across the world.”

The parent who filed the complaint stated that “The Working Poor is not a great work of literature or an example of rich writing we want our students to emulate. One must ask, is this the best piece of literature our students can read to learn to write?”

She argued that if English teachers want to teach global poverty and economic equality, alternate books such as Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, We the Living, by Ayn Rand, and America the Beautiful, by Ben Carson, were more appropriate.


The disagreement being put forth is that material of a social or economic nature that speaks of economic inequality is unfit for a college-level English course; but material by Ayn Rand, whom is often associated with conservative policies and often quoted by the wealthiest members of American political and economic organizations is.

Carson is a regular on Fox News and other conservative media programs. His book has received no serious critical praise; in fact the most notable discussion about it has been the charge that passages were plagiarized.

So much for the complainant’s “quality literature” argument.

It should be noted that the Highland Park ISD is one of the wealthiest in Texas. Both sides in the debate acknowledge the perpetuated stereotypes.

The author of the contested book stated that he is unaware of it being challenged in any other district. Following the initial suspension in September, he added an afterward about the issue in his forthcoming book, Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword.

Shipler defends that there is nothing “prurient, obscene or sexually explicit in the book” and the anecdotes by women quoted in the book mentioning issues of sexual abuse and abortion only did so because they felt the trauma was relevant to their issues. He included them not only because they were valid topics for the subject matter, but also to describes challenges that cut across socioeconomic lines and teach readers about harsh realities.

The dispute has resulted in the formation of two opposing groups in the community: Speak Up for Standards, which objects to some mature content in high school books, and HP Kids Read, which opposes book suspensions and censorship.

Shipler mentions that he has conducted many discussions in schools across the country and has a granddaughter attending high school. He has found that not only do most children that age understand such material, they are fully capable of making informed and intelligent decisions and opinions related to that material.

Take, for example, Highland Park senior Gaby Gear. She said that, “It didn’t seem like a big deal when we read it. Just kind of the realities of life.”

Another senior, who read the book last year, said that those realities had an impact on her.

“To me, it kind of opened my eyes,” says Maddie Kelly. “I couldn’t imagine going through that.”

The proposed changes to the district’s policy on controversial material will be voted on later this month or in February. The new proposals include:

  • Staff “place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice” when selecting instructional material. It ensures that books “are evaluated as a whole and selected for their strengths rather than rejected for their weaknesses” and are not “masked, clipped, or altered in any manner inconsistent with the author’s intent.” The removal of controversial materials from the library will be prohibited.
  • The principal or a designee will be required to review guidelines with teachers each year about how to select instructional material and handle objections.
  • Eliminate an approved book list for the high school. Teachers currently pick books from the list to teach in class or assign for outside reading. Instead, the district would create a new annual approval process. (Highland Park High School Principal, Walter Kelly, said the approved book list opens the district to criticism over books that haven’t been used for years. It also limits teachers to about 200 approved titles.)
  • Changes to how the high school uses permission slips. Permission slips will go home to parents the first week of the school year along with a course overview. The early notice would allow teachers more time to plan alternative assignments if a parent or student “opts out.”
  • Puts safeguards in place to avoid interruption of classroom lessons and a continuous cycle of challenges. It prohibits a formal challenge to the same material or an appeal to reinstate a removed material until two calendar years have passed.
  • Parents can only formally challenge material that’s in use or scheduled for use. If a committee deems a book inappropriate, the superintendent can delay removal of the book “if he or she determines the immediate removal would be disruptive to the instructional process.”
  • Creates a timeline for the annual review of books that teachers plan to use during the upcoming school year. It allows time for parents to review that list and raise objections.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Dallas News, WJBC, CNN
© 2015 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

This article has been updated since its date of publication. It was amended with the background information on Ben Carson and his book.

Banned Books Awareness: “Harriet the Spy”


harrietthespy_200-9efd97ced1fc296511563193e9938dceab17ffe3-s2-c85In 1960s America there weren’t many mysteries solved by powerful female detectives. The choice was between Nancy Drew (who was often overshadowed by the Hardy Boys) and Harriet M. Welsch, better known as Harriet the Spy. It was hard not to like Harriet or to laugh at the whimsical quips she would jot down in her iconic notebook like: “MY MOTHER IS ALWAYS SAYING PINKY WHITEHEAD’S WHOLE PROBLEM IS HIS MOTHER. DOES HIS MOTHER HATE HIM? IF I HAD HIM I’D HATE HIM.” Looking back, those stories were read with childhood fascination and an attention span that rarely roamed beyond the immediate entertainment value; but as an adult it becomes clearer how these two seemingly similar characters were actually illustrating a shifting view in culture in regards to the role of women and in children and children’s literature as a whole. Nancy was the polite and respectful girl next door, while Harriet was impetuous and couldn’t care less about keeping up a lady’s appearance. Nancy would solve crimes to bring closure to the mystery and the perpetrators to justice, Harriet did so for no other reason than the thrill and delinquent pleasure of doing what wasn’t supposed to be done by “good little girls”. Harriet wrote about her adventures and the people and places in her Manhattan setting with a derisiveness that was negative and arrogant yet so refreshingly hilarious that you are forced to laugh and nod your head in agreement. Not surprisingly, her against-the-grain attitude has had some people in a frenzy since her first adventure was published in 1964 and led to her being one of the most-banned and challenged literary characters of the last half century. The book debuted on a 1964 list of “The Year’s Best Juveniles” in The New York Times Book Review. One reviewer in 1965 called the book “a brilliantly written, unsparing realistic story, a superb portrait of an extraordinary child” and another found that it “captures the feelings, thoughts and situations of a modern city child with remarkable clarity and dimension”. It won a Sequoyah Book Award in 1967 and, in 2005, ex-CIA officer Lindsay Moran cited the series of books as an inspiration for her career. Anita Silvey, author of 100 Best Books for Children, stated that Harriet was controversial in part because she was a flawed character. There were critics drawn to her charm, but other critics hated the book. Some schools even banned it. Harriet saw what she saw and spoke her mind. She even threw temper tantrums and had to visit a psychiatrist. Such subversive (yet completely relatable behavior) was not to be tolerated and certainly not endorsed. Along with Are You There God?, Blubber, and Where the Sidewalk Ends, the book was challenged at a 1983 school board meeting in Xenia, Ohio. Opponents viewed it as encouraging children to be disrespectful, teaching children to “lie, spy, talk back, and curse.” Kathleen Horning, the director of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, reflects on the “tomboy story”. “There was a whole genre called the ‘tomboy story’ where a girl rebels in that way, but at the end everything is wonderful because she really is a girl and she gets very feminine,” remembers Horning. She was a tomboy who didn’t want to reform. Later on, she realized she was a lesbian. What does that have to do with Harriet the Spy? “A lot”, says Horning. The book’s author, Louise Fitzhugh, was also gay, and although Harriet’s sexuality is never referenced or hinted at in any way in the book, her clothes and bravado sent a message to some kids who felt different and didn’t know why. Many lesbians, from the 1960s to today, have publically identified with Harriet due to her being an “outsider” dressing like a boy. Opponents claim that Fitzhugh was secretly pushing a gay agenda through use of characters like the “Boy with the Purple Socks,” arguing that he was gay for no other reason than the color purple being associated with the gay community. Harriet’s friend, Sport, is also considered counterculture from 1960s gender norms due to the fact that he cooks, cleans, and carries out other household tasks due to his absentee mother and stay-at-home father. Horning added that, “If you were growing up in the sixties when you really didn’t have any other people like you; Harriet was it. What the book told us is that we could be ourselves and survive.” It’s easy to see why some adults would be concerned with her rebellious nature, but when they make claims of seditious commentary based solely on the color of someone’s socks it becomes crystal clear that some people have far too much time on their hands. It’s a book, after all, but talk about reading between the lines. If it weren’t for Harriet, the strong female leads of the 1990s and new millennium simply wouldn’t have existed. Buffy, for example, was the most popular and most comparable character to directly result from Harriet and was as beloved by girls in the ‘90s as Harriet was by their parents. Therein lies a perfect bridge between the generations and source of open and honest discourse. That’s what good literature does- entertain first and encourage discussion later. It’s a lesson some just can’t seem to comprehend.   For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at Sources: Wikipedia, American Library Association, NPR, Daily Mail, Christian Science Monitor © 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions