Banned Books Awareness: “The Glass Castle”

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The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, is an autobiographical memoir of Walls’ and her siblings’ unconventional and poverty-stricken upbringing at the hands of deeply dysfunctional parents.

The book, published in 2005, pulls on the heartstrings of readers with its resonating and poignant topics; but the parents of a student at Traverse City West Senior High School, in Michigan, are the latest to ask school officials to have a book banned from 9th-, 10th- and 11th-grade courses.

Heather and Jeff Campbell complained about the book and the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education is to weigh in on the matter Monday, December 10th.

It was assigned to the Campbells’ daughter over the summer as part of a freshman honors English course, but her parents objected to the memoir because it includes explicit language and references to child molestation, adolescent sexual exploits, and violence as it recounts the author’s experiences growing up with an alcoholic father and a mother who suffered from mental illness.

On November 20th, the school board’s Curriculum Committee endorsed a recommendation to remove the book from student study. That recommendation originated from a separate committee that was formed to address the Campbells’ complaint, a step required by district policy.

The committee was composed of Jayne Mohr, TCAPS assistant superintendent; Stephanie Long, an assistant principal at West; Genevieve Minor, West’s media specialist; teachers Maya Kassab and Sherry Stoltz; and parents Billie Jo Clark and Jennifer Bonifacio.

Clark read the book before it had been assigned to students and said it offers more than just an engaging story and plans to have her 9th-grade son to read it.
“It’s a book about overcoming the most incredible obstacles in your life,” she said. “It is a book about forgiveness.”

But the Campbell’s don’t think the recommendation to remove the book from 9th-grade reading lists went far enough. Jeff Campbell called it a “minimalist action” in an email to Mohr.

“I never thought I would be somewhere where I would have to say- it’s almost like a book-burning- ‘please take this off the reading list,’” said Heather Campbell. “I just think we need to use some common sense when it comes to our kids. It’s just really inappropriate for 13- and 14-year-olds.”

“I don’t think we’re purists by any means,” added Jeff.

The problem is that they are.

To be honest, it’s perfectly acceptable that the Campbells have objections to the book; but that same right to their own opinion does not give them the authority to force that opinion, and its ramifications, upon everyone else involved.

This isn’t the first time the book has faced the torch-squad, either.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sited a challenge that occurred in fall 2009 in Santa Clarita, California, where a parent challenged the school district over “The Glass Castle” and “The Bean Trees” being assigned in an honors English class.

In 2010 it was challenged at the William S. Hart Union High School District in Saugus, California, as required summer reading for their honors English program. The complaints included use of profanity, criticisms of Christianity, and accounts of sexual abuse and prostitution. Students had the option of alternative assignments that still meet objectives and teaching goals of the course.

Also in 2010, a high school English teacher in Brookline, New Hampshire, defended her summer reading list choice after an e-mail with a passage from the book depicting sexual abuse was sent to school officials.

Debbie and Steve Pucci, parents of an 11th-grader, wrote an e-mail which included nothing but a two-paragraph excerpt from “The Glass Castle”.

The Pucci’s did not include an explanation with the e-mail and sent the passage out of context to principal Cindy Matte, Superintendant of Schools Susan Hodgdon, and Janice Tremblay, chairwoman of the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School Board.

During a meeting with school officials that followed a series of e-mail exchanges, Debbie Pucci said, “The language in the book was very offensive.”

“Why this book, with all the great literature out there?” she and her husband wanted to know.

Their answer arrived in a letter dated August 10th that was sent to parents of every student in the AP English class assigned the summer reading.

“I chose the text because it is commonly taught in AP Language and Composition classes as part of a memoir unit,” English teacher Samantha McElroy wrote. “Teachers and critics have praised the memoir for Walls’ honest account of positive life experiences as well as difficult incidents, citing her resilience and success in spite of such challenges as inspirational. Unfortunately, it contains mature content and language that may have taken your child by surprise and made him or her uncomfortable.”

A day later, the Pucci’s reply came: “We can appreciate how all of you must have reacted when you received our e-mail. It was exactly as we had anticipated. However, we can assure you that we were even more shocked to discover this and dozens of similarly offensive excerpts from (our daughter’s) required reading assignment. We too are disturbed and puzzled as to how this required book for AP English could ever be deemed appropriate by any member of our high school administration and/or professional staff.”

Earlier this year it was challenged as part of the tenth-grade English curriculum in the Sade-Central City High School classrooms in Cairnbrook, Pennsylvania because of objections to Walls’ descriptions of abuse such as sexual assault, drunkenness, seeing the family cat thrown from a moving car, having to drink ditch water, and the use of “casual profanity.”

After voting to retain the title in class curriculums, even staunch critics of the graphic accounts praised its theme- overcoming adversity.

It’s been seen time after time when someone objects to these topics wrapped inside literature and fiction and wants to prevent it from being read, but this is historical fact. It did happen. It does happen. It will happen again- no matter how blind the Campbells or the Puccis of the world choose to be when faced with the truth of the world in which they live.

If a student is mature enough to handle the added responsibility of an honors course, then they are deemed mature and capable enough to handle the resulting content in the educated opinion of school officials and teachers, even if you can’t wake up and see that she’s not that pig-tailed, naive little girl sitting on your knee anymore.

Just because the Campbells and the Puccis choose to view the world through the rose-colored lenses of ignorance does not mean that those of sufficient maturity and critical thinking skills can’t absorb and discuss the real world issues brought forth between the pages of “The Glass Castle.”

If one considers their son or daughter still too immature by the time they’re taking high-school level honors courses, that does not mean that every other student is of equally-stunted emotional growth or intelligence.

If that’s the case, then your child really shouldn’t be approved to be in an honors-level course to begin with. The whole point of honors classes in high school is for students who have reached a level in their education where they are ready to engage in college-level analysis and discourse.

When a book comes along that can make a reader who faces a similar situation or past not feel so alone, or provide an eye-opening awareness to those who are in a position to break the chain, then everyone- everywhere and of all ages- should read it.

The memoir has spent 261 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list and is now under development as a film by Paramount. By 2007, The Glass Castle had sold over 2.5 million copies, had been translated into 22 languages, and received the Christopher Award, the American Library Association’s Alex Award (2006) and the Books for Better Living Award.

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 http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html

Sources: Wikipedia, Marshall University, Detroit Free Press, Traverse City Record-Eagle, The Telegraph,
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

3 thoughts on “Banned Books Awareness: “The Glass Castle”

  1. Pingback: You Can't Read That! | Paul's Thing

  2. Pingback: Why Does This Remind Me Of Our Local School Board? | Right Michigan

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