Texas-born Tomás Rivera’s coming-of-age story of a Mexican boy’s life in a migrant family in the 1940s and 1950s, with its themes of family life and tensions, is apparently too much for the parents of a Clarke County seventh-grader and they want the book banned.
They demanded that the Clarke County Board of Education overturn Superintendent Philip Lanoue’s decision not to remove the award-winning book from an Athens, Georgia school.
In an email detailing the complaint, Deputy Superintendent Noris Price stated, “We think the themes speak directly to many of our students. We suggest that if teachers use this book, to include a permission slip along with it so parents are aware of potential language issues or violence.”
Such a compromise is not satisfactory to the parents of the student, though, according to a formal “request for reconsideration of material” they filed in April.
In that complaint, the parents argue that “any possible value is lost with offensive language,” such as a profanity-laced outburst from a man frustrated by unjust treatment and conditions migrant workers endure- in good times, migrant pay is $15 a day for adults, half that for children. “At the impressionable age of middle schoolers, purposely exposing them to this language may seem like an endorsement of it,” (sic) the complaint contended.
Please, I heard worse language sitting in study hall.
Lanoue wrote to the parents on May 9th to say the book would remain available to students with parental consent.
“This decision is based on the recommendation that one paragraph does not overpower the other literary elements that (Rivera’s) book can offer our students,” he said.
The son of Spanish-speaking migrant workers, Rivera would later become an author, poet, college professor, and administrator- a career that culminated in becoming chancellor of the University of California at Riverside when he died in 1984 at the age of 48.
“…y no se lo tragó la tierra”- translated into English variously as “This Migrant Earth” or “…and the Earth Did Not Devour Him” won the first Quinto Sol literary award in 1970. A California publisher, to encourage and promote Chicano authors, established the award. A movie adaptation of the novel was released in 1995.
The Clarke County school board was scheduled to hear the appeal at its regular monthly meeting last Wednesday.
At the first sign of controversy, they caved. They didn’t even attempt to delay the matter by assigning it to a committee for investigation, or gaining community or parent insight. They simply tucked their tails between their legs and voted in a half-hearted motion to “urge Superintendent Lanoue to reconsider” the logical compromise of giving informed parents the opportunity of opting out and instead just removing the book completely.
We all know what it means when the higher-ups want you to “reconsider” something- they have their eye on you and the pressure is on to change your mind so that you end up the bad guy and they save face.
This sets a very bad precedent.
If a school board so quickly adds an agenda item upon request from a single individual or family, what’s next? It’s clear that anything a parent objects to or has an issue with goes straight to the board level for immediate response, where the powers that be cower to public fear and sheepishly consent to demands without so much as a candid debate.
David Huff, vice president of the school board, was one of two members to oppose the ban.
He said that the board should be focusing on bigger issues, such as improving graduation rates, cutting-edge technology, and the future of education, not short-term political distractions.
He’s absolutely right.
Once you start obsessing over individual words and paragraphs and getting caught up in scrutinizing class reading lists just to satisfy the whims and insecurities of individual parents you’re micromanaging your teaching staff and taking attention away from more important matters like planning and policies that are beneficial for all schools.
I’m not saying that the voice of these parents doesn’t matter or that their concerns don’t have merit, but there’s more than one child in any given school.
What of those other parents? Don’t they get a say in the matter? In fact, if that’s how it’s going to be, just remove the teachers altogether and have the parents dictate curriculum for their children and yours. Soon classrooms will be a bickering minefield of parents. Too many hands in the cookie jar, as it were. Yeah, that’s logical.
Why stop there? How about they decide on what color the hallways are painted, how many bike racks go in front of each door- or which door, and what brand of toilet to install in the bathroom.
Banning books might seem like an easy way to avoid controversy and attention, but all it really does is open a can of worms that slowly eats away at democracy and free-choice.
So, where does it end?
** Author’s Note: In another on-going incident of censorship, the book has also been included in the many titles remove in Arizona as part of that state’s ban on books dealing with ethnic studies, which sparked outrage and “caravan” events around the country, known as Librotraficante, aimed at smuggling books into Tucson schools.
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://bbark.deepforestproductions.com/