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: “Hop on Pop”


It was reported here two years ago (4/30/2012) that Yertle the Turtle was banned as part of a political dispute in British Columbia. Well, the beloved works of Dr. Seuss are once again within the cross-hairs of censors in Canada- this time in Toronto, Ontario. Joining the list of six other controversial and subversive Seuss titles is Hop on Pop.

Designed to introduce basic phonics to children, the 1963 book was published with the subtitle “The Simplest Seuss for Youngest Use” and contained several short poems and characters.

The book is so popular and effective that it is the go-to choice for librarians and teachers fifty years later. In fact, Hop on Pop ranked sixteenth in Publishers Weekly’s list of the all-time best-selling hardcover books for children in 2001. In a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association put it on the list  of Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.

Former United States First Lady Laura Bush, herself an ex-librarian, listed it as her favorite book in a 2006 Wall Street Journal article, saying, “It features Dr. Seuss’ typically wonderful illustrations and rhymes, of course, but the main thing for me is the family memory- the loving memory- that the book evokes of George lying on the floor and reading it to our daughters, Barbara and Jenna. They were little bitty things, and they took Hop on Pop literally, and jumped on him- we have the pictures to prove it.”

Now a ‘concerned citizen” in Toronto has taken the threat of bodily harm seriously and filed a formal complaint to the Toronto Public Library claiming that the book “encourages children to use violence against their fathers” by hopping on them.

They also demanded that library officials publically apologize and pay damages to any fathers injured by being jumped on by children.

Vickery Bowles, the director of collections management at the Toronto Public Library, said that there is a system for processing requests to remove books from its collection, though fewer than one hundred have been filed since 2000. Of those, only five were actually removed “because they contained inaccurate or dated information,” such as a children’s book on dairy farming that contained outdated farming information.

A PDF released by the Toronto Public Library [to see the entire list, and the remarks for each censored item, follow this link] shows library materials being reconsidered by the Materials Review Committee, including Hop on Pop. The actual bullet points from the meeting notes contain the following remarks:

  • · The book is a humorous and well-loved children’s book designed to engage children while teaching them reading skills.
  • · Since its publication in 1963, it has maintained its popularity and appeared on many “Best of” children’s book lists.
  • · Dr. Seuss was a prolific and celebrated children’s author who won the Pulitzer Prize among many other awards.
  • · The children are actually told not to hop on pop.
  • · Retained in the children’s collection

The only words spoken by the infamous Pop in the 390-word title are an warning to refrain from such violent activity: “STOP. You must not hop on Pop.”

It should be noted that all contested titles on the above list were retained during the meeting and remain on library shelves in the Toronto area.

So what say you, fellow readers. Is the potential for violence so high that this book should be removed and its fifty-year reign of terror brought to an end? Comment below.


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,, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Public Library, CNN
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Censorship and Rape in the American Heartland


The residents of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, are no strangers to the practice of censorship. In 2006 they witnessed attempts to ban such works as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Sonya Sones’ One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies. Now the English faculty at Fond du Lac High School is asking that district administrators get rid of their new censorship policy in the wake of the latest controversy to spark in the community.

16 members of the school’s English department signed and presented a 22-page statement supporting an open forum for student expression in response to Superintendent of Schools James Sebert and high school Principal Jon Wiltzius establishing a new policy, known as “School Guidelines Determined by the Principal regarding Student Publications,” that states all materials created by students are subject to review and possible refusal.

Fond Du Lac High School’s Cardinal Columns magazine made national news when the administration took exception to some of the content published in the February 2014 edition- namely an article entitled “The Rape Joke”, written by senior Tanvi Kumar. The article was an investigation into the rape culture in the school that included anonymous stories from three rape victims.

School officials also disapproved of an editorial that advised students of their right not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The faculty statement reads in part: “Such guidelines are not only a clear path toward censorship of student expression but also drastically alter the relationship between school publications and the administration and break sharply with roughly 100 years of district precedent regarding such publication.

“We believe that the story itself stands as an exemplar of high-quality, responsible journalism that has helped countless readers feel supported, speak up, seek help, and come together in a way that has undoubtedly resulted in a more positive environment in our school.”

I read Kumar’s article and I have to agree that it was the most heart-pulling, jaw-dropping, and best piece of journalism that I’ve read in a while. What’s even more amazing is that it came from a student. If she keeps up that level of mastery we’ll all be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

The statement also asks that the superintendent and board either abandon the new guidelines or put them on hold “until new guidelines or a new policy may be drafted in collaboration with the students, community, and experts in the field.”

An anti-censorship petition posted online at specifically calls upon Sebert to reverse the administrative mandate. Every time someone signs the petition an automatic email is sent to Sebert’s email. As of today there are over 5,300 signatures in support of the Cardinal Columns staff, including a signature from myself. That’s a lot of voices going to his inbox- but will they be heard or just tossed in the recycle bin?

When The Reporter contacted Sebert, Wiltzius, and School Board President Elizabeth Hayes for reaction to the teachers’ request to revisit the guidelines, Sebert issued the following statement:

“I believe that the guidelines are a reasonable expectation for a school-sponsored publication. The district has a responsibility to protect the educational process, environment, and the interests of all students.”

He declined an interview on the matter.

Cardinal Columns co-editor-in-chief, Rachel Schneider, says, “It’s great the teachers are willing to take a stand for the students because they should have the opportunity to express themselves.” She added that students plan to attend a 5 p.m. school board meeting on Monday to address board members directly.

Matthew Smith, Fond du Lac High School print journalism teacher and adviser to the Cardinal Columns staff, is among those who signed the statement. He points out a clause in the statement that says: “The existence of a policy of prior review has been found to increase the possibility of a school district being found legally liable for articles that are libelous or invade privacy, as evidenced by a report by the Student Law Center.”

School Board Vice President Susan Jones said she is for free speech as long as it isn’t offensive and she believes the issue should be revisited. She commented that Kumar’s article was “really well done” and that some teachers were even reading the article aloud in their classroom, holding it up as a piece of journalistic excellence.

“This is what democracy is all about, this is America and these kids are pretty mature. It’s a big issue in the high school and we should all be concerned about what is going on.”

Sebert and Wiltzius listed concerns about content printed in Cardinal Columns, including the possibility that the subject matter might not be appropriate for immature audiences, the photos might be too suggestive or edgy, that some students may have had their rights violated, that the cover could reflect poorly on the school, and that the issue may not include enough of a “positive focus”.

Well, let’s be honest. If there exists a status quo of rape in the school then the administration has nothing to be positive about and praise should go out to Kumar for exposing it to parents and others in the community.

One issue was with a picture on the inside cover that shows a woman described as “lying lifeless” in the middle of cardboard boxes. On that page the editors explain their cover photo selection process and why they rejected that image for the cover.

In a recent video about the new school guidelines made by broadcast journalism students Wiltzius is asked if predators also need to give consent before journalists can report on their alleged offense and he answered: “Both alleged victims and alleged perpetrators- both have rights.”

Vincent Filak, associate professor in the department of journalism at the University of Oshkosh, has been following the controversy. He said the approach Wiltzius appears to be taking regarding the policy is disturbing.

“I don’t know Jon Wiltzius personally, but his statements on the video paint a disingenuous picture of this policy and how it can be enforced. In one breath, he’s saying that he would offer suggestions or ‘just tweak’ things he thought were problematic or controversial. In the next breath, he admits that students have certain rights, including the right not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, but that this is the kind of thing that shouldn’t be part of the school paper. Under this policy, he would not be merely offering suggestions as he says, given that suggestions can be ignored or freely accepted. Instead, he would have the power to remove content he does not like, leaving the students without the right to publish as they see fit. That’s censorship.

“The intent of the superintendent and Mr. Wiltzius might be good in their own minds, but from the perspective of someone who values a free and unfettered press, this is a horrible policy that can lead to disastrous consequences.”

Filak said he would be joining the students at the school board meeting Monday.

The debate has incited a flood of comments on the magazine’s Twitter account @cardinalcolumns and Kumar’s personal account @Tanviiikumar, where she spoke up in a publicly-posted letter to Sebert. In it she states the article had “a lasting effect on this student body and inspired many people” and that she was repulsed by the behavior exhibited by people in the high school, pointing to a supposedly student-run Twitter account called “Ethan the Rapist,” that pokes fun at a very specific rape incident and rape in general.

“This story is not false, defamatory, libelous, vulgar, or profane. Unless you view survivors of horrendous atrocities speaking out against a culture that oppresses them as ‘profane,’ or ‘vulgar’ rather than revolutionary or novel,” she wrote.

School Board President Elizabeth Hayes said she objected to the headline “The Rape Joke” because people might not understand it, as well as the article on the Pledge of Allegiance.

“This publication is supported by taxpayer funds and it should be held to a high standard,” Hayes said. “And we should also be encouraging students to hold high standards of respect.”

First of all, if there are members of the student body whom think it okay to joke about rape on a daily basis and engage in such behavior then this school has a lot of work to do regarding “standards of respect.”

Additionally, those public taxpayers, as well as the students at the school, are citizens of the United States of America and they have a right to express themselves freely; readers also have a right to choose whether they want to engage in the conversations that those thoughts stimulate. If there are restrictions to the rights set forth in the First Amendment to the Constitution, then exactly what kind of a society are citizens pledging allegiance to? If it is one in which rape is a norm and those who dare speak out in defiance of it are silenced, then it isn’t one in which I would want to live, and neither should you.


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: Fond Du Lac Reporter, The Northwestern
© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

The Downward Spiral of American Educational Standards


Everybody makes typing or spelling errors on occasion. Yes, even I do. I actually appreciate when others point out a mistake I make in a status update or article. I acknowledge it, fix it, and try not to be so careless in the future. If I’m going to play grammar cop I should know better. After all, I have built myself a glass house and the internet is full of people ready to throw the first stone.

I find it especially heinous when journalists and news stations make these errors, though. These are supposed to be professionals who spent time and money specifically studying grammar and language and are paid to know better. They have a multitude of professional staff all in the business of effective and professional communication, including paid copy editors who are expected to proofread things before they are printed or aired. If not, then they have failed at their assigned tasks and should be fired. These are supposed masters of the written language and the people at the top of the list of those who should know better.

I was watching last night’s episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the opening news segment included a story about America’s educational standing along with other nations. The results of the study were bad enough, and a very depressing snapshot of our educational standards in its own right, but it all became crystal clear just how low the bar has fallen.

Read on and Share the Knowledge:

Louisiana Lawmaker Says to Defund Libraries and ‘Send Users Back to Mexico’


This column has discussed book after book that has been banned and/or challenged for various reasons. Most incidents are the result of ignorance and intolerance, others may even be innocently well-intentioned; but what happens when entire libraries are threatened in order to serve the arrogant hatred of racism from ignorant individuals to push a political agenda?

That’s what happened this week, as the Golden Meadow Public Library contended with what has to be the most sordid censorship effort to ever occur in the United States. There was a “special election” held to defund the public library in order to use the funds to build a new jail. What makes this more odious was the reasoning behind it:

“They’re teaching Mexicans how to speak English. Let that son of a bitch go back to Mexico. There’s just so many things they’re doing that I don’t agree with. …Them junkies and hippies and food stamps [recipients] and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps [on the Internet]. I see them do it.”

That’s an exact quote from Lindel Toups, chair of the Parish Council in Lafourche, Louisiana, said in reference to Biblioteca Hispana, a Hispanic-language segment of the Golden Meadow library branch. Toups wants to redirect money that has already been voted by the people to fund the library- an institution dedicated to educating people of all ages, helps them find jobs in a damaged economy, connects them to social services, and a place of self-discovery and community identity- to build a new jail.  To do that he held a special election yesterday in an area that is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Lafourche Parish is west of New Orleans.

Nearly 1,200 people voted early on yesterday’s ballot proposal, a number that Tammy Wendelschaefer, deputy registrar of the Lafourche Registrar of Voters, described as “very high.”

“I think it’s the controversy of the issue,” she said.

Supporters of the plan claim that the revenue stream is the one way to finance a new $25 million jail without raising taxes on parish citizens and they point to the library’s continually-growing budget as evidence that the system is collecting more money than it needs.

To be fair, the existing jail does have serious issues. It is overcrowded and badly damaged do to its age, but most agree that defunding libraries is not the answer to those infrastructure problems.

Library officials were quick to refute those claims and say that increased spending, done at deficit levels by drawing from a fund balance, is necessary to make up for self-inflicted spending cuts. They also noted that seven years ago the system voluntarily reduced its tax rates by 2 mills- double the amount posed on this weekend’s ballot.

Public debate on this issue has been sharp and, at times, quite personal. Nevertheless, the parish council placed the proposition on the ballot via a 5-3-1 vote.  Three councilmen opposed it and one was absent.

Not surprising, Toups served as the chair of the “New Jail Committee,” established in 2011 to help secure funding for a new facility. He said the library’s revenue is a “logical choice”, but this just seems like a callous means to an end.

“They’ve got too much money,” Toups said. “We’re giving the public the chance to raise the jail money without raising taxes. Any blind man can see that.”

But it’s more insidious than that.

Toups does not personally or philosophically agree with the library’s evolving role in the community, which influenced his repulsive quote.

Toups says that he doesn’t remember making those comments, and “that little writer just wanted to make a name for himself.” That rather condescending comment was in reference to Tri-Parish Times reporter, Eric Besson, who, according to Toups, “apparently picked up on informal comments made after a meeting without saying he was using the comments for a story.”

Toups isn’t the first politician to burn himself from a “hot mic” episode, nor will he be the last.

So how did the election turn out?

The results are in and the anti-library measure in Lafourche was defeated with 53% voting against the measure, thanks mainly to a social media campaign by John Chrastka, executive director of, to educate and inform the public on the issue.

About 43% of households in Lafourche Parish lack internet access at home, but more than half of its residents hold library cards, and they consistently vote in favor of milages for libraries. That could have been enough in its own right to bring citizens to the polls, but it was Toups’ blatantly unrestrained racial comments that riled library supporters, prompting many in the community to suspect his motivations for using library funds to build the jail.

Before the victory celebrations begin, though, there is a very sobering reality to consider that the ballot initiative was only rejected by barely a five to four margin- a move that would have quickly and surely sent the library system into deficit.


That’s not much, when you really stand back and look at it. Had only a handful of voters chose differently things could have gone the other way. This is also a very distressing commentary on voter apathy, in general. What if supporters of the library had not taken the time to go to the polls? This is proof that every vote does count and that every ballot proposal has a long-term impact on the people, no matter how mundane those effects may seem in the short-term.

Today the voice of the people was heard, but what about tomorrow?

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:, Tri-Parish Times, Huffington Post, LA Times
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Lord of the Flies”


William Golding’s debut novel follows a group of British schoolboys whose plane crashes on the shore of an uninhabited island. As well intentioned their attempt to cope with the situation and govern themselves may have been they instead regress to primal instincts and the mentality of humanity’s earliest hunter societies.

Published in 1954, Lord of the Flies wasn’t a huge success in the United States, selling only 3,000 copies before going out of print. By the early 1960’s, though, it was a best seller and required reading in grade schools and universities across the country. It was also adapted for the screen in 1963 and 1990. In 2005, it was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best novels of the century.

The story makes vague hints about taking place during a nuclear war, which was a common fear during the political Red Scare of the 1950’s. Due to its rather stark and dystopian exploration of human nature it has also been quite controversial, especially in regards to its commentary on putting the self before the common good- which is the book’s central theme. The conflict between civilization- living by rules, peacefully and in harmony- and the human impulse to control others shapes most of the interactions and dialog; related themes include the conflict between rational and emotional reactions, and morality and immorality. Thus, it finds itself at #8 on the American Library Association’s list of frequently banned classics.

Examples include being challenged in the Dallas, Texas, Independent School District’s high school libraries in 1974 and the Sully Buttes, South Dakota high school in 1981.

Also in 1981, it was challenged at the Owen, North Carolina high school because the book was “demoralizing, in that it implies that man is little more than an animal.”

It was considered “inappropriate reading” in a Marana, Arizona, high school in 1983 and a year later challenged in the Olney, Texas, Independent School District for “excessive violence and bad language”.

A special committee of the Toronto Board of Education ruled on June 23, 1988, that the novel is “racist” and recommended that it be removed from all schools after members of the black community argued about a reference to “niggers” in the book and complained that it vilified blacks.

The Waterloo, Iowa, and Duval County, Florida, schools dealt with a challenge in 1992 because of profanity, “lurid passages about sex”, and “statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled.”

The complaints argued that Lord of the Flies contained subversive indictments against the Christian Church. As proof of their claims, protesters sited that the book attempts to show that religion was not a factor in the creation or maintenance of civilization because the religious boys in the group were the ones who led the children down a path of superstition and violence using a sense of “rightness” as their justification for their actions.

Moving on to the 21st century, it was challenged, but retained, in the ninth-grade accelerated English reading list in Bloomfield, New York, in 2000.

The innocence of putting the boys on a plane and sending them off to a place safe from the ongoing war is taken through an ironic twist when an unfortunate incident sends the plane down on the island. There, cut off from the guidance of adults, they still follow a warrior mentality and show just how far we as a species have to go to be truly “civilized”. Therein lays the masterpiece of Golding’s work.

We may live in a world with modern conveniences and luxury, and consider ourselves the pillars of culture and sophistication, but when the lights go out and we are cut off from those tools of the modern world we show just how basic our instincts really are. The hardest lesson in wisdom is not in examining the outside, physical world and the actions of others, but by taking a long cold look into our own psyche.

Parents can claim that banning this book will shield and protect their children from these subjects and that the world is a place of perfection and harmony. The religious can claim all the righteousness they want. However, the true nature of these subjects isn’t in that they exist, but the fact that we simply don’t want to acknowledge or own up to the fact that they exist within ourselves.

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
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “The Invisible Man”


Another Banned Books Week has come and gone here in the “Land of the Free”. It comes with a mix of emotions for those at the center of the stand against censorship because this is an issue that exists 365 days a year, not just 7. While it is true that “any press is good press” during the week, sometimes that media attention can turn bittersweet.

This year there was a lot of attention because the Randolph County Board of Education ignorantly chose that week to entrench itself in a censorship effort against Ralph Ellison’s 1952 classic, The Invisible Man. The issue was so heated that it was covered by many news organizations around the world.

Among its various sociological commentaries it touched on such issues as the social and intellectual problems of Blacks in the early twentieth century, Black nationalism, the relationship between Black identity and Marxism, the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington, and the concepts of individuality and personal identity.

Invisible Man won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction in 1953 and in 1998, the Modern Library ranked it nineteenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

It should come as little surprise, then, that it would come under fire in a state known for numerous censorship efforts. Leave it to good old North Carolina to, once again, demonstrate that the United States Constitution, reason, and logic all stop at its borders. That magical land where, upon crossing its border, one is instantly transported back 150 years in their mentality.

The RCBE voted 5-2 to officially ban the classic novel from all school libraries because, as Board member, Gary Mason, put it, “I didn’t find any literary value.” Scores of critics would vehemently disagree.

Invisible Man is told, in confession form, by an unnamed narrator whose bright future is erased by racism. It also bluntly and accurately uses the language of the period in which it was written. “I am an invisible man,” the novel begins. “No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe…”

The decision came after- you guessed it- a lone parent filed a 12-page complaint because she found the book’s contents too inappropriate for her 11th-grade child. She also cited its “lack of innocence, language, and sexual content.” The student, along with other juniors, were asked to read a book over the summer (Honors students were assigned to read two), with the choices being Ellison’s Invisible Man, Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin, and Passing, by Nella Larsen; all of which deal with race and identity.

The parent, Kimiyutta Parson, feels that the book is too much for anyone to read, not just her daughter. In her lengthy complaint, she said that, “the narrator writes in the first person, emphasizing his individual experiences and his feelings about the events portrayed in his life. This novel is not so innocent; instead, this book is filthier, too much for teenagers. You must respect all religions and point of views when it comes to the parents and what they feel is age appropriate for their young children to read, without their knowledge. This book is freely in your library for them to read.”

After nine days of state, national, and even international heat, the County reversed its decision and reinstated the book, an act that usually requires legislation from the state level.

This isn’t the first time Invisible Man has come under the scorn of censors. According to the American Library Association, it is one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century that have been challenged or banned.

Previously, excerpts from the novel were banned in Butler, Pennsylvania in 1975; that same year it was removed from the high school English reading list in St. Francis, Wisconsin.

It was challenged and retained in the Yakima, Washington schools in 1994 after a five-month dispute over what advanced high school students should and should not be allowed to read in the classroom after two parents raised concerns about profanity and images of violence and sexuality in the book and requested that it be removed from the reading list.

Michael Gill, psychology instructor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania- 300 miles east of Butler, said it best:

“In a free, democratic society it is essential that citizens are able to turn a critical eye on our society and identify areas for progress and improvement! Books that encourage such critical examination are often banned… we cannot let that happen! Some good examples of banned or almost-banned books in this category: Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison; 1984, by George Orwell; The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair; Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Read all of these!”


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, LA Times, Asheboro Courier-Tribune, The Times-News, Christian Science Monitor, Lehigh University
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “…And the Earth Did Not Devour Him”


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

Sources: Athens Banner-Herald
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

Banned Books Awareness: “Captain Underpants”


Most of us aren’t surprised by “Fifty Shades of Grey” being the fourth most-challenged book of 2012, but would you expect a children’s book to make number one?

Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” has been repeatedly banned or challenged due to concerns over offensive language and charges of being “unsuited for age group.”

“It’s pretty exciting to be on a list that frequently features Mark Twain, Harper Lee, and Maya Angelou,” Pilkey said in a recent statement to the Huffington Post. “But I worry that some parents might see this list and discourage their kids from reading [it], even though they have not had a chance to read the books themselves.”

The Office for Intellectual Freedom received 464 challenges last year- a 25 percent jump from 2011, but still low compared to the 1980s and ‘90s.

The “Captain Underpants” books have long been debated among parents and educators. Some praise the books because they encourage boys to read, others criticize them for having toilet humor and an irreverent attitude; the title character is a superhero created by two fourth graders about their cantankerous principal, Mr. Krupp.

The series’ premise is a simple one. It follows the adventures of two mischievous class clowns, George Beard and Harold Hutchins, who have inadvertently turned grumpy Mr. Krupp into a tighty-whitey-wearing, cape-bearing superhero. With help from the boys, he defends the world from evil characters such as Professor Poopypants, Dr. Diaper, the Naughty Cafeteria Ladies, and the Wicked Wedgie Woman.

The boys are also constantly pulling off silly pranks, such as turning a sign that says, “Please Wash Your Hands after Using the Toilet” into one that reads “Please Wash Your Hands in the Toilet.”

“I don’t see these books as encouraging disrespect for authority. Perhaps they demonstrate the value of questioning authority,” Pilkey said. “Some of the authority figures in the books are villains. They are bullies and they do vicious things.”

Pilkey said his semi-autobiographical characters are based in part on teachers and principals he had between second and fifth grade- some of whom were villains who got away with it because they were authority figures.

“None of the children in my school, including me, thought to question them,” he said. “So, I do feel there is real value in showing kids that not all authority figures are good or kind or honorable.”

The president of Scholastic’s trade division, Ellie Berger, said in a statement that the appearance of Captain Underpants on the 2012 ALA list coincides with the publication of Dav Pilkey’s first new book in six years and the series’ return to national bestseller lists. Both, she says, are evidence that this bestselling series continues to inspire a love of reading (and underpants) for a new generation of kids.

The series has been a mainstay at the top of the list of formal complaints filed with libraries or schools requesting that the books be removed because of inappropriateness for over a decade.

Some notable incidents include the Riverside Unified School District in California and the school superintendent of the Maple Hill School in Naugatuck, Connecticut who sought to ban the series in 2001 due to concerns that it caused unruly behavior among children.

By 2002, it was the sixth most frequently challenged book according to the American Library Association.

In 2003 it was banned for insensitivity and being “unsuited to age group,” as well as for “encouraging children to disobey authority.”

Offensive language and modeling bad behavior were the top reasons for challenges to the series in 2005 and, in 2006, it was challenged for anti-family content, being unsuited to age group, and violence.

Three 17-year-old girls were told to leave New York’s Long Beach High School in 2006 when they showed up on Superhero Day dressed as the Captain.

The girls wore beige leotards and nude stockings under white briefs and red capes, but Principal Nicholas Restivo wasn’t laughing. He said he knew that they weren’t naked, but that it “appeared that way,” so he sent them home to change.

One of the girls, honor student Chelsea Horowitz, said that she didn’t understand the fuss. “They’re not see-through or anything.”

In spite of the ongoing controversy, the widely popular book series that began in 1997 has grown to include 10 titles and 3 spin-offs and won a Disney Adventures Kids’ Choice Award in 2007. DreamWorks Animation acquired rights to the series to make an animated feature film adaptation.

Captain Underpants has battled talking toilets and the infamous Professor Poopypants, but in the end his most challenging arch-nemesis seems to be adults with no sense of humor.


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: The Huffington Post, Marshall University, American Library Association, NBC News, New York Sun
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions