Virginia

It's 2016 and School Districts are Still Pulling To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn From Libraries

One parent's objection to deliberately provocative language gets the classic novels 'temporarily' suspended from a Virginia school district.

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How do we sleep while our books are burning?
Nilsz/Dreamstime.com

Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in 1884 and first banned in 1885 by authorities in Concord, Mass., who called it "trash and suitable only for the slums."

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was first published in 1960 and first pulled from shelves in 1966, when the Hanover, Va. school board, still struggling with the concept of racially integrated schools, objected to the use of rape as a plot device.

In 2016, both classics—long staples of school curriculuums—are one again too hot for youthful consumption, at least in one school Virginia school district.

Accomack County Public Schools have temporarily pulled both novels from their libraries in accordance with the school district's policy after a parent files a formal complaint using a "Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources" form. In this case, one parent objected to both books' combined 250 uses of a racial slur, according to WTVR-TV.

Delmarva Daily Times reports Marie Rothstein-Williams, a white parent of a biracial high school student first raised objections to the books' presence in school libraries and classrooms at a school board meeting last month, saying:

I keep hearing 'This is a classic, this is a classic.' I understand this is a literature classic but at some point I feel the children will not or do not truly get the classic part, the literature part — which I'm not disputing this is great literature — but there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can't get past that.

WTVR also quotes Rothstein-Williams as saying, "Right now, we are a nation divided as it is." Another Accomack County parent reportedly worried that because the slur can be found at a book in their school, students will "feel that they are able to say that to anybody" and thus the books should be removed.

Once a formal complaint is lodged, the review process convenes as follows:

A review committee consisting of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher (if involved), a parent and/or student, and the complainant will convene. Materials cited in the complaint will be temporarily suspended for use pending determination by the committee.

No date has been set to begin the review. In the meantime, Accomack County students will not be subjected to reading two books containing language deliberately meant to provoke strong feelings in readers by challenging the racial oppression of their times, and thus unable to engage in the critical thinking great literature demands.

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  1. To Kill a Mockingbird is about not believing a rape victim. It’s only appropriate it’s pulled from the shelves.

    1. Innocent readers, especially children and young adults, must never be exposed to such prurient works. The libraries of our great nation should also immediately pull any works containing inappropriately deadpan “parody,” such as the insidious Letters of Obscure Men, which Pope Leo X banned in 1517 after they disseminated confusion in monasteries across Europe. Even more important, no one should be allowed to read the outrageous “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated judge in America’s leading criminal “satire” case. Surely no one here would dare to defend the offensive opinions promulgated in that text? See the documentation at:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  2. Okay, but come on. Accomack County.

  3. I understand this is a literature classic but at some point I feel the children will not or do not truly get the classic part, the literature part…

    Not with that attitude, they won’t. It’s interesting when people use the term “I feel” rather than “I think”. I applaud the accuracy of their language.

    1. some point I feel the children will not or do not truly get the classic part, the literature part

      Hence, why they have these people called teachers.

  4. Up here it’s the Catholic public schools banning The Golden Compass because it’s apparently anti-Catholic? Don’t know, never read it.

    1. Been a while since I’ve read The Golden Compass, but the ending is that God is dead. I can’t blame the Catholics for wanting to ban it.

      1. You can’t blame them because the author is openly anti-Catholic and wrote the book to disparate the church.

        No conspiracy theory here.

        1. I could SWEAR I wrote disparage. Oh well. Can’t blame autocorrect, as I’m not on my phone.

      2. Nietzsche strikes again, will no one stop his deicide?

        I’d have no problem with it if they weren’t funded by tax dollars.

        1. “Nietzsche is dead” – God

  5. but at some point I feel the children will not or do not truly get the classic part

    Well, who’s fault is that?

  6. but there is so much racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can’t get past that.

    So, the “n-word” (as I am certain she calls it) is off limits, but apparently teaching her kid proper English is not so much of a priority.

    1. If it was good enough for her parents, it’s good enough for her childrens’ parents.

    2. We read Huckleberry Finn in high school 35+ years ago, and we got past it pretty quickly (as in immediately) back then. On the other hand, today’s students require much larger safe spaces so they don’t have to critically process anything.

  7. My parents read me those stories when I was five years old. I fucking loved those stories. I love even more that classic literature so offends the proggy puritans because the word nigger makes an appearance and there’s a bit of rape and murder her and there. I love that it offends them because it confirms what I already know of the progressives, bunch of cowards and weaklings that are too delicate for this world.

  8. because the slur can be found at a book in their school, students will “feel that they are able to say that to anybody”

    Yeah, it will totally be Huckleberry Finn that gives them that impression

  9. I wonder if Reason subs would be good gifts to high school libraries? I wonder how many would be rejected or thrown away rather than accepted and displayed.

    1. Reason subs

      Subs? like Gimps? I presume you mean Tony. Wherever would they keep him? plus the feeding costs. I can only assume they’d play with him for a week than throw him in the dumpster.

      1. “Bring out Tony.”
        “Tony’s sleepin'”
        “Well, then, guess you’ll just have to wake ‘im up now.”

  10. Isn’t it amusing to see which side of the political coin is now in favor of censorship?

    How easy it is to go from free speech advocate to facist dictator when you base your position on feelz rather than principle.

  11. My High School Sophomore is reading Huck Finn right now. Catholic High School.

  12. I need to think about moving – the commonwealth is circling the bowl.

  13. My sophomore year (high school) English teacher had us read Ayn Rand’s Anthem. My senior year English teacher had us read Invictus. I think I must have gone to a pretty good high school, though I hated it at the time.

    1. Thanatopsis. I didn’t understand it, though it turns out the author was a teenage kid when he wrote it, so I guess it must have been my problem.

      1. Poets and physicists do all their best work before age 30.

      2. We read that one, too, though I don’t remember it (only the title).

        We also read The Jungle in my junior year class, which I really enjoyed. I found Sinclair’s and Rand’s writing styles to be remarkable similar (long-ass soliloquy, anyone?).

        1. Welcome to the Jungle, our meat’s really gross
          The school cafeteria appreciates it the most

    2. Anthem is the most readable of the Rand fiction.

      Can probably be read quicker than listening to 2112 which is the same basic plot idea.

      1. I always thought Anthem would make a decent TV series. Following the couple post-escape, where they discover the “real world” of the past. Kind of like Walking Dead with no zombies.

        1. Or a Rand work that could actually be made into a movie.

        2. Careful what you wish for. That movie already exists, it’s called Battlefield Earth.

          1. TV show. TV show.

            (Anthem doesn’t have any spaceships or aliens, either. It’s a very spare, sparse setting.)

      2. But replacing ‘lightbulb’ with ‘sickass electric guitar’ makes it more awesome.

        1. Well, yeah, duh.

  14. Re: alt text

    He was a pretty good singer for a soccer ref.

    Or possibly a pretty good soccer ref for a rock star.

    1. I’m surprised at just how much I’ve liked every Midnight Oil song that has ever popped up on Sirius.

  15. Unfortunately, these articles blur the distinction between having a book taught in the curriculum versus having it on the shelves of the school library, where kids can pick up a book off the shelves and read it independently (do kids even do that anymore, with their electronic devices and their refusal to get off my lawn?).

    Some people use the term “censorship” to describe “people without education degrees having a say in the curriculum.”

    Unfortunately, this case reaffirms the stereotypes of dumb parents interfering with good decisions by professional school staff.

    I recall studying *Romeo and Juliet* – it totally made me want to rush into an early marriage, have deadly duels with the in-laws, and poison myself!

      1. Well, yeah, you’re still here. Clearly didn’t work.

    1. They still had books in the library that were unrelated to the curriculum when I was in school.

      The only Melville story on the curriculum I recall was “Bartleby the Scrivener” All I learned from that story was the word “Scrivener”.

      I ready Moby Dick on my own, and found the treatises on whaling more interesting than the plot.

    2. these articles blur the distinction between having a book taught in the curriculum versus having it on the shelves of the school library

      This is a good point.

      Changing what book happens to be in a class-curriculum doesn’t necessarily raise any free-speech issues.

      Removing books from a public-school library *does*. The supreme courts ruled (over Slaughterhouse Five i believe) that removal of books from school libraries *after* they’ve been already selected as acceptable was a violation of the 1st amendment.

      As noted earlier, nothing in our decision today affects in any way the discretion of a local school board to choose books to add to the libraries of their schools. Because we are concerned in this case with the suppression of ideas, our holding [457 U.S. 853, 872] today affects only the discretion to remove books. In brief, we hold that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.” West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S., at 642. Such purposes stand inescapably condemned by our precedents.[6]

      1. I believe you’re quoting the Pico case, which was 4-4-1. The 1 was a guy (Justice White) who wanted the lower courts to conduct more investigation.

        1. Right, it didn’t create new law, but the point is that it set the guidance for how lower courts have since ruled. The basic idea was that schools should be leery of ever removing anything simply because the locals show up with pitchforks.

          I don’t know to what degree its been sufficient.

  16. This has been going on at while…30 years ago…I read nat hentoff wrote a kids’ book called The Day They Came to Arrest The Book about schools banning Huckekberry Finn…it’s just come around again or never stopped

  17. If you talk to any KKK member of neo-nazi, you’ll usually find that they turned to racism and hate after reading Huckleberry Finn.

    1. I blame mother’s milk.

      1. The RHCP album?

      2. Here’s one of their Klaverns. /sarc

        NSFW

    2. Few people talk to KKK members or neo-nazis, but Huckleberry Finn is anti-slavery as the hero helps a slave to evade capture.

  18. In general, though, the main impact of studying Great Literature in high school was to get turned off from it.

    Exception: Our all-white class studying Raisin in the Sun.

  19. I am most amused when F-451 gets banned.

  20. after a parent files a formal complaint using a “Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources” form.

    FTFF: Did you examine, review, or listen to this learning resource or presentation in its entirety?

    “No! Why the fuck would I subject myself to that crap?!”

  21. Serious question: Do schools still have kids read John Steinbeck’s The Pearl?

    1. I hope not.

      Possibly the worst thing I was ever forced to read.

      It is a point in favor of Eddie’s comment up above.

      1. It is somewhat, um, problematic; but most of my peers found The Return of the Native worse.

        1. We were forced to read “The Pearl” but it left less of a mark on my mind than “Johnathan Livingston Seagull” which I still rate as the worst book I’ve ever read. I finished it within one class period but it felt like several days of tedium of skull-numbing boredom.

          1. I hold to this day that the purpose of High School English was to make students hate to read.

          2. JLS? The book that will be at every yard sell you will ever visit? Gah.

            The Mayor of Casterbridge was the worse for me.

            1. I have the advantage of not having read that one.

            2. I haven’t read it, but I understand that it was the origin of Henny Youngman’s “take my wife, please” joke.

              1. So soap opera. It felt like I was getting my mouth washed out.

                1. I’m getting the impression from this thread that Thomas Hardy is the worst immortal novelist in the English language. I’m glad I’ve never read anything of his.

                  1. I’m getting the impression from this thread that Thomas Hardy is the worst immortal novelist in the English language

                    Not at all.

                    as i said below – i think part of the problem is that the tolerances & tastes that kids have at ages 15-18 can change dramatically. Teachers can often be incredibly tone-deaf about what sorts of literature will ‘work’ with a given group at a given time. Reading Hardy as a freshman is probably not the best idea (*tho they made us do Jane Austin, god knows why); as a senior, probably better.

                    I’m surprised he’s not actually taught in HS more than he is; he was the most obviously ‘feminist‘ (or at least ‘anti-victorian’) of 19th century writers. More so than most women until the mid-20th century, even.

      2. My worst nightmare reading assignment was Jude the Obscure. HOLY FUCK I just wanted that guy to DIE.

        1. Thomas Hardy get no props. “Tess” is old-school Male Feminism imo.

          i agree they’re not really that fun to read (*depends what age). Tess is better than Jude. Still better than Thomas Drieser(sp) or Upton Sinclair, who were just boring (at the time). Its weird tho how at grades 9-10 your tolerance for ‘boring’ is very low, but actually can change dramatically by grade 12. I recall re-reading some 10th-grade stuff only a few years later and being surprised that i enjoyed it.

          *speaking of ‘teaching kids to read’…. my opinion has always been that anything worth reading is worth reading at least 3 times. You don’t really grok something in the first read-thru, and i think students should be taught that a superficial skim of anything will probably only net you about 20% of what’s actually there.

          1. The thing is, Hardy wrote a cool drama about the Napoleonic Wars – I read it on my own, nobody (thankfully) tried to force his prose stuff on me.

            If I had to guess, I bet the critics turn up their nose at the Napoleon stuff and want people to just read the prose perversion stuff.

            1. the prose perversion stuff


              “”She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had been a snake’s. She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her eyelids hung heavy over their pupils. The brimfulness of her nature breathed from her. It was a moment when a woman’s soul is more incarnate than at any other time; when the most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself flesh; and sex takes the outside place in the presentation. (27.4)””

              She also had big titties.

          2. I find it hard to read anything within a year of having last read it. Even then, I have yet to notice anything new on a subsequent read-through. Often my brain starts filling in stuff from memory and I miss things I’d seen the first time around.

            The one exception seems to be noticing a few of the punny planet names in the Caiphas Cain books.

      3. You want horrid? I had to read “Wuthering Heights” in high school. There’s a *reason* she only ever wrote one book, that one was utter crap.

  22. Offensives launched against letters reveal oppressive tendencies.

    Cherishing liquid human expression in all its forms requires extreme tolerance.

    Trashologic, disruptive, and erudite communication have to fucking share the same liberty space or liberty
    space morphs into a disjointed quag shredding the pillars that foster advancement of humanity.

    This is partly the fuck why hate speech and obscenity laws are entwined with venomous intentions.

    Obstructing the callous, common, or uncomfortably-fringe nature of woman and manhood deletes environments of ideas that launch conceptual trajectories found nowhere else in the pat goddamn white picket-fence societies.

    One man’s garbage-art is renaissance to another.

    1. This stream of consciousness actually makes sense to me. I think I will print this and see if the young ones can figure it out, with a few **@* ‘s added, of course!

  23. Fuck that shit

  24. Goddamned phonies!

    /holden

  25. Nigger. Nigger, nigger, nigger.

    Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger.

    NIGGER.

    NIGGER

  26. Speaking of Huck; lately, I feel as if I am part of some sort of living Royal Nonesuch.

    also- I can’t say definitively that The Red Pony was the worst book I ever read, but… I cannot think of a worse book off the top of my head.

  27. Librarians used to be made of sterner stuff.

  28. Huckleberry Finn is not just a classic; it’s also an anti-slavery novel. It was required reading when I was in 11th grade. My school was in Montgomery County, Md – a very ‘liberal’ area. By 11th grade, most students were mature enough to understand that Twain used the ‘N’ word because that was how every common person (black and white) spoke at the time of the book’s setting.

    There might be a better case for banning Oliver Twist – although this has pretty much happened already. Dickens doesn’t use any offensive words; he just continually makes the point that one of the story’s most evil characters is a Jew. Had Dickens just left Fagin’s ethnic heritage unknown, Oliver Twist would be a good story.

  29. To Kill a Mockingbird, a classic tale of a false allegation of rape.

  30. Misleading headline. Certain schools are pulling these books, not libraries in general. Any young person who has access to a public library can still read them. And although it’s been a while since I was in school, if teenagers today are anything like teenagers then, the schools making a big stink about certain books will only increase their popularity.

  31. Assign them “Native Son” instead .

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