As the school board in Waukesha, Wisconsin prepares to consider challenges to three books, CBLDF has joined six other member organizations of the National Coalition Against Censorship to urge that the books be retained in the curriculum and not “red-flagged” for content. In a letter sent to the board yesterday, NCAC members cautioned that such flagging “will inevitably discourage the use of these books in the classroom, depriving students of valuable educational experiences.”
The three challenged books are Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and Chinese Handcuffs by Chris Crutcher. Consideration Committees made up of teachers and school administrators already recommended making no changes to the status of the books, but the challenges have now been appealed to the school board as allowed by district policy. Looking for Alaska and The Kite Runner are both assigned reading in some classes, although students and parents always have the option to request an alternate assignment; Chinese Handcuffs is held in school libraries but not assigned in any class.
According to the letter by NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin, the Waukesha school district has received requests to implement a content-flagging system for “books that deal with sex, rape, extreme violence and brutality, and animal cruelty.” But as Bertin notes, books that grapple with difficult topics are also some of the most engaging and valuable books for classroom use:
Warning labels reduce complex literature to a few elements taken out of context. For example, would Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, a critically acclaimed book about slavery set during the revolution, be flagged as a book depicting violence or brutality? Would a book like Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell be tagged with the label “sex” because of its realistic and touching depiction of teenage romance, including scenes in which the main characters kiss?
The much superior course of action, Bertin concludes, would be for the Waukesha school district to “continue to select books for their educational value and appeal to readers, and to provide parents with information about why the books your professional staff has chosen have been selected.”
The school board is expected to address the three book challenges and the “red-flagging” proposal at its meeting this evening. Below, read the entire letter sent by NCAC member organizations regarding both issues.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.