Fifth-century B.C. Athens is the setting of the historical novel that was challenged in a high school for references to homosexuality. Not only did the complainants and their supporters revile the book, which enlivened an honors history class, but they also attempted to humiliate the teacher by calling him a "sexual predator" and accusing him of trying to "recruit" children to homosexuality. The school board supported the teacher and the novel.
Maurice by E. M. Forster (Norton), The Education of Harriet Hatfield by May Sarton (Norton), The Drowning of Stephan Jones by Bette Greene (Bantam), New Ipswich, New Hampshire
All three books, which treat homosexuality in various ways, were removed from the regional high school. The novels’ purchase was financed by a grant that teacher Penny Culliton received and was approved by the school superintendent and principal. However, shortly after a local newspaper reported that Culliton was involved with a lesbian and gay support group for young people, the books were found unsuitable and were banned. Maurice and The Education of Harriet Hatfield were seized from the students while they were reading the novels in class. Personal attacks on the teacher and demands for her dismissal have been so vehement that her job is now in jeopardy.
Books in the Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews (Pocket Books), Oconee County, Georgia
The county’s board of education decided to remove all school curriculum materials and library books containing any and all "profanity" and "pornography," both concepts ill-defined. The tremendous public outcry made the board backtrack and resolve to review its selection policy. However, after this conciliatory decision, and while the review process still inches along, most of the books in Andrews’s popular series Flowers in the Attic were removed from the high-school library for "pornographic" content.
Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite (Alyson), Rutland, Vermont
A favorite of censors, this children’s book about gay parenting was the subject of a challenge in the public library. In an all-too-familiar request, a parent complained about references to homosexuality in material for children. The library board voted to uphold basic library principles by retaining the book on its appropriate shelf in the children’s section.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Norton), New Haven, Connecticut
The word "nigger," which appears many times in the novel, was the cause for the removal of this classic from an eighth-grade reading list. We do not know what Mark Twain would have quipped, but many have said, to little avail, that censorship is no remedy for resolving controversy.
The Last Mission by Harry Mazer (Bantam, Doubleday, Dell), Fort Worth, Texas
BANNED, THEN UNBANNED
Against the recommendation of school librarians, teachers, and administrators, the board of the Carroll Middle School removed this novel from the library for its scattered "bad words." The novel, which was named 1979’s New York Times Best Book of the Year, is based on the author’s experiences in the Air Force during World War II. Mazer said, "It’s like a slap in the face of veterans. The book speaks about the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought in that war." Local residents and parents petitioned and protested as well. In a final decision, the board voted 6-1 to return the book.
Literature in Society, textbook (Prentice Hall), Hempfield County, Pennsylvania
In an improbable complaint about this textbook, two eminent African-American authors were the main targets of censorship. An excerpt from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was deemed offensive for its use of the word "nigger," and the sexual slang in Nikki Giovanni’s poetry was found unacceptable. School officials also found intolerable a reference to homosexuality elsewhere in the book and seized the ever-so-dangerous texts (that include Wordsworth and other immoralists) while 12th-grade students were reading them.
Women on Top by Nancy Friday (Simon & Schuster), Gainesville, Georgia
Would-be censors got their way in their demands to remove this book from the public library. Before a final vote was taken by the library board on the fate of Women on Top, the book was borrowed and "accidentally" destroyed. The board voted not to replace it.
Forever by Judy Blume (Macmillan Children’s Group), Gainesville, Florida
Forever censored, this wildly popular teen novel was attacked once again for its frank treatment of adolescent sexuality and was removed from an eighth-grade optional reading list.
Who Built America? (The Voyager Company) on CD-ROM Apple Computer has distributed Who Built America?, an acclaimed history series created for CD-ROM, as part of a free software package for schools buying its computers. When it received protests about material relating to the history of birth control, abortion, and homosexuality, Apple asked Voyager to delete the offending material. Voyager refused, and Apple suspended distribution. Following many protest letters, Apple reversed its decision and resumed distribution.
No governmental action involved, but Voyager and Apple rejected suppression.
UPDATES Kalispell, Montana: Debbie Denzer, the school library aide who was fired for lending two textbooks from her own collection to students doing an approved project on witchcraft, was awarded $38,000 in a lawsuit against the school board and the principal who dismissed her. Two parents had challenged Not in God’s Image: Women in History from the Greeks to the Victorians (Harper & Row) for its "feminist slant" and called The Devil and All His Works (American Heritage) "pornographic.
Rib Lake, Wisconsin: A jury awarded $395,000 to guidance counselor Mike Dishnow for the violation of his First Amendment rights. Dishnow’s contract was terminated after he criticized the school’s censorship of Judy Blume’s Forever. The principal had confiscated the novel from a student in the lunchroom and removed it from the high-school library.
Fairfax County, Virginia: Families (Little, Brown), a young children’s book that creatively describes different family structures, was finally removed by the Fairfax County school board as a basal reader from the first-grade family life education program. Meredith Tax’s beloved book had been under attack for a long time, during which many individuals and organizations rose to its defense. What’s more, Families was praised by the board’s own review committees.