Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult was challenged by one parent who objected to sexual references, profanity, and violence, including bullying and suicide, in the book and asked that it be removed from the Beardstown Middle/High School library.  A committee comprised of teachers, a school principal, a librarian, and a school psychologist reviewed the book and recommended that it be retained in the high school adult fiction section of the school library.  The school board voted to retain the book in the high school section of the library, but students are required to get parental permission to check it out.

Here is NCAC and ABFFE’s letter to the school board:  

Robert B. Bagby, Superintendent
Beardstown Board of Education
500 East 15th Street
Beardstown, IL 62618

September 17, 2008

Dear Mr. Bagby and Members of the Board of Education:

We write to oppose efforts to remove the book, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, from the Beardstown Middle/High School library.  We understand that the book was challenged by one parent who objected to sexual references, profanity, and violence, including bullying and suicide, in the book.  We also understand that a committee comprised of teachers, a school principal, a librarian, and a school psychologist reviewed the book and recommended that it be retained in the high school adult fiction section of the school library.  We urge you to accept the committee’s recommendation.

In Nineteen Minutes, author Jodi Picoult uses the form of a novel to address serious issues of bullying and questions about sexual relationships that affect teens across the country.  The author’s research on school violence and prevention make the book a strong resource for teens, educators, and parents alike.  For this reason, Dr. JoAnn Freiberg of the Connecticut State Board of Education has recommended the book as a teaching tool in confronting the problem of bullying in schools and teen dating violence.  As the Washington Post has said, the book “asks serious moral questions about the relationship between the weak and the strong, questions that provide… ‘teachable moments.’  If compassion can be taught, Picoult may be just the one to teach it.”

The task of selecting school library materials properly belongs to professional librarians and educators, and school officials did the right thing in assembling a team of specialists to review the book using their educational expertise.  The recommendations of such committees should only be reversed for compelling educational and pedagogical reasons.  Materials should never be removed for ideological reasons.  We urge you not to give in to those who demand that library policies reflect their personal preferences.  Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children, but, no matter how well-intentioned, they have no right to make decisions for others. 

School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular or controversial ideas.  The Supreme Court has cautioned that school officials “may not remove books from 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.’” Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982) (plurality opinion).  This constitutional duty applies with particular force in the school library, which, unlike the classroom, has “a special role…as a place where students may freely and voluntarily explore diverse topics.” Campbell v. St. Tammany Parish School Board, 64 F. 3d 184, 190 (5th Cir. 1995).

Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials will be to invite others to demand changes to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.

No one is being forced to read Nineteen Minutes.  But removing the book violates the rights of children whose parents want them to read challenging material that may be reflective of their own experiences and to encounter the book’s valuable lessons about bullying.  The role of a school library is to allow students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values.   

We strongly urge you to keep Nineteen Minutes in the high school adult fiction section of the library at Beardstown Middle/High School.  Those who object to this book are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others.  Any other decision threatens the principle that is essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.

If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Sincerely,

                                                           
Joan Bertin                                                    Chris Finan                  
Executive Director                                         President
National Coalition Against Censorship          American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
                                           
pair.ncac.org                                               www.abffe.com                            

                                       

 

Related

"‘Nineteen Minutes’ to stay on library shelves with restrictions." Journal Courier 09/24/2008