UPDATE: Good news! In mid-November the board voted to retain these books.
Banned Books Week may have ended last week, but the fight over censorship and the freedom to read continues. An online petition is calling for the removal of two books from the classrooms of a New Jersey high school. The school board will soon take up the matter, and now freedom to read advocates are weighing in.
The controversy at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional (RFH) High School is focused on two works being used in the English curriculum: Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden and Bernard MacLaverty’s novel Cal. A petition started by a parent demands that both be removed from the curriculum because of language and sexual content. The petition doesn't stop there; it wants the board to remove “any other material that is not age appropriate."
This week the National Coalition Against Censorship—along with the American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Council of Teachers of English, and PEN American Center—sent a letter to the Board of Education encouraging them to make curricular decisions based on artistic and educational merit, and not based on the views of a small number of community members. The letter also argued that there are serious constitutional issues the board should consider.
The letter points out that the petition's request to remove "any other material that is not age appropriate" is completely unworkable and
would present enormous challenges to teachers and administrators. Besides the fact that the request depends on a vague and subjective understanding of what “age-inappropriate” is, doing so would impermissibly single out and “red-flag” certain content, inviting complaints and challenges that would overburden educators and grant some parents the right to control the curriculum.
NCAC also encourages Rumson-Fair Haven High School to institute a formal "challenge" policy, which is standard at schools across the country and establishes sensible procedures for dealing with concerns about educational materials. As the letter notes, listening to community input is important; but the school will best serve its students by keeping the books in the curriculum, and rejecting the broad request to remove all 'age-inappropriate' works.
The full letter can be read below; click here for full-screen view.
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