Congratulations to the students, parents, and teachers in Lumberton, New Jersey, who have proven that grassroots action makes a difference.
In response to a complaint from a parent, Lumberton Middle School teachers were told to pull John Green's award-winning Young Adult novel Looking for Alaska from their classroom libraries by Superintendent Joseph Langowski. But just days later, after teachers bound together, parents sent letters, and students created a petition, Langowski changed course, declaring that he was reinstating the book after speaking with various constituencies in the town and reexamining district policies. In his October 15th letter to parents, he also says:
As educators, we teach our students to learn from their experiences; I have learned much this week. It is my great hope that we can collectively regroup from this experience and reemerge stronger than ever.
Bravo. It's hard for some administrators and educators to admit their mistakes, like in the case of the removal of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in Waterloo, Iowa, back in April. Policies are put in place to prevent controversies of this sort, and to protect the educators, the students, and the literature that was chosen for its pedagogical value. In this case, as we argued, the district had a clear policy for reviewing complaints about materials; it was not up to the superintendent to pull a book without any sort of formal review.
Still, Langowski said there is a need for the district "to establish protocols and procedures for allowing students access to materials that meet their academic and emotional needs," and that he plans to work with staff to "develop a system for students to gain access to books with mature themes."
It seems to us that their teachers' expertise and guidance in selecting reading materials for check-out is the right system. After all, the freedom to read is at the core of academic freedom and our cherished First Amendment rights–even for minors. So three cheers for everyone in Lumberton who took a stand.