Letter from NCAC, NCTE, ABFFE. AAP, and PEN American Center to Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent
Charles I. Ecker
Superintendent of Schools
Carroll County Public Schools
125 North Court Street
Westminster, Maryland 21157
Re: The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
Dear Superintendent Ecker:
We write to express our concerns about your decision to remove Carolyn Mackler’s novel, The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, from Carroll County school libraries.
Students have a constitutional right to obtain access to a broad range of materials and ideas, including material that some may find controversial or objectionable. While school officials have substantial discretion regarding the instructional program and school administration, their discretion is not without limits. In the library, in particular, students’ constitutional right to read often supersedes educators’ efforts to control what they read:
…the special characteristics of the school library make that environment especially appropriate for the recognition of the First Amendment rights of students…. “students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding.” The school library is the principal locus of such freedom. Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 868-69 (1982) (plurality opinion; citations omitted).
In this case, we are especially concerned about reports that you overruled the school district’s own reconsideration committee after only "skimming passages of the book.” Even if you had read the book, deference to the decision of the 12 person review committee, composed of administrators, parents, students, media specialists and teachers, who considered the book carefully from a range of perspectives, would be appropriate. To do otherwise makes a mockery of the review process.
At a minimum, only compelling pedagogical concerns would be sufficient to override the committee’s decision. It is hard to imagine that concerns about exposing students to sexual references and certain language (profanity, presumably) would be adequate; on that basis, you would have to remove at least half the books in the library, including classic works of literature from authors like Shakespeare, Faulkner, Hardy, Twain, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Angelou, Morrison, Updike, Joyce, and Voltaire, among countless others. Parents may impose limits on their own children’s reading choices, but have no right to enforce their values and judgments on the entire student body.
Besides, many parents appreciate books like The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things. The novel tells a realistic story with complex figures and themes that are relevant to adolescents. Such books help teenagers approach sensitive topics and figure out how to deal with them. Even if the novel’s themes are too mature for some students, they will be meaningful to others. No book is right for everyone, and the role of the library is to allow students to make choices according to their own interests, experiences, and family values.
We urge you to reconsider your decision and uphold the principle that is so essential to education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
Joan E. Bertin, Esq.
On behalf of:
The National Coalition Against Censorship
The Association of American Publishers
PEN American Center
The First Amendment Project
The American Booksellers’ Foundation for Free Expression
National Council of Teachers of English