Annie on My Mind
by Nancy Garden (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux)
In the controversy preceding this book censorship trial — which ended with a resounding victory for the First Amendment — copies of Annie on My Mind were burned on the steps of the Kansas City school district headquarters.
A federal judge ruled that the Olathe, Kansas school system had violated students’ First Amendment rights when it ordered that all copies of the book Annie on My Mind be removed from high school library shelves. The school board has returned the book, which is the story of Annie and Liza, who meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, fall in love and consequently struggle with declaring their homosexuality to family and friends. Annie on My Mind had been available in Olathe school libraries for more than ten years without incident.
However, intense objections arose 18 months ago when a local gay organization donated copies of Annie on my Mind and another book with a gay theme, All American Boy, to Kansas City area schools. The book was successfully defended in the Shawnee Mission School District, but students and parents in Olathe were forced to sue to vindicate their Constitutional rights.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (various publishers)
The Eureka, Illinois school board ordered its high school English teachers to suspend use of The Canterbury Tales so that it could decide which portions were appropriate for use. The board voted to ban this bawdy classic of English literature, and substitute an expurgated — which they called "annotated" — version in its place.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (Random House)
RETAINED Tex by S.E. Hinton (Dell)
RESTRICTED Weird on the Outside by Shelley Stoehr (Delacorte)
RETAINED Hearing Us Out by Roger Sutton (Little Brown)
RETAINED No Big Deal by Ellen Jaffee McClain (Dutton)
RETAINED All these books, as well as a public television-produced series of videotapes, have been the focus of controversy in Volusia County, Florida.
Weird on the Outside, Hearing Us Out, and No Big Deal were attacked by one school board member after she learned they were part of a display to acquaint teachers with new books appropriate for classroom use. The demand by the board member that the books be removed from display set off a controversy lasting many months. In the end, no action was taken and the board member apologized.
Meanwhile, a parent sought to have I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings banned from the Volusia schools, claiming that it "undermines the morals" he has tried to teach his child and that it is unfit for use in any classroom. He admitted that he had read only portions of the book. A review committee recommended that the book be allowed for use at the high school level, "with parental notification concerning assigned readings," and that it remain on the shelves of the high school libraries in Volusia County.
Other Volusia battles ensued. A parent complained about the religious views expressed by the protagonist in the young adult novel Tex; a review committee recommended that the book be retained. However, the superintendent decided to move it from the curriculum to an optional reading list. An unsuccessful effort was also made to prohibit the use of videotapes of the public television series DeGrassi Junior High in Volusia middle schools, because it failed to condemn abortion and homosexuality. As a result of the turmoil, the county implemented guidelines to provide more information to parents before the tapes are shown.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (Viking)
In St. Augustine, Florida, a parent complained that the novel Ceremony was profane and contained sexual material which was inappropriate for students. In response, the principal convened a committee of parents and teachers to discuss the matter. No decision was reached and, after someone circulated a page from the book containing "indecent words," the principal took the book off the summer reading list for the 11th grade honor students.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (Dell)
One resident of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania demanded that The Chocolate War be removed from the high school curriculum because he believed that reading the book would encourage rebellious behavior in students. (This is a charge against many books.) The book is about a boy who stands up both to the school bully and the principal; it describes his struggles with sex and peer pressure. The school board voted to keep the book after a review committee recommended that it be retained.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison (Dutton)
In the town of Strong, Maine the parents of two tenth-graders objected to the use of Allison’s novel in the sophomore honors English class. The two students were offered the option of reading another book instead, which they chose to do. However, the parents brought the issue before the school board which sent the book to the Media Committee for review, as required by Board policy. The Committee voted to recommend that the book be retained, but the Board imposed restrictions on the manner in which the teachers could introduce and discuss the book with their classes. The teachers have filed a grievance.
Dorothy Allison visited Strong and spoke to the community earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Ted Turner’s cable network, TNT, which underwrote production of the new film version of Bastard Out of Carolina, has recently informed its director, Anjelica Huston, that it will not broadcast the film. She is free to try to seek other distribution channels, according to a TNT spokesperson, but the film’s rape scene does not meet TNT "programming standards."
1900 a film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci
MOVIE BANNED; TEACHER FIRED
The board of education of a suburban Denver school district brought charges against high-school teacher Al Wilder for showing Bertolucci’s 1900 to a senior class studying logic and debate. The epic film depicts two generations of Italian families against the backdrops of World Wars I and II and the rise and fall of Fascism. An unauthorized 24-minute videotape of strung-together excerpts taken out of context was produced to discredit the film. The film itself is over 4 hours long.
Bertolucci testified at Wilder’s dismissal hearing by telephone. The hearing officer decided in Wilder’s favor, but her decision was merely advisory. The Board has now fired Wilder; a court appeal is expected.
UPDATES Rib Lake, Wisconsin: High school guidance counselor Mike Dishnow, who won a federal law suit against the Rib Lake, Wisconsin School Board, has had an award of almost $200,000 upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Dishnow sued the Board for violation of his First Amendment rights when it failed to renew his contract after he criticized the school for banning Judy Blume’s Forever from its library.
New Ipswich, New Hampshire:Teacher Penny Culliton came under fire last spring when she gave E.M. Forster’s Maurice and The Education of Harriet Hatfield, by May Sarton, to her students at the Mascenic Regional High School. The school administration ordered the books removed from classes on the grounds that they had not been approved (a procedure not required for other books). The novels’ purchase was financed by a special grant that Culliton received related to a national program of suicide prevention among lesbian and gay high-school students; the grant request was approved by the school superintendent and principal.
Culliton was charged with "insubordination," and, after a hearing, fired. An arbitrator has now turned the dismissal into a one-year disciplinary suspension, reinstating Culliton for the 1996-97 school year.
The school board recently approved the limited use of the books in an elective English class (many believe on the advice of legal counsel). School officials have said this course will not be offered due to lack of interest. It has now voted to appeal the arbitrator’s decision, which according to the teachers’ contract is binding. Stay tuned.