Letter regarding challenges to The Golden Compass in Winchester, KY


Site-Based Decision Making (SBDM) Council Members
c/o Principal Luke Wright & Susan Mitmesser
Conkwright Middle School
360 Mt. Sterling Rd.   
Winchester, KY  40391 

October 29, 2007

Dear Members of the SBDM Council:

We write to oppose efforts to remove the book, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman, from Conkwright Middle School’s 6th grade Language Arts curriculum.  We understand that the book has been challenged by concerned parents and local Christian leaders because they believe it is anti-Christian.  We also understand that a committee of parents and teachers who reviewed the book has recommended that it be kept a part of the curriculum and that you are meeting on November 8th to make a decision whether or not to follow its recommendation.

The Golden Compass is a popular and well-respected book.  It has won the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature, the Guardian Fiction Prize, and it is one of the Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults listed by the American Library Association.  Furthermore, according to a report in your local paper, The Winchester Sun, the book is currently in “high-demand in Conkwright’s library.”  The book is clearly exciting young readers from your community.  We urge you to encourage this impulse to read and keep the book in the classroom.

The task of selecting readings for the curriculum properly belongs to professional educators. Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children but, no matter how well-intentioned, they simply are not equipped to make decisions that address the needs of the entire student body. Without questioning the sincerity of those seeking removal of the books, their views are not shared by all, and they have no right to impose those views on others or to demand that the educational program reflect their personal preferences.

As many courts have observed, public schools have the obligation to "administer school curricula responsive to the overall educational needs of the community and its children." Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003). Thus, no parent has the right "to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught." Id. Any other rule would put schools in the untenable position of having "to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the school’s choice of subject matter." Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). See also Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. School Dist., 135 F.3d 694, 699 (10th Cir. 1998); Littlefield v. Forney Indep. School, 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001).

The practical effect of acceding to any parent’s request to censor materials will be to invite others to demand changes in the curriculum to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.  The most satisfactory way of handling situations in which a parent or student objects to a particular assignment is to offer the opportunity to request an alternative assignment, which we understand the school has done. This addresses the concerns of those who seek to limit their exposure to certain words and ideas, without infringing the rights of the many others who are eager for a more inclusive and expansive education.

We strongly urge you to keep this book in the curriculum and stand by the principle that is so 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 call us. 


Joan Bertin Chris Finan
Executive Director President
National Coalition Against Censorship American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression



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