Concerned with some of the language in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a parent has challenged the book at Appomattox High School in VA. Though her son was given an alternative Steinbeck book to read, the parent still believes the book is inappropriate for other students and has asked that it be removed altogether from the 10th grade English curriculum. Principal Dr. Gregory A. Wheeler has put together a committee to review the book and make a recommendation to the Board of Education.
Below is NCAC’s Letter to the review committee.
c/o Principal Dr. Gregory A. Wheeler
Appomattox High School
198 Evergreen Avenue
Appomattox, VA 24522
January 4, 2008
Dear Members of the Review Committee:
We write to oppose efforts to remove the book, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, from Appomattox High School’s 10th grade English curriculum. We understand the book has been challenged by a parent who objects to its “inappropriate” language, and that the committee is reviewing the book in order to recommend whether or not the Board of Education should remove it.
Of Mice and Men is a seminal work of American fiction by a Nobel Prize-winning author. The book’s gritty portrayal of the life of early 20th century migrant workers in America and the complex relationship between the novel’s two main characters, George and Lenny, has been adapted into movies, plays, operas and even cartoons. Of Mice and Men has long been used for instruction in schools across the country and is consistently listed as a favorite book among students. Indeed, the school district would potentially put its students at an educational disadvantage in college if it did not introduce them to literature of this sort in high school.
Excluding works with "objectionable language" would deny students exposure to a wide range of material. Even narrowing the restriction to works containing language normally deemed "vulgar" or "profane" would disqualify works of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Angelou, and Toni Morrison, to name but a few. As these examples suggest, any attempt "to eliminate everything that is objectionable…will leave public schools in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result…." McCollum v. Board of Educ. (1948) (Jackson, J. concurring).
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.
We strongly urge you to keep the book in the classroom and to uphold 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 at (212) 807-6222.
National Coalition Against Censorship
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