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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Book Banning

     On March 30, 2020, on a five to two vote, the Matanuska-Susitana School Board banned five books from high school English classes in the towns of Wasilla and Palmer, Alaska. The reason: these works "depict rape, incest and contain sexual references." The banning meant that English teachers in these two schools could no longer teach or discuss these books with their students. Students could, however, go to a library and read these books. 

     Two of the school board members who voted to extract the four works of fiction and one autobiography from the schools' curricula admitted to a reporter they had not read any of them.

     To believe that high school students can be principally influenced by literature is ridiculous. To protect young people from pornography, obscenity, crime, and sexual violence, one would have to smash their televisions sets, seize their computers and ban them from movie theaters.

     So, a brief look at the five books so harmful to a youthful mind they can no longer be taught in Wasilla and Palmer, Alaska:

     Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison. This critically acclaimed novel by a black writer about racism in the south won the National Book Award in 1953.

     Catch 22 (1961) by Joseph Heller. This dark comedy set in World War Two is often cited as one of the most significant novels of the 20th Century.

     The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O'Brien. A collection of stories about a platoon of American soldiers fighting in Vietnam.

     I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) by Maya Angelou. An autobiography by the black novelist and poet. The book was nominated for the National Book Award in 1970.

     The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). A classic novel that's been part of American high school and university curricula since 1945. Many literary critics consider The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel.

     Denying the teaching of the above five books to a handful of high school students in Alaska is of little consequence in the greater scheme of things. But the idea that school board members, under the guise of child protection, can tell English teachers what literature they can teach and what they cannot is an offensive abuse of authority. 

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