"You'll have to jump!"

The school board for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, which includes the towns of Palmer and Wasilla, Alaska, voted last Wednesday to bar teachers from using five "controversial" books that parents had objected to several times in the past. The school board meeting was mostly unattended, with several members participating only by phone, so there were no teachers or parents there to speak up in defense of the books. Jesus, you have to watch rightwing idiots ALL THE TIME, even during a pandemic. (Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, only lifted the state's stay at home order Friday.)

The books that will be removed from the district's list of approved works for classroom use are all standbys in the college-prep curriculum, and have won multiple awards, so of course they're suspect.

Dianne K. Shibe, president of the Mat-Su Education Association teachers union, complained that although an agenda item had mentioned the books would be considered, most teachers and parents didn't believe the books were endangered.
"Most of the community didn't respond, because these books had been used forever," Shibe told NBC News. "Now in retrospect, it's like, 'duh.' I could have seen this coming."

If you'd like to see local government at work doing terrible things — and to be reminded that EVERY ELECTION MATTERS — go watch the video of the April 22 meeting, starting at the 1:12 portion.

The two board members who supported keeping the curriculum list as it is, Kelsey Trimmer and Sarah Welton, both pointed out that the books had all previously gone through a public review process. District policy already requires that if a parent objects to an assigned work, students can be assigned an alternative that meets with the parents' approval. Welton also noted that the books were only assigned in upper-level, elective classes.

It doesn't really look like any of the board members who voted to ban the books from the reading list had read the books at all; the school district did provide a brief information sheet on the five works, as well as a full list of books used in elective assignments, which lists both objections to and justifications for their presence on the approved list.

Board member Jeff Taylor wanted to know why the schools' reading lists would include any materials at all that had the label "controversial" on them, even if they had previously been approved. "Is there a reason that we include books that we've labeled as controversial in our curriculum? I would prefer they were gone."

Welton, a psychologist with 14 years' experience teaching first-year college students, said many students hadn't learned how to think critically in a way that prepared them for college-level work.

There are people that just take things at face value or what their families have told them for a very long time, and they don't think about possible alternatives. I'm not saying that the parents were wrong [...] but there needs to be some opening of the mind to understand that not everyone thinks the same way. And I believe the controversial book subjects as reviewed by parents [...] it's beneficial to our students. I think we might be doing a disservice to not provide that.

Wingnut translation: Decent kids from God-fearing homes must be indoctrinated earlier to hate their parents and America, so we can bring about a socialist revolution. Lord knows my Catholic mother thought that I never would have lost my faith if I hadn't read a lot of filthy literature, and look where I am now.

Board member Kelsey Trimmer noted that what's "controversial" can often be a matter of perspective, and that there had been complaints from a lot of different outlooks over a class on the Bible in history and literature, but that the class remained in place. She again noted that the books had all been chosen for their "literary value," which is English teacher talk aimed at promoting smut and communism.

Taylor insisted he thought people should have the right to read whatever they want, but that he didn't see why schools should be assigning dirty nasty books. "For us to put them in front of teenagers as part of our curriculum, that's just something I can't — I don't understand why we would put those sort of things in front of them." Which is apparently as far as he got in reading the books.

Board Vice President Tim Hart frankly admitted he hadn't read the books, not that that's any reason to make sure kids' minds aren't poisoned by them. He said he had read Gatsby when he was a teen, but didn't remember anything about it, and he knew Catch-22 had been made into a movie some time ago, and that he "didn't know anything" about The Things They Carried. Nonetheless, he was fairly sure they were probably "PG13."

But boy oh boy did he object to Maya Angelou and Ralph Ellison! He said he'd "researched" I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Invisible Man, by looking at the SparkNotes summaries of the books, and pointed out that Angelou wrote about having been molested as a child (true), noting that if he read the SparkNotes summary of Chapter 11 aloud (completely stripped of its literary context), "the board would have perfect license to admonish me." And then he triumphantly noted that no corporation in America would allow you to talk that way at work:

If I were to read this in a professional environment at my office, I would be dragged to the equal opportunity office.

Well there's a compelling argument against people reading SparkNotes summaries of novels at work. And against divorcing works from their literary context, like pointing out that the man told her he'd kill her brother if she said anything, and that Angelou therefore literally didn't speak for years, until a wonderfully kind woman helped her to find language again. It's one of the most singularly moving things I've ever read, but Angelou's rediscovery of her own voice only works because you know what she experienced, in painful detail. It would not be the same work had she only said "Mr. Freeman molested me and told me he'd kill Bailey if I ever say a word."

Oh, yeah, and Hart also objected to mentions of incest and "sordid" stories in Invisible Man, too, Plus there was a lot of stuff about race in both.

When you have books that you could not read publicly without going to EO, that's probably a pretty good litmus test. So we're not talking about "controversy is controversy is controversy" [would he ban that dyke Gertrude Stein? — Dok], we're talking about things that are very specific, and I think beyond the pale for just about any audience.

He also went on to insist that these five books, which he hadn't read, have no value at all:

We're not talking about something that's mind expanding or something that's going to help anybody learn any better. We're talking about something that would not be acceptable in a professional environment, which is what parents expect out of the schools!

Happily, Hart didn't demand the revocation of Angelou's Presidential Medal of Freedom, even though it was awarded by you-know-who.

Board member Ole Larson explained he simply thought kids should be taught "great literature" like when he was in school, stuff that might include "controversial issues, but not specific sexual in nature type issues." He didn't specifically mention Shakespeare, but wouldn't that have been a treat?

In addition to prohibiting the five terrible books from being assigned by teachers, the board also voted to eliminate the schools' use of "The Learning Network," the New York Times' educational supplement for teachers and journalism classes, because protecting innocent teens from Donald Trump's second-most-hated news outlet is what dipshit local governments are into these days. The newspaper itself will be retained for use in journalism classes, which is bad enough.

For her part, Welton made a last stab at suggesting that teenagers can handle great literature, and that parents already have plenty of input into their kids' education. She defended Caged Bird especially, noting that it could help kids who've experienced trauma realize they're not alone and could seek help. Great, so now she's calling good decent parents in Wasilla a bunch of child molesters?

I think you're putting your head in the sand, that's just my opinion. If you really truly believe that you are protecting your children, you can protect them by just saying "don't take that class" and "don't be involved in the New York Times."

Shortly after Wednesday's vote, board President Tom Bergey explained to the Anchorage Press that barring teachers from assigning the five books was not "book banning," because they would still be available in school libraries, golly, and he was very impressed by Hart's contention that no workplace would ever tolerate reading the SparkNotes summary of Caged Bird. (He did say he had once read Gatsby and Catch-22, but not the others.)

Following the banning of the books for use in classrooms, NBC News reports, all five titles sold briskly at a local bookseller:

Mary Ann Cockle, owner of Fireside Books in Palmer, about a mile from district headquarters, said her store ran out of copies of the books within hours of the board's action.

"People who had read the books years ago are buying them to read again and to give away," Cockle said Tuesday. "Our biggest outpouring of support are people buying the books and donating them or leaving them to us to distribute for free."

A new shipment of "Caged" and "Invisible Man" arrived at Fireside on Tuesday, and Cockle expects them all to be gone by Wednesday.

Anchorage TV station KTTU notes that its reporters "searched for favorable reactions to the board's decision but was unable to find any prior to publication of this story." Bravo. Let's also hope that this idiotic decision leads to some changes on the school board.

[Mat-Su Borough School District Meeting on Vimeo / Anchorage Press / NBC News / Anchorage Daily News / KTTU-TV]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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