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Plymouth-Canton Book Challenge Makes National Headlines

Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, New York Daily News pick up on coverage of 'Beloved' and 'Waterland' challenge.

The challenge of two books assigned in Plymouth-Canton Educational Park's AP English Literature classes by two parents has generated national headlines.

Posts on the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post and New York Daily News have addressed the topic. These passages have ranged from opinions favoring keeping the books to more objective news items on the issue. Here's a sampling of what is being said elsewhere:

On the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog:

One of the parents is Matt Dame, who ran for the school board as a Tea Party candidate last year and lost. He and his wife complained that a book like “Beloved” is inappropriate for students, since it contains passages that deal with sex, ghosts and infanticide. At a public review meeting, Dame also complained the characters in the book used God’s name in vain. “Waterland” also contains sexual passages.

In the place of “Beloved,” which deals with slavery, Dame suggested that a nonfiction text about slavery or survival should have been assigned instead, the Plymouth Patch . But a teacher, Brian Read, pointed out that the class in which ”Beloved” and “Waterland” are taught is AP English Literature. “It’s about fiction,” Read said. “Poetry and fiction.”

From Michigan Radio's Jack Lessenberry:

To me it is dismaying that school administrators are willing to risk kids’ education for perceived political correctness.

And I wonder, if those considering banning these novels have ever watched an hour of prime time TV?

I also wonder what the superintendent will do when the religious right demands Plymouth-Canton schools stop teaching evolution. Perhaps at some point the protests of parents who want their children to get a good education will also start to count. 

On the New York Daily News' Page Views book blog:

That's a great idea - let's censor passages in texts if we don't like them. And maybe if we don't like entire books, we can throw them in a bonfire and burn them. And if we don't like ideas, we can make those ideas illegal too. And if we don't like certain groups of people because we've decided those people are somehow "inappropriate" in their beliefs or habits or appearance we can...

Nevermind.

On MediaBistro's GalleyCat book publishing blog:

In a Michigan school district, an AP English class assignment to read Beloved by Toni Morrison.

The controversial challenge has generated an impressive response in the Plymouth-Canton community, and the school district is currently deciding if they should act on the challenge.

You can share your opinion in the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools Board of Education suggestion box. Follow this link to email: suggestions@pccsmail.net. According to the board site, “suggestions are reviewed weekly by the Board and your idea may be shared publicly at a Board of Education meeting.”

On the Huffington Post:

"Beloved," along with Graham Swift's "Waterland," both have been challenged by the parents of an AP English Literature student. Superintendent Jeremy Hughes initially removed Waterland from the class curriculum upon the parents' complaint, but that book will be subject to its own review at a later date.

Mike January 19, 2012 at 08:30 PM
After reading a post from a former student who read these books, and the books reviews on Amazon.com I have added them to my wish list so I may read them in the future. It is unfortunate that the teachers and administrators were not as clear as a former student on how the controversial parts supported the theme. These classes must be well taught as the former student grabbed the most important part of fiction as being a tool that helps us all deal with issues we are uncomfortable with. Why the educators could not said this at the very beginning? For all of the demonizing of the liberal left, nobody ever suggested burning the books. With little logical argument put forth by the supporters of these books who simply drop down to name calling and trying to marginalize anybody who questions if these books are appropriate. I never got an answer from an adult on what made these books better than others.
DownUpside1 January 19, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Just because the teacher hasn't made a highly persuasive public argument is not reason for criticism in my opinion. The fact that a parent and the superintendent changed the class syllabus without any discussion with even the English Department is a huge show of how unimportant teachers opinions are on the topic. People who want to stay employed try not to make waves with their employers - especially when those employers have already shown that an opinion on the work they do is not valued.
Michael Pare January 20, 2012 at 12:13 PM
The teachers who spoke at the review committee hearing spoke very eloquently about why they chose these books for the AP English curriculum. They discussed how Beloved was the best example of the use of "magical realism" and how both books exposed students to non-linear writing. They also explained how both books worked together to provide students with excellent preparation for the AP English exam. Many former students have related how the essay comparing these two classic pieces of literature was their best preparation for the exam. The teachers have made a forceful case for why these books should be included in the curriculum that demonstrated a level of expertise that those outside the field cannot claim to have. The school district bent over backwards to work out a solution with these parents, showing great respect for their concerns and offering their child alternate readings. A reasonable solution could have easily been worked out, but the parents refused to be reasonable. Instead they sought to deny the other 94 students in the class the opportunity so many former students have found valuable. That's where this went too far. These parents are trying to "ban" these books from The Park. There is no other way to describe what they are trying to do. That isn't name calling. It's the truth.
Christine Yancy January 20, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Well said Michael Pare! My daughter is currently in this class. Everything was made clear in the Spring when we applied for her admission to AP English. We looked over the list of books. Being English majors, we were well familiar them, including the Toni Morrison book, Beloved. We were shocked when Waterland was taken from the class and Beloved put up for review. I attended the challenge committee meeting last Wednesday night, and listened in disbelief to a presentation that incorrectly described Toni Morrison's great work as trash and porn. The propagandist internet site Classkc, which also makes these claims against Beloved, lists spicy excerpts of many great works of literature out of context to shock parents, and tells parents to read these excerpts in front of their school board in order to get the books banned. A few years ago, a similar group tried this in Howell and failed because doing this is against the First Amendment. I am now rereading Beloved after 20 years. The language is raw, the characters are very real; they jump out of the pages of the book and grab you. Morrison's literary techniques tell the story in a powerful way. I highly recommend this book. At the challenge meeting I heard both teachers present a logical and well-reasoned defense for using these books in this class. It was clear that the criticisms of Beloved are false and that the teachers have designed an excellent course to prepare their students for the AP English exam.
Joe Miller January 23, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Janet, you do realize that the Wall Street Journal is the most prominent CONSERVATIVE newspaper out there. Think about it, it's readers are rich business men. So the fact that you lack knowledge about which media group is conservative and which one is liberal just totally devalued your argument. Thanks for trying.

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