The second-biggest school district in Alaska, with 19,000 students, has deleted five books from the curriculum for reasons that include “sexually explicit material” and “anti-white messaging.”
The members on the board of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District voted five to two recently in favor of axing
• I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
• The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
• Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
• Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, and
• The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
The last three were faulted for containing mentions of rape, incest, racial slurs, profanity, and misogyny. Angelou’s autobiography was the one thought to contain sexually over-the-line passages and anti-white messaging; Fitzgerald’s novel was deemed problematic for “language and sexual references.”
The books are still available to students who ask for them, but they’re no longer on the district’s approved reading list for American Literature.
Some of the board members’ views were shaped by their Christian values. One, V. Jeff Taylor, mentions on his website that he was a religious volunteer right out of high school, and that he taught “youth religious studies classes” for four-plus years, adding
I love to assist our youth in excelling and reaching their full potential.
Apparently that means curbing their exposure to literary classics.
Taylor argues on his Facebook page that the books aren’t banned banned:
I want to say this very loudly. THESE BOOKS ARE NOT BANNED! They are on bookshelves, they are in teachers’ libraries, they are available and could be recognized and recommended as great literary works. They could be discussed and written about. They are not banned.
He says he was reluctant at first.
Honestly, my initial thought was “why The Great Gatsby?”
Good question. Taylor eventually voted to remove the novel from the curriculum for, as I said, “language and sexual references.” Now get this:
I have not read the others.
Huh. Might reading them have been a good idea given the fact that he wanted them removed? Nah, says Taylor:
… it was listed and therefore part of the group.
Was it perhaps listed, along with the other four titles, by fellow board members who also didn’t read them? It would be interesting to know.
A board vice president, Jim Hart, said he had issues with Maya Angelou’s “graphic” description of molestation in her autobiography.
Would he have preferred a veiled reference to such an act? Could a few quiet, discreet words capture what it’s like to be raped?
Hart believes it’s inappropriate material even for adults, depending on where you read it.
“If I were to read this right now, the board would have perfect license to admonish me,” Mr. Hart said in the meeting. “If I were to read this in a professional environment, at my office, I would be dragged to the equal opportunity office.”
For quietly reading a book? Especially a book that, 50 years ago, took its place in the pantheon of American literature? I’m not sure Hart understands what the equal opportunity office actually does.
Opposition to the board’s decision has been vocal. DanaLyn Dalrymple, a local lawyer who has a son in high school, wants students to read all five books in the next three months to qualify for a $100 prize. It seems that people are taking up her challenge. The volumes in question are all sold out in local bookstores, and “hundreds” of orders for extra copies are said to have come in.