Monday, March 26, 2007

Miller Banned From Texan High School

Henry Miller is in the news! Okay, it's only a local story in Terrell, Texas. But who knows? Maybe it will be picked up nationally and Miller will become the exploding elephant that was once the Danish cartoon controversy. Not that this would be a good thing. Anyway, here is most of the article, written by Ian McCann of the Dallas Morning News:

Author removed from school's assignment list after complaint

"Henry Miller was removed from a list of American authors approved for a research assignment at Terrell High School this week after a junior and her parents complained about his novel Tropic of Cancer.

The 17-year-old told her parents she believed the book was inappropriate because of its explicit sexual content, said Pam Stevens, a Terrell school district spokeswoman. She said district officials were trying to ensure that materials used in class assignments meet the standards set by the district and the community.

'We're trying to make sure the content is appropriate for the age level,' Ms. Stevens said. 'This is a literature and research assignment – that's where the focus should be.'

[...] In the school assignment, created eight years ago, each student researches an author using biographies, literary criticism and the writer's works. Ms. Stevens said the two junior English teachers on Monday would begin reviewing the nearly 400 authors on the approved list to determine whether others might be found objectionable.

Ms. Stevens said that the student, whose name was not released, borrowed the book from the city's Hulsey Public Library. She told her parents about content she considered inappropriate, they complained to school administrators and Mr. Miller's name was immediately removed from the approved list of authors.

Rebecca Sullivan, the city's library director, said she had received no prior complaints about the novel.

In her 18 years at the library, she said, there has been only one formal complaint, from someone asking that the library make available a book it had declined to offer.

Ms. Sullivan stressed that the library would not remove Tropic of Cancer from its shelves and that schools – unlike libraries – take on some parental responsibility."

Full article link here.

The Hulsey Public Library has seven Miller items in its collection. Tropic Of Cancer is, needless to say, "on hold" and not due back until April 4th. Becky Sullivan has just become my favourite librarian.

Take a look at the American Library Association's "Freedom To Read Statement." i.e #1 - "It is in the public interest for publishers and librarians to make available the widest diversity of views and expressions, including those that are unorthodox, unpopular, or considered dangerous by the majority."

Terrell High School is, according to its website, "recognized in English Language Arts for Consistent High Performance over the past three years."

I'm actually surprised (though delighted) that Miller was even on a high school reading list, so I don't feel particularly shocked that he's being removed (at least in an official School Board capacity; 17 is not too young to read Miller, in my opinion). But the insinuation that the library is at fault for carrying his work and that perhaps it should be removed is offensive to me.

I would love to see the before and after lists.

In lieu of a message board, I encourge opinions in the Comment section below. If you're interested in people's opinions about this topic but see that the Comment section below is disappointingly dead, check out the messages left at Bookshelves of Doom and NYC Educator.

For an essay about Miller's absence in post-high school education in the US, see Karl Orend's "Making a Place for Henry Miller in the American Classroom" in Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal #2 (2005).
The local Terrell Tribune covered this story after a parent-teacher meeting early this week. Apparently, the 16-year female student's choices were "slim" by the time she had a chance to select her author from the list of 400 names. The school librarian is said to have recommended the book, saying it was "a good choice" for her. The student was shocked by the language, then told her father (who's running for some kind of office or council position), who was even more shocked. The book is now removed from the list of approved authors and the school Superintendent has "ensured" parents that students will only be issued "age appropriate" literature.
Check out the horn-bucking in the comments section that follows this article on the website. Lots of ranting about freedom versus responsibility, with only a few actual references to Miller, like this one: "As a side note, when I was student at Terrell High School, I wrote a paper on another Henry Miller book. If there was a problem with Tropic of Cancer, he has written many other fine works. "
The Kaufman County Online reported on this as well, adding more details:
1) The teachers claims they were unaware that the works were "unsuitable."
2) The school has been using the same list for eight years. This list was apparently drawn from the Perspectives on American Literature website.
3) The girl is now going to write a report on Robert Heinlein (who seems to enjoy themes of sexual liberation ... wait til daddy hears about this one).
4) And just when I decided this was all over with, it seems that her father is a school board candidate, and said the incident will "likely be discussed during his campaign."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi RC, Justed wanted to say how much I appreciate all the content that you have provided over the past year and a half. For novels, I've been reading nothing but Miller for the past year. I am hooked on Miller novels and your blog!

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Blogger RuKsaK said...

just, once again, I want to second what Tom says. Another great post - I also love the pic of the kid smoking and reading Sexus.

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Blogger RC said...

Thank you both.

9:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that whenever someone tries to 'ban' a book, it has the opposite effect. It draws attention to it and people become curious. I wish more towns would ban Miller, because it would bring his work back into the limelight again.

(only half serious)

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