Which are The Classic Books that Caloifornia School District Considers Banning?
California School District Considers Ban on Classic Books. Photo: Insider

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) has issued a letter to the Burbank School District in Burbank, California, regarding the district’s proposed censorship of several American classics.

Five classic books considered banning

Books are introduced and removed from school curricula on a regular basis. However, certain texts are perennial in American classrooms, among them The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; The Cay, Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mockingbird. As the NCAC states, there are problematic and challenging themes in many (if not all) books considered “classic texts.” Curricula have been developed to put these themes into context and to provide students with more perspective and compassion, with the goal of teaching the lessons of the past so that our present and future can be more equitable, according to Book Riot.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Readers meet Huckleberry Finn after he's been taken in by Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson, who intend to teach him religion and proper manners. Huck soon sets off on an adventure to help the widow's slave, Jim, escape up the Mississippi to the free states. By allowing Huck to tell his own story, Mark Twain addresses America's painful contradiction of racism and segregation in a "free" and "equal" society.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, this is the story of one family’s struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. And it is also Cassie’s story—Cassie Logan, an independent girl who discovers over the course of an important year why having land of their own is so crucial to the Logan family, even as she learns to draw strength from her own sense of dignity and self-respect.

The Cay

The Cay is a tale of shipwreck and survival. Stuck on a tiny cay, or island, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, far from populated land, Phillip and Timothy must use every skill they possess to stay alive. Their only resources are a water keg, a knife, a few matches, and the items they can scavenge from the island. How will they survive on the island? Will they be rescued before it is too late?

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men is a dark tale, a parable of men journeying through a world of pitfalls and brutal, inhumane experiences. Their dreams seem all but doomed, obstacles block their ways, happiness appears to be an impossibility, and human handicaps affect their hopes. When the novel begins, we are treated to a forest scene with the sunshine on the pond and the gentle breeze in the willow trees promising that life is good. But soon after, that nature scene is replaced by a human world that contains jealousy, cruelty, loneliness, rootlessness, longing for land, and shattered dreams.

The power of John Steinbeck's vision is that we, the readers, enter this world and are drawn into the journey of these two men — Lennie and George — and we witness their dreams, their hopes, and their courage. Like so many of Steinbeck's characters, Lennie and George are not captains or kings but little guys. They haven't a dime to their names or a place to lay their heads, but they strive for a better life; they long for self respect, independence, freedom from fear, a future, a place to call home, and work that they love.

To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird, novel by Harper Lee, published in 1960. Enormously popular, it was translated into some 40 languages and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. In 1961 it won a Pulitzer Prize. The novel was praised for its sensitive treatment of a child’s awakening to racism and prejudice in the American South.

Reasons for banning those classic

Burbank Unified School District administrators informed teachers of the censorship during a Sept. 9 virtual meeting, Newsweek reported, Faith Wire cites.

The decision, which marks the first change to the BUSD reading list in 30 years, according to the Los Angeles Times, came after four parents complained about the books in question.

Which are The Classic Books that Caloifornia School District Considers Banning?
Five classic books considered banning. Photo: NCAC

Carmenita Helligar said her daughter Destiny was harassed by a white student who used racial smears, including the N-word, because he learned it while reading “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” Helligar claimed another boy told her daughter: “My family used to own your family and now I want a dollar from each of you for the week.”

The incident, Helligar said, left Destiny feeling “traumatized.” She went on to describe the classic novels as “problematic.”

Another parent, Nadra Ostrom, said, “There’s no counter-narrative to this black person dealing with racism and a white person saving them.” The books in question, she continued, assume “racism is something in the past.”

Rising oppositions from writers and students

The temporary ban, put in place while school officials determine whether to permanently remove the books from the BUSD reading list, hasn’t gone over well with everyone, though.

Sungjoo Yoon, a 15-year-old sophomore at Burbank High School, has started a Change.org petition in opposition to a ban on what he described as “classic, anti-racist literature.”

“In a time where racism has become more transparent than ever,” he wrote in part, “we need to continue to educate students as to the roots of it; to create anti-racist students. These literatures, of which have been declared ‘Books that Shaped America’ by the Library of Congress, won Newbury Medals, and are some of the most influential pieces, cannot disappear.”

The student asked those who “stand against censorship” and “fight for virtue over comfort” to sign his petition. As of the publishing of this article, more than 2,600 people had signed Yoon’s appeal.

Additionally, the National Coalition Against Censorship is urging BUSD leaders to reverse course. According to the Times, the NCAC told administrators with the BUSD: “We believe that the books … have a great pedagogical value and should be retained in the curriculum.”

PEN America (Poets, Essayists, Novelists) created its own petition, in which its leaders stated they “object to the news that several books dealing with the subject of race in America … have been temporarily banned within Burbank public school classes.”

UPDATE 11/16/2020: This Los Angeles Times article details racist incidents that were blamed on the books that have been removed from classrooms. NCAC continues to urge the school district to allow teachers to teach these books. The books tell anti-racist stories using historically-accurate racist language. Teaching them requires compassion and sensitivity, and teachers must be given the educational resources to do so. But banning books does not erase racist ideas or prevent racist incidents. We support the work being done in the school district to diversify the curriculum and expand the voices and stories included in classrooms. However, we remain concerned about the manner in which these books were removed before an official review process was completed. NCAC is continuing to monitor this case.

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