Support from the Kids’ Right to Read Project
The Kids’ Right to Read Project, a division of the National Coalition Against Censorship, sent this letter to a school district where SPEAK was challenged. They sum up my thoughts on the subject perfectly.
Board of Trustees
Temecula Valley Unified School District
31350 Rancho Vista Road
Temecula, CA 92592
September 21, 2009
Dear Ms. Rutz-Robbins, Mr. Pulsipher and Members of the Board,
We write to oppose efforts to remove Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson from English classes at Temecula Valley High School. We understand that the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment has received one parent’s objections to “smutty” and “pornographic” content.
School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular ideas or controversial language. The Supreme Court has cautioned that, “[l]ocal school boards may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’” Board of Education v. Pico, 457 U.S. 853, 872 (1982)(plurality opinion).
Speak is a stunning story about teenage outcasts of our society who often fall through the cracks. A New York Times bestseller, it has received wide acclaim, including as a National Book Award Finalist. It is precisely this kind of literature that enlarges students’ knowledge of the world and prepares them for college and adult life. Books should always be evaluated as a whole, and not reduced to isolated passages that some may find objectionable. Viewed as a whole work, this book is eminently appropriate for high school students.
The task of selecting school materials properly belongs to professional librarians and educators. Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children, but, no matter how well-intentioned, they simply are not equipped to make decisions for others. Without questioning the sincerity of the parent who objects to the book, her views are not shared by all, and she has no right to impose those views on others or to demand that the curriculum reflect her personal preferences. Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials will be to invite others to demand changes to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.
We strongly urge you to keep Speak in the classroom at Temecula Valley High School. Individual freedom, democracy, and a good education all depend on protecting free speech and the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression