November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Looking for Alaska” Stays in Curriculum in Lebanon, KY

LookingForAlaskaAfter an overwhelming show of support from educators, parents, and the local and larger community, an open school district review committee in Marion County, KY voted to keep John Green’s Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005) in the high school curriculum.

The committee meeting including a presentation by Emily Veatch, defending the value of the book for high school seniors. Planning to use the novel  in her senior English class at Marion County High School in Lebanon, KY, the teacher sent home permission slips so parents would have the option, if they wanted, to keep their child from reading the book. Indeed, one parent took Veatch up on that offer for her child, who would leave the room during those lessons.

“But the parent didn’t want other children discussing it either,” says Amy Morgeson, director of the Marion County Public Library.

That parent filed a challenge against Green’s novel, igniting a reaction from students, alumni, community members—and even John Green himself. The author took to Facebook, encouraging others to express their thoughts in support of the book, and Veatch, by email—and taking to task those who had chosen to judge the title “…on individual scenes ripped from their context,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Marion County Public Library’s genealogy librarian Jama Watts built a banned books display with all of Green’s titles, Dav Pilkey’s The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Blue Sky, 1997), Peter Parnell’s Tango Makes Three (S & S, 2005), and at least one of Barbara Park’s “Junie B. Jones” titles (Random House, 1992), says Watts.

Jama Watts proudly poses in front of her banned books display.

Jama Watts proudly poses in front of her banned books display.

“We couldn’t believe what was happening,” she says. “I ran with [the display], and kind of went crazy, over the top.”

Ironically—or not—Green’s title is at the top of the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of the top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2015, with reasons noted as “Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group,” according to ALA’s site.

ALA had posted its support on its blog, as has the National Coalition Against Censorship on its site. The latter was in the form of a letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids’ Right to Read Project—signed by American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, National Council of Teachers of English, and PEN America’s Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee—that argued “the fact that parents who might object to reading the book had the option of requesting an alternative assignment fully satisfies parents’ desire to control the education of their own children, but would not adversely affect the curriculum as a whole.”

Former students, too, wrote to the local paper, the Lebanon Enterprise, to note that banning the book “…to try to hide us from reality is to deprive us of the ability to mature and become adults in the community,” wrote Charles Shofner, an alum of Marion County High School and a current student at the University of Louisville, in a letter to the editor.

Morgenson adds that at least one of the school board members came to the library in advance of the committee ruling to check out Green’s novel and read it.

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Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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Comments

  1. Megan Ettinger says:

    “…to try to hide us from reality is to deprive us of the ability to mature and become adults in the community” wouldn’t be something I would attribute to this particular novel. Kind of funny that in defense of a particular title, people can go overboard. The characters and their issues in Looking for Alaska are not the type that foster community and maturity. I like John Green’s other works, and I am the last person to tell you what your kid can or cannot read, but that statement doesn’t fit this particular novel. More power to the teacher using it in her classroom.

    • Zach Mattingly says:

      I do not think he was trying to attribute the book to something that fosters community and maturity but the quote was taken more out of context. The entire paragraph read. “We are not children, nor are we naïve in what is constantly portrayed around us in media. To simply try to hide us from reality is to deprive us of the ability to mature and become adults in the community. It is easy to pick out things to support one’s own argument and ignore those that refute it. However, to clearly only provide one side of the story does the community injustice.” In my opinion, he was talking more about the idea that hiding views from students that people do not agree with, is unjust.