February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Ban on John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ Sparks Anger

A Tennessee school district has banned John Green’s award-winning novel Looking for Alaska (Dutton, 2005) from the school curriculum.

“Our director of schools reviewed it and decided it probably shouldn’t be required reading,” says Jeremy Johnson, spokesperson for Sumner County Schools, where the book was pulled. “We’re not using it in the curriculum, but it will still be used in the libraries.

lookingforalaskacover(Original Import)The decision came after students in an English class at White House High School chose the YA novel for a class assignment this spring. Johnson says the district had some “inquiries from parents,” and the principal went through the book himself, deciding to pull it because he “thought it had a sex scene that was a bit much for the curriculum,” explains Johnson. The district followed, banning it in all classes.

Johnson says the teacher failed to follow “standard procedures” by having the book pre-approved by the school principal prior to assigning it to students. The book also wasn’t sent home on a syllabus earlier in the year as part of the class assigned materials—two more reasons the principal cited for his decision to remove the book from the curriculum.

Looking for Alaska, Green’s debut novel and 2006 Michael L. Printz award-winner about a teen who attends boarding school and falls in with a wild crowd, has come under fire in the past for oral sex scenes that take place between students at a boarding school in Alabama. The book was withdrawn from schools in Depew, NY in 2008, and in March from classes in Knox County, TN, according to The Tennessean.

Sumner County Schools’ decision has angered groups from the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression to the National Coalition Against Censorship, which this week sent a letter to Director of Schools Del Phillips, condemning the district’s decision to withdraw the book.

“As a result, the district has imposed one viewpoint on the entire student body, without regard to the educational consequences for students,” says the letter, adding that it “is irrelevant that the book is still in the library and that students are free to read it on their own time.”

Librarian Doreen Brown from Station Camp High School in Sumner County says although her principal hasn’t asked her to pull the book from her library, she wrote a letter herself expressing her frustration with the decision.

“It’s really outraged a lot of school librarians in our county,” she says.

Green addressed complaints about his book on YouTube in 2008 and tweeted about recent news accounts on the ban in Sumner County. Emails to Green and his publisher were not returned. Waiting for Alaska made the American Library Association‘s 2005 Top 10 Best Book for Young Adults. Paramount purchased the film rights in 2005, and the movie is scheduled to be released in 2013.

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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