Michigan school district decides not to ban "Waterland" novel

Feb 17, 2012

The Plymouth-Canton school district will not ban Waterland from its Advanced Placement English curriculum.

Graham Swift’s novel is the second book this year the Plymouth-Canton school district put on trial. The district considered banning Toni Morrison’s Beloved last month, but decided against it.

A committee voted anonymously in a closed meeting not to ban the books after hearing from teachers, students and parents during public meetings. (Since their votes are anonymous, we do not know if it was a unanimous vote.)

AP English teacher Brian Read, who has taught Beloved and Waterland for 10 years, says both books deal with the effects of trauma, and contain some mature content of a sexual nature. He says he and his colleague don't choose books because they're sensational, or because there's offensive material in it.

"We choose them because they’re really great works of literature and they really work well in our curriculum, they work well with other pieces that we’re teaching. So I’ll absolutely teach it again and I’m glad that I have that opportunity to teach it again."

Read says both books are worth fighting for, and he’ll continue to defend the books if they come under fire again.

Waterland was originally brought to the attention of superintendent Jeremy Hughes by two parents, Barb and Matt Dame. Here's how Hughes describes it in his letter on the school's website:

I had originally explained that passages from the book that had been submitted to me in a parent complaint were shocking in their graphic explicitness and, in my judgment, not suitable for a high school English class. As a former high school English and Latin teacher, I am certainly aware that much of modern literature contains sexual material. It was my judgment, however, that the passages I read from Waterland had crossed the line in terms of graphic portrayal of sexual activity.

The students were about a third of the way through Waterland when they were told they would no longer be reading that book, and to turn in their copies.

A group of parents in the district who supported keeping the books in the curriculum say there's still work that needs to be done.

In a written statement, the Supporters of Academic Integrity group says it's "now incumbent on Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Hughes to make [Waterland] available immediately to AP English students so that they may have the opportunity that was taken away from them to finish reading this critically-acclaimed novel if they so choose."

AP English teacher Brian Read says he may start a book club next year for parents of AP students so that parents have a better understanding of what their kids are reading:

"We could meet with them at the public library and parents could come and have a discussion about the books. And then when their student, when their children, are reading them, they could have discussions with them."

Two area libraries are hosting events this month to discuss the two books at the center of the controversy.

The Plymouth Area Library will host an event on Monday, Feb. 27 with two college professors who will talk about their experiences teaching Beloved and Waterland in the classroom, and will hold another talk about censorship and intellectual freedom on Wednesday, Mar. 7. Both events are at 7 p.m.

The Canton Public Library will host a book discussion about Beloved on Monday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.