Commentary
11:35 am
Tue January 17, 2012

Plymouth-Canton school district banning books

There’s an interesting controversy going on in the  Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, a middle-class school district in Western Wayne County. It has to do with banning books.

And while it hasn’t made headlines, the implications are ominous, and scary. This is a sizable district, with three high schools with more than six thousand students.

Plymouth-Canton has many students and parents who are trying hard to prepare for a college education. The district has a full set of AP, or Advanced Placement classes for exceptional students. One of the most popular of these is AP English, and one of the most popular teachers is Brian Read, who helped devise the current curriculum. Among other things, students have been reading two acclaimed novels, Graham Swift’s "Waterland" and Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel "Beloved."

But last month, AP teachers were suddenly ordered to collect copies of "Waterland" and prevent kids from reading it. According to a parent, Tim Rohrback, the superintendent, Dr. Jeremy Hughes, ordered the book removed after complaints from only two parents.

The father, Matt Dame, ran for the school board as a Tea Party candidate last year, and lost. He and his wife Barbara now want "Beloved" banned as well. The reason? At a two-hour public review last week they complained that the novels contain passages that discuss sex, ghosts and the killing of an infant. Mr. Dame also said that characters in the books take God’s name in vain.

He bizarrely claimed that “if any of this was offensive to Allah or the Hindus it would never be in our school district.” He wants the AP English course to use a sanitized non-fiction history of slavery instead of "Beloved." But as teacher Read noted politely, “AP English Literature is about poetry and fiction.”

This incident has sparked a great deal of outrage in the community, and letters from many parents. But they aren’t outraged at these books, which are fine works of literature, but at the superintendent for unilaterally banning one book and allowing "Beloved" to be threatened. Incidentally, parents were told last spring what reading material would be used in this class. They didn’t have to allow their kids to enroll.

Last week they flooded a board meeting, flowing out into the halls. All but the Dames spoke against banning the books. Laurie Golden, the mother of three Plymouth-Canton students, wrote a letter to the board saying banning these books was threatening the quality of the school system, and, quote “tearing apart one of our truly great advantages -- challenging AP classes.”

She was also outraged at the idea of taking the decision on which materials to use away from excellent and trained teachers.

The superintendent and school board president didn’t respond to my request to speak with them. But this afternoon at 4:00 p.m., I’m told a committee is supposed to decide whether to ban "Beloved".

To me it is dismaying that school administrators are willing to risk kids’ education for perceived political correctness.

And I wonder, if those considering banning these novels have ever watched an hour of prime time TV?

I also wonder what the superintendent will do when the religious right demands Plymouth-Canton schools stop teaching evolution. Perhaps at some point the protests of parents who want their children to get a good education will also start to count.