When I was 10, my eye caught a curious title on my school library shelves. It was A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle. To make a long story short, I read it and fell in love with words and ideas.
Later, I learned that this splendid piece of literature has often been banned because its ideas about witchcraft may be too powerful for an impressionable child's mind. I also became vaguely aware that other highly-acclaimed books were occasionally banned in small-minded corners of the earth.
But for decades, book-banning seemed a pretty remote concept to me -- something that happened in far-away, unlit places.
No more. As I write this, book lovers are gathering in a park about 100 yards from this very same middle school (in Wyoming, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati) to protest a chilling response by the local school board to a parent's complaint about two highly-acclaimed books on the high school reading list. (The books are: The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad, andThe Perks Being of a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky.)
Did the board respectfully remind the parent that he could have his child work with a teacher to read something else instead? Did the board immediately show complete confidence in its teachers and librarians?
No. The board declared that the school selection process had not been properly followed (refusing to provide details), and that all that approved books will be reviewed by a special committee according to four criteria:
• The relationship to the course of study; • The uniqueness of the content that is not adequately provided in district materials; • The appropriateness of the content for the maturity and comprehension levels of the students; and, • The extent to which the content could create controversy among student, parents, and community groups.
Controversy, of course, being a negative. I checked this with the Wyoming Superindendent Dr. Gail Kist-Kline. She confirmed that if a book was found to be controversial, the principal would have to re-review it in light of its controversial nature. She also vigorously disagreed with the characterization from many that the Board is flirting with the notion of banned books. But to my eyes, and to many others, two very disturbing actions are taking place: first, the lack of support for teachers who have chosen obviously very distinguished books; second, and more importantly, the nature of a review which gives zero credence to quality and extraordinary credence to controversy.
It is, of course, entirely appropriate for a school board to investigate any parent's complaint. And I get the impression that Dr. Kist-Kline would personally be upset and even ashamed if a highly-acclaimed approved book were later un-approved. She understands that the national reputation of Wyoming's schools -- U.S. News & World Report ranked it the 50th best high school in the nation in 2009 -- would immediately and forever be tarnished. It would drop off that list faster than you can say "literature matters."
But what Dr. Kist-Kline and the Wyoming School Board don't seem to get is that a political review that gives great weight to controversy is, in itself, a profound retreat from the highest educational standards. My old Wyoming classmate Francesca (Schmid) Thomas, now president of the Parents-Teachers group for her local high school in Arizona, puts it this way:
The Board is not standing up for academic excellence, in my mind. If two parents object, how are we serving the vast majority of students if we eliminate the book from the selected readings? There are plenty of parents who have crazy ideas about what your children should hear, but that does not mean we should let them run our schools. Books need to be selected by professionally trained teachers based on their academic and intellectual merit.
A quality education requires the inclusion of controversial material, especially at the high school level, so that students can achieve their academic objectives while simultaneously becoming critical thinkers. Since state academic standards focus on broad objectives, not specific books, it is incumbent on teachers and administrators to open the eyes and minds of our students to the enormously complicated world in which we live in the context of the classroom. If public schools succumb to the pressures of vocal minorities to limit the educational experience of students, by diminishing access to materials deemed controversial by some, then we will relegate the vast majority of students in our country to a sub-standard level of education.
To have a Board of elected citizens give such weight to controversy is bad policy. It should be changed. Whenever we pit "educational merit" versus "controversy," we censor, plain and simple.
If this can happen in Wyoming, Ohio, it can happen anywhere. And consider some of the books that have been banned or challenged over the years. According to the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, 42 of the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century "have been the target of ban attempts." Here is that list, each book next to its corresponding number from the Radcliffe 100 list:
1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger 3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker 6. Ulysses by James Joyce 7. Beloved by Toni Morrison 8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding 9. 1984 by George Orwell 11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov 12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck 15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner 20. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway 21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 23. Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison 25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison 26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 27. Native Son by Richard Wright 28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey 29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut 30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway 33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London 36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin 38. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren 45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair 48. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence 49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess 53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote 55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie 64. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence 66. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut 67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles 73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs 75. Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence 80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer 84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller 88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser 97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
Read great books. Celebrate great books. And demand that school boards everywhere celebrate them too.
Postscript: Here is the exact copy of A Wrinkle in Time that I read when I was ten. A few years ago, I made a swap with the Wyoming Middle School library: their old tattered copy for several brand new copies. It now sits on my desk, the most cherished book I own.
During the multi-country press tour for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, not even Jon Stewart has dared ask Tom Cruise about Scientology.
During the media blitz for Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation over the past two weeks, Tom Cruise has seemingly been everywhere. In London, he participated in a live interview at the British Film Institute with the presenter Alex Zane, the movie’s director, Christopher McQuarrie, and a handful of his fellow cast members. In New York, he faced off with Jimmy Fallon in a lip-sync battle on The Tonight Show and attended the Monday night premiere in Times Square. And, on Tuesday afternoon, the actor recorded an appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, where he discussed his exercise regime, the importance of a healthy diet, and how he still has all his own hair at 53.
Stewart, who during his career has won two Peabody Awards for public service and the Orwell Award for “distinguished contribution to honesty and clarity in public language,” represented the most challenging interviewer Cruise has faced om the tour, during a challenging year for the actor. In April, HBO broadcast Alex Gibney’s documentary Going Clear, a film based on the book of the same title by Lawrence Wright exploring the Church of Scientology, of which Cruise is a high-profile member. The movie alleges, among other things, that the actor personally profited from slave labor (church members who were paid 40 cents an hour to outfit the star’s airplane hangar and motorcycle), and that his former girlfriend, the actress Nazanin Boniadi, was punished by the Church by being forced to do menial work after telling a friend about her relationship troubles with Cruise. For Cruise “not to address the allegations of abuse,” Gibney said in January, “seems to me palpably irresponsible.” But in The Daily Show interview, as with all of Cruise’s other appearances, Scientology wasn’t mentioned.
The Vermont senator’s revolutionary zeal has met its moment.
There’s no way this man could be president, right? Just look at him: rumpled and scowling, bald pate topped by an entropic nimbus of white hair. Just listen to him: ranting, in his gravelly Brooklyn accent, about socialism. Socialism!
And yet here we are: In the biggest surprise of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, this thoroughly implausible man, Bernie Sanders, is a sensation.
He is drawing enormous crowds—11,000 in Phoenix, 8,000 in Dallas, 2,500 in Council Bluffs, Iowa—the largest turnout of any candidate from any party in the first-to-vote primary state. He has raised $15 million in mostly small donations, to Hillary Clinton’s $45 million—and unlike her, he did it without holding a single fundraiser. Shocking the political establishment, it is Sanders—not Martin O’Malley, the fresh-faced former two-term governor of Maryland; not Joe Biden, the sitting vice president—to whom discontented Democratic voters looking for an alternative to Clinton have turned.
After the video contradicted his account, a campus cop in Cincinnati is charged in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black motorist.
On July 19, 2015, a 43-year-old Cincinnati man named Samuel DuBose was pulled over by a University of Cincinnati police officer, Ray Tensing. Tensing was white. Dubose was black. His car was stopped for missing its front license plate.
Minutes later, Tensing shot DuBose in the head, killing him.
What happened between getting pulled over and DuBose’s death?
After the two men briefly exchange words, DuBose's vehicle is seen to roll forward. Tensing then shoots him in the head. Tensing was indicted Wednesday on charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter.
“This is without question a murder,” said Joe Deters, the prosecutor for Hamilton County, Ohio, at a news conference Wednesday. “He didn’t do anything violent toward the officer. He wasn’t dragging him. And [Tensing] pulled out his gun and shot him in the head.”
A newly discovered artifact buried with one of Jamestown’s most prominent leaders suggests he could have been a crypto-Catholic.
After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.
“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”
Why a pro-life Twitter hashtag—like the larger campaign to defund Planned Parenthood—is terrible for public health
Following the release a series of pro-life sting videos targeting Planned Parenthood, Republican senators are threatening to defund the family-planning provider. A vote on their bill to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding—which accounts for 40 percent of the organization’s budget—could come as early as Monday.
On Twitter, pro-life advocates are trying to help it along, popularizing the hashtag #UnplannedParenthood on Wednesday. Many of the tweets come from people who purport to have been, or have had, accidental children.
My mom was young and single. The church took her in and helped her choose life. And here I am. #UnplannedParenthood
An off-duty Medford, Massachusetts, cop threatened a motorist during a traffic stop. His colleagues seemed unperturbed by his behavior.
Three years ago in Medford, Massachusetts, narcotics detective Stephen LeBert calmly told the brother of a man he was arresting, “He’s selling drugs illegally. What they should do is just take him up to the railroad tracks and tell him to lay down.” He knew he was being recorded as he made the comment, as moments earlier, the footage shows him licking his finger and wiping saliva on the citizen’s lens. Medford Police Chief Leo Sacco says that he was counseled after the incident.
After watching that video, it comes as no great surprise that Detective LeBert was suspended earlier this week for another instance of misbehavior recorded by a citizen:
The footage, captured by the dashboard camera on a motorist’s vehicle, begins shortly after the driver got confused at a roundabout in an unfamiliar neighborhood and wound up briefly driving on the wrong side of the road (an error for which he would repeatedly apologize). At first, the motorist is terrified and starts to flee because Detective LeBert, who is driving an unmarked pickup truck and plainclothes, does not identify himself as a police officer, even as he is upset that the motorist doesn’t defer to him. “I’ll put a hole right through your fucking head,’’ LeBert says. “Pull your car over. I’ll put a hole right in your fucking head. I’ll put a hole right through your head.’’ The motorist begins to cooperate as soon as a badge is produced.
The new version of Apple’s signature media software is a mess. What are people with large MP3 libraries to do?
When the developer Erik Kemp designed the first metadata system for MP3s in 1996, he provided only three options for attaching text to the music. Every audio file could be labeled with only an artist, song name, and album title.
Kemp’s system has since been augmented and improved upon, but never replaced. Which makes sense: Like the web itself, his schema was shipped, good enough,and an improvement on the vacuum which preceded it. Those three big tags, as they’re called, work well with pop and rock written between 1960 and 1995. This didn’t prevent rampant mislabeling in the early days of the web, though, as anyone who remembers Napster can tell you. His system stumbles even more, though, when it needs to capture hip hop’s tradition of guest MCs or jazz’s vibrant culture of studio musicianship.
Even when they’re adopted, the children of the wealthy grow up to be just as well-off as their parents.
Lately, it seems that every new study about social mobility further corrodes the story Americans tell themselves about meritocracy; each one provides more evidence that comfortable lives are reserved for the winners of what sociologists call the birth lottery. But, recently, there have been suggestions that the birth lottery’s outcomes can be manipulated even after the fluttering ping-pong balls of inequality have been drawn.
What appears to matter—a lot—is environment, and that’s something that can be controlled. For example, one study out of Harvard found that moving poor families into better neighborhoods greatly increased the chances that children would escape poverty when they grew up.
While it’s well documentedthat the children of the wealthy tend to grow up to be wealthy, researchers are still at work on how and why that happens. Perhaps they grow up to be rich because they genetically inherit certain skills and preferences, such as a tendency to tuck away money into savings. Or perhaps it’s mostly because wealthier parents invest more in their children’s education and help them get well-paid jobs. Is it more nature, or more nurture?
Educators seldom have enough time to do their business. What’s that doing to the state of learning?
It’s common knowledge that teachers today are stressed, that they feel underappreciated and disrespected, and disillusioned. It’s no wonder they’re ditching the classroom at such high rates—to the point where states from Indiana to Arizona to Kansas are dealing with teacher shortages. Meanwhile, the number of American students who go into teaching is steadily dropping.
A recent survey conducted jointly by the American Federation of Teachers and Badass Teachers Association asked educators about the quality of their worklife, and it got some pretty harrowing feedback. Just 15 percent of the 30,000 respondents, for example, strongly agreed that they’re enthusiastic about the profession. Compare that to the roughly 90 percent percent who strongly agreed that they were enthusiastic about it when they started their career, and it’s clear that something has changed about schools that’s pushing them away. Roughly three in four respondents said they “often” feel stressed by their jobs.