The Players: Wesley Scroggins, a professor at Missouri State University and the Republic School District in Missouri; Julia Whitehead, executive director for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library
The Opening Serve: In September of last year, Scroggins raised a public complaint and wrote an opinion piece titled "Filthy Books demeaning to Republic education," in the Springfield News-Leader. "In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography," he wrote. One of the three books Scroggins mentions is Slaughterhouse-Five. "This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame...The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ." Scroggins's children are currently home-schooled, reports the Riverfront Times.
The school board banned Slaughterhouse-Five from school library shelves on July 25. "I congratulate them for doing what's right and removing the two books," said Scroggins in regards to the vote. "It's unfortunate they chose to keep the other book [The district banned Slaughterhouse and Sarah Ockler's 20 Boy Summer; it voted to keep Lauri Halse Anderson's Speak]." Vern Minor, the school district's superintendent, told the News-Leader, "We very clearly stayed out of discussion about moral issues. Our discussions from the get-go were age-appropriateness."
The Return Volley: The Vonnegut Memorial library responded to Slaughterhouse's banning by offering up 150 free copies to send to the school district's students. In a note on the library's website called "Stop the Madness!" the organization writes to Republic's students, "We think it’s important for everyone to have their First Amendment rights. We’re not telling you to like the book…we just want you to read it and decide for yourself."
Whitehead, the library's executive director went a bit further. "All of these students will be eligible to vote, and some may be protecting our country through military service in the next year or two," Whitehead said in a statement obtained by the Huffington Post. "It is shocking and unfortunate that those young adults and citizens would not be considered mature enough to handle the important topics raised by Kurt Vonnegut, a decorated war veteran." She quotes Vonnegut in her statement, "All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values… and I say let’s get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States--and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!"
What They Say They're Fighting About: The age-appropriateness of Slaughterhouse-Five. Scroggins argues that the swearing, nudity and irreverent biblical allusions depicted in Vonnegut's novel are akin to "soft pornography" and not age-appropriate. Whitehead argues if Republic's students are old enough to risk their lives in protecting the country then they are old enough to read the anti-war novel.
What They're Really Fighting About: Free Speech. Scroggins wants libraries in Republic to decide what's on their shelves based on their material. Whitehead and the Vonnegut Library argue that regardless of the novel's content and its merit, they think it's "important for everyone to have the First Amendment Rights."
Who's Winning Now: Whitehead and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. The 150 books were a gift from an anonymous donor, and it seems that Whitehead and the Vonnegut Library may end up getting more support. They've already set up a fundraising effort and have ACLU's legal support to repeal the ban. Although Scroggins's complaint and opinion piece helped get the book off the curriculum and library shelves, it's worth noting that his home-schooled children aren't a part of Republic's school system. And he might have started a battle he can't finish. With 150 copies--a number that might be greater than the number of students who would have read the book in a school year--on the way, we'll see if Scroggins keeps fighting battles for, as it seems for now, other people's children.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.