On April 29, the Authors Guild signed on to a letter with the National Coalition Against Censorship and four other organizations asking an Alaskan school district to reverse its decision to remove five renowned works from the district’s 11th grade English reading list. The school district said that it removed these books because they “may contain controversial content.” This vague and overbroad reasoning is, as the National Coalition Against Censorship’s letter says, both “educationally misguided” and “legally questionable.”
Removing such 20th Century classics as The Great Gatsby and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from a high school reading list because someone may view them as “controversial” is not only censorship, it makes no pedagogical sense. Where better for young minds to read and assess controversial issues than in a classroom setting, where a teacher can explain and use them as educational tools? Vague words like “controversial” may also mask discrimination against certain religious, political, or even sexual viewpoints.
Decisions about what should be included in a curriculum should be left to trained educational professionals, and decisions to eliminate assigned texts should be based on clearly stated and non-discriminatory reasons. Removing books from school reading lists is an especially insidious type of censorship, one which deprives students of their First Amendment rights. As the letter states, “[t]he decision to remove the books is educationally and legally unsound, is disrespectful of the competence of the district’s educational professionals, and is poor policy.” That is why the Guild is urging the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District to reconsider its decision and permit its students to read works which include Catch-22 and The Invisible Man.