Having recently received the Columbia County School Board’s Criteria for Selecting Supplemental Resources, it has solidified my belief that the rejection and removal of Dear Martin is an example of systemic racism perpetrated by the CCBOE. Looking through the 12 questions used for consideration, a few caught my eye.
Of what literary value is the resource? Is it from a research-based journal? Is it written by a reputable author? Is it a resource of merit and worth of close study? Is it historically/culturally accurate?
From their list, let’s look at Jurassic Park. As to the questions. None. No. No. No. No.
Dear Martin? Multicultural Education. No. New author. Yes. Yes.
The next questions are also relevant. Does the resource have intellectual merit? Are the ideas and issues explored in the resource, in addition to being appropriate to the relevant age-group, significant and appropriate for sustaining intensive study, raising interesting issues, and providing challenging ideas?
Jurassic Park. No. No. Maybe. Dinosaurs? No.
Dear Martin. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
A question comes to being appropriate. In Jurassic Park, people are eaten by dinosaurs. It is graphic. Violent. Dear Martin has some rough language. Oh, and a black youth is shot.
So, what is the difference? One book is pop fiction fluff. One book is a poignant look at the experience of black youth. Which was denied?
Ironically, question eight from the list is, “Is it free from bias, stereotyping, and tokenism? The books? Yes. The CCBOE? Not at all.
In question nine from the list it, about the books, it states, “They should reflect the experience and perspectives of male and female, young and old, and a wide range of cultures within historical, contemporary, and imaginary settings. Is this where Jurassic Park got in? Imaginary settings? Otherwise it does not meet this criteria.
Question 11 is the most revealing in context of choice. “Is the resource appropriate for the age and development of students and, in that context, does it reflect current community standards and expectations?” While the issue of appropriateness will be addressed later, this comes down to community standards. Columbia County sees itself as a white community. This makes Dear Martin problematic. It tells a different narrative than the selected books. It gives a different point of view. Mostly, it makes people uncomfortable.
Finally, question 12 focuses on questionable content. Here is the content that was acceptable.
Into the Wild
This story has profanity. The main character dies of starvation at the end. There is also a reference to the main character doing drugs on page 146. The f-word is used on page 64, 84, 125, 151, 154. Never used sexually, only as an adjective or interjection.
The Hot Zone
Because Hot Zone follows the virus and those who get the virus, there is some graphic detail about what happens when one is exposed and then dies from the virus. Profanity includes the f -word on pages 70,174, 187, 183, and 226. None of it is used sexually -only as interjections and adjectives. There is also some other milder language including s**t and d**n.
The text has mild profanity and some characters exhibit racist tendencies. Overall the text deals with these tendencies as a negative attribute of society. Mild use of d**n. Three uses of s.o.b (pgs. 16, 41, 275). The n-word is used three different times in the text (pgs. 6, 75, 138). Each time it is used to reveal the biases or racism of characters. The text has a clear message of unity, with several characters overcoming their biases.
This is a mature text that address human goodness and human depravity after the collapse of society. It includes scenes of intense peril and tangentially addresses mature subjects such as suicide, tribal violence, and cannibalism. These scenes are generally not described directly, but are suggested through events, sparse dialogue, or imagery. Chickens**t is used when two men confront each other (pg. 65). D**nis used sparingly in the text (5 times). The man and his wife indirectly discuss suicide (pgs. 57-59). In a confrontation with “bad guys,” the father kills a man who poses a threat to his son (pgs. 65-67). The father and son discover prisoners locked in the basement of a house; this scene suggests cannibalistic acts but is not explicit (pgs. 109-111).
In fact, this is the text:
“He was standing [there] checking the perimeter when the boy turned and buried his face against him. He looked quickly to see what had happened. What is it? He said. What is it? The boy shook his head. Oh, Papa, he said. He turned and looked again. What the boy had seen was a charred human infant, headless and gutted and blackened on a spit.”
So, it can’t be the language. Or the violence. What can it be?
Based on available information, it is race. In fact, looking at all the books that were purchased, this is the theme.
To Kill a Mockingbird--White Savior
Lord of the Flies--White
Catcher in the Rye--White
And so on. And so on.
If Columbia Country truly wants to be a top school district, something must be done.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.