Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Banned Books Week 2011: In Panama City, a censorship mock-trial

Molly Driscoll, in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor, reported on a Florida school board mock-trial that was part of the area's banned books week observance.

The meeting was intended to address issues of censorship and determine limits of appropriate material for the classroom in a non-binding decision. In the Bay County instance the exercise was especially meaningful: twenty-five years ago the same Panama City school board was in the forefront of a censorship controversy when it banned sixty books because of parent complaints based on political or religious beliefs and content issues.

This year, one of the teachers in that 1986 school year organized a mock censorship trial with participants from the current school board. As Driscoll reports, in this case twenty-five years made little difference: the book on mock-trial was banned in a three-to-two decision. Here's an article excerpt from the Christian Science Monitor's "Chapter and Verse" book section.

... The Bay County school district in Florida went one step farther, holding a mock school board meeting in Panama City to simulate discussion that would occur if a parent wanted a book banned. The county made headlines 25 years ago when the district superintendent banned more than 60 books from classrooms and school libraries after parent complaints.

Gloria Pipkin, who was teaching in the district when the famous bans took place, led the meeting and told the News Herald that she wanted the meeting to give participants a “fair sense of both perspectives” in the debate over whether books should be banned.

The book under mock discussion was “Fade” by Robert Cormier, which tells the story of a teenager who discovers he can become invisible. The novel is often banned or challenged because of sexual content. Pipkin told the News Herald that she chose "Fade" because one of the books that began the controversy decades ago was Cormier’s book “I Am The Cheese.”

During the meeting, a parent who was assigned the name Mrs. Dykes told the board her daughter had started to read the novel, but then came to her saying she felt it was inappropriate, according to the News Herald article. “Dykes” said she believed the book should be banned because of graphic scenes and the lack of consequences faced by law-breaking characters. The person playing the parent said she believed it should be removed from classrooms and the library.

A participant called "Mr. Bill" played the part of the chairman of the English department. "Bill" said many who want to ban books have inappropriate novels in their own homes and pay for TV channels like HBO that make it easy to watch inappropriate content.

“We need to have an open view and allow people to grow,” “Bill” said during the discussion.

But maybe things haven’t changed so much after all: In a 3-2 vote, the mock school board decided to ban the book.

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