Friday, April 13, 2007

School pulls approved book after one complaint

San Francisco Chronicle, April 12 2007

Citing his concern for "the morals of our society," Burlingame schools Superintendent Sonny Da Marto has stopped four eighth-grade classes from reading "Kaffir Boy," an award-winning memoir of growing up in a South African ghetto during apartheid.

Da Marto had banned the book from the Burlingame Intermediate School late last month when the 13- and 14-year-old students were nearly halfway through it, said their English teacher, Amelia Ramos, who was required to take the books back from 116 students...

..."Kaffir Boy has been taught in eighth grade and in many high schools across the United States," Ramos said. "I wanted to challenge and motivate my students, to broaden their perspectives on life beyond the borders of Burlingame."

That strategy worked last year, when Ramos freely taught the memoir after it was approved by the Burlingame School District's "core literature committee" of parents, teachers, a librarian, a student and a school board member.

But in late March, Ramos received an e-mail from a parent complaining about the graphic scene.

On Page 72, readers find a description of child prostitution witnessed by Mathabane when he was younger than Ramos' students...

...Board member Liz Gindraux, who also sat on the core literature committee that approved "Kaffir Boy," said the process had been "disrespected."

"Two parents object, and the book is pulled without any discussion," she said. "I feel we jumped the gun a little."

Board Vice President Michael Barber said, "I don't want to be the censor board."

Parent Kerbey Altmann said the banning decision had "echoes of a police state."

"I feel my right as a parent was usurped unceremoniously and quickly. There was not full disclosure," he said.

His son, eighth-grader Tom Altmann, asked the board how "shielding us from the scene in the book will benefit us."

No one spoke in favor of the ban.

Mathabane has been dealing with objections to Page 72 for years. In 1999, he wrote an essay that appeared in the Washington Post, titled, "If You Assign My Book, Don't Censor It..."

...Mathabane writes that he was shunned by the boys for running away. He concludes that "resisting peer pressure is one of the toughest things for young people to do.

"That is the lesson of the prostitution scene. It's a lesson that seems to be lost on the people who want to censor my book."

One concerned parent and one overzealous administrator have negated the efforts of a board of genuine educators and intercepted the genuine, authentic lessons this book was to teach. "Kaffir Boy" had gone through the school board's approval process and had been taught in the past, in its entirety. The correct response to the student's parent should have been a brief explanation of the book's, and the passage's, value to the student and its purpose. Although the parent reserves the right to decide what their child should be reading, yanking a half-finished book out of the hands of over a hundred students is irresponsible.

The very purpose of Page 72 is to disturb readers; I as a parent or a teacher would be more concerned if the student wasn't disturbed. The book is not pornographic, it is an authentic first-hand account of a very real and regrettable part of human history. If future generations don't understand why and how the ugly parts of history have occurred, then they will likely be doomed to repeat it.

Thankfully most parties involved recognize the value in the book, and if more parents raise children like the Altmanns we should be headed towards a more enlightened society.


Anonymous said...

In it all business.

Anonymous said...

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