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Ky. principal tells students to stop reading acclaimed novel

By The Associated Press
03.29.07

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Students at a Louisville school were told to stop reading an acclaimed novel about slavery after some parents objected to its sexual content and language.

The principal at Eastern High School told 150 Advance Placement English students to drop Beloved, Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about antebellum slavery, and start over with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The.

James Sexton, the principal, said he was trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

“People think I’m censoring, but I’m not,” he said. “The only reason we stopped the discussion process is that we didn’t have a good process to challenge books. ... They can finish it at home.”

In Jefferson County, policies about books used are made by school councils. Sexton said there is no procedure for challenging books before the school council, but that one would be created.

Normally students who object to books are assigned an alternative, Sexton said. But because the class had almost finished Beloved before complaints were raised, he said he wanted to spare a small number of students from being “ostracized” and having to study a new book.

Paula Wolf, a PTA member whose daughter is in the class, said some parents find the decision “ridiculous.”

“That book has been read for several years,” Wolf said.

Leo Comerlato, 17, a student in the class, called it “censorship” and said “students are furious.”

Sexton declined to say which parents complained. He said there will be some consideration before Beloved is taught again because “some of the language and some of the points made, from this principal’s perspective, are hard to have in high school.”

Senior AP English teachers may choose from among 24 books ranging from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Students are supposed to read and discuss eight books by the time of AP exams.

Beloved, is the story of an escaped slave haunted by memories of her murdered child. It portrays her plantation days and life after the Civil War. Considered a classic of literature and written by one of America’s foremost black female novelists, the book frequently has been challenged across the country partly because of its depiction of rapes, beatings and murders.

“At one point, it’s talking about a plantation. And there’s no females. So the men resort to bestiality,” Comerlato said, adding that he didn’t object because “we’re in a college-level class.”

Pat Scales, a former member of the National Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom committee, criticized Sexton’s move.

“The book is extremely important. The best literature may make us squirm a little bit, ... but it makes kids think more. And that’s what we want,” she said.


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