So, in Kentucky at the Montgomery County High School there is an English teacher named Risha Mullins.
Mullins does amazing things at her high school to encourage reading and literacy. An article reprinted at the Kentucky Education Association website, Moo Moo Book Club in Clover, relates how she started a book club and the grants and fundraising she and her students did. This year, Mullins was part of a presentation at a pre NCTE workshop, on Reading Writing & Teaching the Holocaust. And I've left a lot of things out.
So, an energetic, dedicated professional who is getting positive recognition locally and nationally. Who brings money in, even!
What's a school superintendent to do?
Why, micromanage her classroom, telling her what books she can and cannot use. Book Ruckus Divides Montgomery County (via Kentucky.com) details most of what Mullins is facing for -- wait for it -- being a good teacher.
Those seeking to keep the books out of the classroom are, in typical fashion, those who don't take no for an answer. As related by David Macinnis Gill in a comment to the article, "Last year, during the first attempt to ban Ms. Mullin's inclusion of YA literature, [Superintendent Dan Freeman] neglected to follow protocol for objections to materials. After he was forced to follow policy, the review UPHELD the use of the books. However, this year, he allowed the same challenge to occur, and although the review board AGAIN UPHELD the use of the books, he personally banned the books, stating not that they were objectionable, but that they weren't adequate for preparing students for college, a statement that is ridiculous on its face."
Yep -- there you have it. When policies and procedures go against what you want to do? Do it anyway. Great lesson to teach the teens, Freeman!
Oh, the usual arguments abound. "It's not banning if its still in the library," which ignores the fact that vocal individuals have taken over what happens in a teacher's classroom. Other parents, students, the review process decisions -- all are ignored. In addition, this argument ignores what a good English teacher can bring to reading a book: a deeper, richer, reading experience, with more thought to why a book works and why it doesn't, and what that book means and doesn't. A teacher can engage the student, can make reading and analysis a thing that is both enjoyable and educational. A teacher can -- wait for it -- teach. And instead of that happening, a small number of loud individuals who have the Superintendent on their side -- can dictate what is, and is not, taught in a classroom. And then say, "oh, it's not banning." You don't like the word "banning"? Fine. Give me the word that you do want to use. I'll use it. Whether its banning, censorship, or (insert word here), IT'S WRONG.
The Superintendent insists that the teachers "prove" to him why they are using these books: "But so far I haven't heard a word from anybody about why we should use these books." Now, this runs counter to the article itself and Chris Crutcher being quoted as writing to Freeman, "Almost any reading teacher or English teacher will tell you that the more books you read, and the more conversations you have about how they were written ... it is going to help you in any English class you take in college," Crutcher said. "It's silly to think that only Shakespeare and Wuthering Heights are going to be helpful in college."
I'm sure Freeman and his supporters think he is being so clever. But frankly, do we really want to get into having to prove why something is or isn't taught in high school? No -- this is a straw argument being used to target this teacher, and this collection. It's certainly not a standard that every other teacher has had to meet.
Meanwhile? Mullins doesn't have tenure.
Which makes her that much braver -- to be doing this without any safety net.
Laurie Halse Anderson's report on NCTE and Risha Mullins. And on how during Book Banning Week, the teachers in this county were told they couldn't wear Banned Book Week T-shirts. And more on how despite the challenge committee voting to return the books to the classroom, they weren't.
Column: Seeing Book Duels From Both Sides Before you jump to conclusions about this being an issue of religion or liberalism, etc. read this. While the author "sees both sides," he also shares that "The irony is, [Mullin]'s a graduate of a Christian college, a Pentecostal who writes and sings gospel music, a conservative who voted for John McCain because she supports the right to bear arms. She's got more in common with Sarah Palin than with Lil' Kim."
Chris Crutcher: His homepage has his letter to Freeman and links to those who have stepped up in support of the teacher and books
Fred Klonsky picks up on the tenure issue. Flawed as tenure is, something is needed in schools for when situations like this arise. Or when the "new kid" who has only lived in town five years gets on the football team, school play, Honor Society and the parents "who have lived her for generations" make a stink. Or the parents insist their child was never told you couldn't look at another's test paper. Or insert story that anyone who knows a teacher has heard about how some parents attempt to bully schools and teachers for grades, play roles, etc.
Edited to Add: The comments to the article are proving quite interesting; a few authors are weighing in. And, as is clear from the article itself, there is no monolith community saying "we don't want these books," but rather some individuals who have asserted power despite the existing procedures in place which approved the books being used in the classroom. There is a lot of support for the teacher's original position to use the books, parents speaking up on her behalf, community members supporting her, and, of course, the original review process which found in her favor. Because the comments keep getting added to, if you read them yesterday, check it out today!
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy