"The Miseducation of Cameron Post" author Emily Danforth finds it hard to believe the Cape Henlopen school board removed her book from a summer reading list because of inappropriate language.
Instead, she believes, the book was removed because it was the only one of the 10 on the list that has lesbian characters.
“You're clearly hiding behind claims of finding too much "inappropriate language" in my book, when other books on the list certainly include the exact same kinds of language, in some instances, in abundance. This feels like a particularly insidious form of homophobia, one that's not nearly as covert as you must think it to be,” reads a letter Danforth sent to every member of the board July 2.
In a response, Cape Henlopen school board President Spencer Brittingham expressed his gratitude for the book and the time Danforth spent researching and writing it.
“I also feel that I must tell you that my vote in no way was a reflection of the leanings of homosexuality in the book,” he said. “Your book is in my house now, but we are all old enough to read it objectively.”
Danforth was made aware of the board's decision from a Twitter message early on June 29. She said the message came from a local person who said sales of Danforth's book had skyrocketed at local bookstore Browseabout Books since the story first appeared in the Cape Gazette June 27.
It's not the way to wake up on a Sunday morning, Danforth said during a phone interview July 8. She said it has been heartbreaking to have a largely autobiographical book, one that had been worked on for years and years, be judged harshly by people who had not read it.
In response to the board's decision, Danforth emailed the 2,004-word letter to each member of the board (a letter twice as long as this nearly 1,000-word story). The letter calls out everyone on the board for the decision, except Dr. Roni Posner, who voted not to remove the book.
On July 7, Danforth posted her letter on the Huffington Post. Danforth insists she originally had no intention of putting the letter on the website, but she decided to do so after it came to her attention that members of the school board had forwarded the letter on to other people.
When reached for a comment on the letter by Danforth, Brittingham said, “This issue has taken up legs and wings, which is good and getting people to read. Browseabout is giving the book away because of donations from others. My wife and I stopped in after our Boardwalk walk and bought another copy and left 50 bucks for other purchasers.”
Danforth gives Brittingham some level of credit for responding to her letter, because, she said, he was the only one.
“He didn't have much to say, but he was very polite,” she said.
Danforth's letter was not the only letter to the board. Brittingham forwarded a selection of letters to the Cape Gazette.
Chris Spicer, identified as a Cape High parent, questions what damage would have been done if the book was kept on the list.
“I feel strongly that the value of the content of this book far outweighs any poor language. You as a board member are empowered to make decisions for a public school system that should promote the best opportunities for all students,” Spicer writes.
In another email, Joe Niemand, who identifies himself as “a gay man who would like things to be easier for future generations,” sarcastically thanks the board for a knee-jerk, homophobic reaction.
“As a result of your ignorance and prejudice, this book will receive a tremendous amount of attention over the coming weeks,” he writes.
In responding to all the emails, Brittingham thanks the writer for their concern and stands by the board's decision to remove the book from the list based on the language.
In the response to Spicer, Brittingham said the main issue is the power of the board to tell a student, who is 13 to 15 years old, that the language in the book is acceptable to a school system.
“The Code of Conduct prohibits this language, and there is a consequence in the Discipline Matrix. By us approving a reading list where the majority of the books chosen fall afoul of our own rules and perhaps the rules of their parents, is where I am stuck,” writes Brittingham. “Not the setting of the story or the same-sex topic; it's the profanity!”
In Brittingham's response to Niemand, he said, “A hidden hope is that parents and school systems alike will pay closer attention to required reading that will introduce children to words that they are being made to say and perhaps repeat.”
He also addresses Niemand calling the removal of the book a homophobic action.
“From your letter, you make it seem as though the homosexual inferences of the book was the drive behind the action. Well, I live in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and if you were to google us you would relax on the hint of homophobia as the intent of our action,” he said.
Danforth stands by the language used in her book. She said she grew up in rural Montana and can certainly remember using swear words as small acts of rebellion, similar to drinking or shoplifting. Not using it in the classroom or the hallways, she said, but with friends.
Danforth said her book is pretty authentic and it would be unrealistic for the characters not to use the language they use in the book.
Danforth said her concern now is that in another hasty reaction the board will simply remove the list as a whole, and none of the books will be on the list.
“You can't fix censorship with censorship,” she said.
Brittingham did not respond by press time as to the board's next course of action, if any.