Through the looking glass of Oz: Let our students read

July 17, 2014

I believe it was in the book titled “The Wizard of Oz” where we met the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion, each in search of something very special and unique. Joining them in their quest the author allowed us to meet a little girl from Kansas, who also had a simple goal, to go home. How delightful these characters were, not to mention the most unique and perhaps a bit “off color” persona the author introduced us to in the (and on the way to) the Emerald City. I, along with millions of readers, am so grateful that a group of elected laity did not deprive me of this reading (and later viewing) experience. Oh, did we not realize that this was considered a controversial and symbolic piece of literature!

The members of the Cape Henlopen Board of Education have recently taken it upon themselves to deprive students of reading experiences based on what a majority of them determined to be “inappropriate” language and/or subject matter. What hubris! In the more recent of its bans the board saw it appropriate to remove a book from a summer reading list for entering ninth graders due to the use profanity in the written words of the author.

Imagine that - profane written language! Spoken words which are actually uttered in the corridors and locker rooms of high schools (and middle schools for that matter) in tens of thousands of schools throughout the United States of America! Words that are transmitted on Facebook pages, and during video games on the phones and tablets of a similar number of young Americans (aka teenagers)!

So how does our local elected board of education derive the right to impose its will or bias as it were on young students at the entry point of their high school years? It is my understanding that a parent objected to the so called profane language in the story penned by Emily Danforth, a story which has gained national renown and the endorsement of literary observers and reviewers, including Delaware’s librarians.

I am certain that there are several areas in any school curriculum which could draw negative attention from a parent, but it is the responsibility of the professional staff of a school district to determine “appropriateness,” not the elected officials.

It is the superintendent of schools who is the educational leader of a school district in our 50 states. The board’s role is to set policy, and to see that the schools are run well, not to run the schools. Thus in the case at hand, we should have heard from the appointed payrolled hierarchy, not politicians (by virtue of being elected, board members are politicians). Where was the leadership and the true protection for education and learning when such was necessary? Hiding behind the curtain it appears.

Of course, there is doubt that the issue was truly about the nature of the language the author chose to use in her discourse, but that the fly in the ointment was the actual subject matter - homosexuality. Although denied by the board president, it seems quaint that some of the other books on the list also contained words ill-suited for polite company, and those titles were permitted to remain. To reference yet another book not banned by the schools of yesteryear, this seems “curiouser and curiouser” as we see “Through the Looking Glass.”

Let me end this communication on a positive note and extol the courage, heart, and brain of the leadership of our local bastion for the written word, Browseabout Books in Rehoboth, who have seen the value in the Scarecrow, the Lion, and the Tin Man, and are assisting Dorothy to not just follow the yellow brick road to Oz, but also to return to Kansas with Toto both under her arm and on all fours.

Peter E. Carter
retired public school principal and superintendent

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