Dispatches | October 11, 2011

(For some background, head over here to listen to my KBIA feature on censorship, educational standards, and what the next generation of Missouri writers are reading.)

I’ve been following the Republic book controversy since this summer, when I read blog posts like this one. Long story short, after multiple challenges by a professor at neighboring Missouri State University,Slaughterhouse-Five and Twenty Boy Summer (the book pictured above) were pulled from the high school library and removed from the curriculum. Aside from happening here in Missouri (in the part of the state I heard describe by residents more than once as “the buckle of the Bible Belt,”) it’s interesting because of the unconventional and unpopular way the Republic School Board decided to handle the removal. One board member had been absent during the initial vote to remove the books, so he requested the board revisit the case. (This was after it had already drawn national attention.) A compromise of sorts was reached – the books were returned to the library, but students now need parental permission to access them. They’re kept in a “separate area,” much like a Hustler magazine might be kept behind the counter.

MSU professor Wesley Scroggins has been pressing the school board since 2010. Take a look at his complaints, and read his original column, “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” in the Springfield News-Leader.

While I wasn’t able to speak with the Republic school superintendent – he never returned my calls – the response he gave to Scroggins’ complaint offers a window into his mind:

Furthermore, Mr. Scroggins’ contention that teachers who instruct in public schools are liberal in their thinking is unfounded. I asked him for specific comments teachers in our district have made that would qualify as liberal. He could provide me with no such examples. I know for a fact that we have many Christians serving in our school district.

And it’s likely not many people have gotten through to the school board. Several Republic residents told me the board doesn’t allow the public to address them directly. To even meet with the board, a concerned citizen must file a request.

From my conversation with Scroggins, I gathered he, at least, was on some level content with the board’s decision. He told me parents should have the right to decide what their kids read. The Vonnegut Library handled things a little differently, putting power right in students’ hands. They decided to give away up to 150 copies of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five to Republic students. Any student who wanted one could get one absolutely free, parental permission or not, with a quick e-mail. So far, the library says 55 students have taken them up on it.

Who should be able to decide what high school students read: the school board, teachers, parents or students themselves?