Shhh, Bel Air News & Views is reading the banned book


    After reading this morning’s Baltimore Sun story about how the Harford County School district banned the use of Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War novel in a ninth-grade class called “Living in a Contemporary World,” Bel Air News & Views went out and bought the book. (I’m on chapter 4) Apparently, some parents complained to the school board about the book’s use of vulgar language and homophobic slurs, saying these things overshadowed the book’s message on the dangers of bullying. This document posted on the Harford County Schools website details the reasons behind school superintendent Jacqueline Haas’ decision to ban the book, which she was scheduled to present to the school board tonight. What’s interesting about the document is that the bulk of it is filled with material supporting the district’s decision to include the book in the curriculum. Haas notes how the award-winning book offers material that fits the class’ bullying unit and presents it in a way that will interest and engage ninth-graders. The document also explains the vetting process that involved professionals and students and devised a way for students to opt out of reading the book while still participating the bullying discussion. Her reasons for banning the book are as follows:

    “While this book may actually be acceptable were a total county perspective assessed, the controversy that has occurred over The Chocolate War has left it unusable at this time as the literary work of choice. Therefore, while the Superintendent would want to make the decision about the use of The Chocolate War on the merits of the book, the divergent views of this work make it difficult to continue its use at this time. “

    It appears that until the district can come up with a book on bullying that won’t incite protests, the bullying unit won’t be included in the course. That’s a shame. The course was devised to help ninth-graders make the transition from being top dogs in middle school to being on the bottom rung of high school. Just this year my little third grader’s class had to have a discussion about bullying and cliques. And I’m afraid these 8- and 9-year-olds don’t even understand what they’re doing and how it makes people feel. It’s not that literature will fix these sordid elements of human nature. But compelling stories can show kids they’re not the first or the only ones struggling their way through magnified adolescent angst. And we parents can hope it can help give them some perspective and perhaps some coping skills.