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Fremont teacher and student honored in censorship fight against Fremont school board

By Matt Artz
Friday, February 4th, 2011 at 9:48 am in Uncategorized.

The San Francisco Writers Conference is honoring Washington High School Teacher Teri Hu for her efforts to teach the book “Bastard out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison.

Fremont student Dylan Mahood will receive the conference’s “Freedom to Read” Scholarship.

The school board has banned the book, determining that it’s too adult for high school students.

Allison will be attending this year’s conference Feb. 18 – 20.

Here’s a blurb from a press release:

Since Allison will be a keynote presenter at the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference,

that decision could not be ignored by the SFWC organizers. “We were troubled that a significant

book would be withheld from students,” said SFWC Marketing Director Barbara Santos. “We

also felt we had a vested interest in supporting our friend, Dorothy.” In response to the school

board decision, they decided to extend a scholarship to a student Ms. Hu would select.

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  • Judy Zlatnik

    “Too adult for high school students??” What does that mean for heaven’s sake??? It would be interesting to know what age the teacher has..most of them will soon be legal for enlistment in the army and marriage..or just plain sex…I doubt the book in question would be too adult for them. Now I have to read that book so my next comment can be more informed! Kindle here I come…

  • Judy Zlatnik

    Okay, before anyone points out I have not read it.it is on order! I see it deals with psychological and sexual abuse of a young girl who finds shelter with a lesbian aunt. It does sound disturbing, it might even make students think about some difficult subjects. Look around folks, what kind of a world are these students growing up in?? Deep thought might be a good habit for them to cultivate!! (In the interests of full disclosure, as a former high school librarian I would tend to support high school English teachers!!)

  • West

    What planet is the school board on, come on
    school board join the 21 st century.
    Censorship in Fremont, unbelivable.

  • http://fcnisbacon.wordpress.com/ Marty

    It’s a great book, Judy. You should read it.

    BTW, Anney ditches Bone at the end to be with Glen.

  • Steve

    The reporter got the facts wrong in the article. The book is not banned since it is available in the school library for students to read.

    The school district voted against putting the book on a list of books for required reading by students. I am not sure this is really a ban on the book.

  • Steve

    By the way, I agree with Marty that it is a great book. The movie is pretty good as well, although not as good as the book.

  • Judy Zlatnik

    I have been informed that the class in question was a 12th grade Advanced Placement Class (students get college credit for this if they test out well!!) This is the last place the school board should be telling a teacher what can be required!! Especially if the library can carry it.

  • Steve

    The book is definitely within the maturity level of a typical 12th grader. Far more “adult” material is shown on cable TV everyday.

  • Jon Simon

    The current school board is majority conservative. The two liberals are business-focused and seem to appreciate top-down management. Fremont got just what they voted for.

  • http://www.SFWriters.org Barbara Santos

    Dorothy’s book is a classic, there’s no debate there. But the upside to this story is that Dylan Mahood (who was not at the actual school board hearing but is an outstanding writer) was selected to receive the Freedom to Read Scholarship. Not only will he attend the San Francisco Writers Conference and meet Dorothy Allison…he will be on a panel with her and his teacher during the event. They will talk about censorship from all points of view–author, teacher and student. Yes, it will be taped!

  • Teri Hu

    The book is considered restricted, not banned. I could theoretically teach it if I got parents to sign off on every student, but I could not purchase any copies with school funds. That is the most pernicious effect of this board policy, it ties our funding and academic freedom to their political whims.

    I have submitted a number of other books with far more graphic scenes of sex and violence which passed without notice, so I am convinced that the only reason this book was flagged was because of the word “bastard” in the title. This is an example of literally judging a book by its cover, a disturbing trait in our elected leaders.

    I am currently trying to get more books through DonorsChoose.org, which was recently featured on Oprah. If anyone would be willing to help, or at least spread the word about my project, I would really, REALLY appreciate it. Link below, thank you:

    http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=461646

  • Larry Sweeney

    To set the record straight, the book is neither banned nor censored. It can be read by students. It is in the library. Simply put, the book cannot be assigned as required reading. Students cannot be required to read it. That is hardly censorship.

    Mildly put, the book shares the account of a girl who is constantly victimized, brutally and repeatedly violated and is witness to horrific behaviors. On the few occasions when she has the opportunity to make choices, she continues to make poor choices.

    It has been the stated mission and practice of FUSD to instill character values in our students that reinforce behaviors to empower and support a strong sense of self-worth and pride. Speaking only for myself, and after many conversations with English professionals from the high school and college ranks, I voted to not include this book as required reading for AP students. The purpose of an AP English class is to prepare students to pass the AP English exam. The College Board publishes an extensive overview of suggested content and lists of authors the AP student should be familiar with in order to pass the test. In my eight years on the Board, this is the only book I have voted to not include as required reading.

    It is worth noting that the book was presented to the Board for approval in 2009 and again in 2010. In 2010, the Board voted 4-1 to not include the book as required reading.

  • Teri Hu

    What poor choices are you referring to? The girl is still a child at the end of the novel, she has essentially never been free to make ANY choices in her life.

    Besides, the author of this highly acclaimed autobiographical novel has clearly overcome great obstacles in her own life. That doesn’t count as “behaviors to empower and support a strong sense of self-worth and pride?”

    As far as the victimization and violation, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Color Purple have very similar themes and plots. Or is it somehow more upsetting when those horrific things happen to little white girls?

  • Larry Sweeney

    The similarities between I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Color Purple are obvious. Both tell the story of a young girl who is taken advantage of, is raped, is victimized and humiliated. Yet, through the course of each novel, these two girls both find pride and empowerment . Within each work, the character finds the tools needed to validate their self worth. That is one of the lessons of these works.

  • Teri Hu

    As does Bone in Bastard Out of Carolina. As does Dorothy Allison in real life. Your argument still holds no water, and you don’t answer any of my questions.

    You know, I would be far less offended if you’d all just admit the word “bastard” in the title makes you uncomfortable, and that’s the real reason for the rejection. I might even quit stirring the pot if anyone on that dais would just be honest about their real motivations for once.

    On the positive side, this little brouhaha has raised another couple of hundred dollars for my DonorsChoose.org project, which means more good books for Fremont students! Keep spreading the word, folks. And thanks for your support.

    http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=461646

  • Audrey

    I think it’s nice that Larry Sweeney actually responds to this blog. What other school board member is nice enough to do that? Thanks, Larry! It is interesting to read his comments first-hand since he is involved in the actual political process.

    I’ve been reading this entry/comments and I just wanted to leave a quick note. As a former AP English student in the FUSD I am just curious like if this book was included in the AP English curriculum what would it replace? Since I felt like I had to read sooooo many books in that class anyway. Also while I can see both sides Larry does kind of make a valid point that the point of the AP Eng class is to prepare students for the AP Eng test. Finally I can see some awkward discussions ensuing in the classroom if this book was included…

    anyway thanks!

  • Teri Hu

    The curriculum is constantly evolving, things move in and out all the time. Other than a dose of Shakespeare, just about everything else is in play. I stand behind my curriculum’s ability to prepare my students for the AP exam, and my pass rates back me up, they have exceeded the national average every year. Heavy exposure to diverse literature is the key to being able to handle anything the College Board (or life) decides to throw at you.

    The AP Lit exam tends to use passages from at least two or three contemporary works each year. Too heavy a concentration on either old or new materials will likely leave you unprepared for part of the exam. And, there is a tendency to select works for the exam that you won’t find on most high school reading lists, for the simple and obvious reason that they don’t want students who’ve read certain books to have an obvious advantage. If your reading takes you off the beaten path, you may even have an advantage if they pull something obscure out of their bag of tricks.

  • Tony Irvington

    Let the teachers assign any book they feel will benefit their students.
    “Children” are able to handle the truth more than you give them credit for Sweeny, and they most certainly take “stuff” a lot less seriously than “educators” like you, authority types, who publicly moralize about “reinforcing behaviors to empower and support a strong sense of self-worth and pride” in students, young adults, emerging citizens, and future leaders, when you don’t have the will, patience or wits to know who George Seldes is, read and comprehend a novel by Jose Saramago or tell the class why Paul Robeson is an American hero. (a hint on the latter- it’s not because of his stirring verison of “ole man river” or his performance in Othello.)

    And one last thing…k

    exactly why is it “worth noting” that the board rejected the book two years in a row?

  • http://vickihudson.com/ Vicki Hudson

    I heard Teri and Dylan speak at SFWC and decided that this couldn’t be allowed to stand. The finer point is that the school board won’t pay for the books, but if the books are provided, then with parent approval Bastard Out of Carolina can be taught. So, please support bringing the books into Fremont. Go to http://www.indiegogo.com/Send-Bastard2School to view the online fundraising campaign and spread the word via your social media. You can also get the word out in the real world with items from Cafepress at http://www.cafepress.com/Fundbooks