Archives for category: Literature

In Louisiana, a middle school librarian has said. “Enough is enough.” She is standing up and fighting against the vigilantes who have targeted school libraries.

Amanda Jones has filed a lawsuit against two men who have harassed her and other librarians.

Amanda Jones, a librarian at a middle school in Denham Springs, Louisiana, filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday, arguing that Facebook pages run by Michael Lunsford and Ryan Thames falsely labeled her a pedophile who wants to teach 11-year-olds about anal sex.

Jones, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Librarians, was alarmed and outraged by the verbal attacks, which came after she spoke against censorship at a Livingston Parish Library Board of Control meeting. She said she’s suing the two men because she’s exhausted with the insults hurled at educators and librarians over LGBTQ materials.

“I’ve had enough for everybody,” Jones said in an interview. “Nobody stands up to these people. They just say what they want and there are no repercussions and they ruin people’s reputations and there’s no consequences.”

Lunsford did not respond to requests for comment. Thames declined to comment.

Nationwide, school districts have been bombarded by conservative activists and parents over the past year demanding that books with sexual references or that discuss racial conflict, often by authors of color or those who are LGBTQ, be purged from campuses. Those demands have slowly moved toward public libraries in recent months.

Thank you, Amanda Jones!

Toby Price, an assistant principal of an elementary school in the Hinds County School District in Mississippi, was fired because he read a book to second graders on Zoom called I Need a New Butt! The school board did not approve. Nor did the superintendent.

The school was participating in “Read Across America” day to honor Dr. Seuss’s birthday and to encourage children to love reading. Mr. Price thought the children would find the book hilarious, and they did. But they also got a lesson in the power and danger of books when Mr. Price was fired a few days later. He’s trying to get his job back and has a GoFundMe to support his family and pay a lawyer.

When I first read this story, I sent it to Carol Burris, my friend and executive director of the Network for Public Education. She immediately responded that she must be a criminal grandma because she’s shared that same book with her grandchildren many times, and they love it.

She drafted a confession:

True confession. I am a terrible grandma to my five grandkids. I confess. I bought little Phinney I Need a New Butt! I did not even wait for second grade—I bought it for him when he was two. We would laugh all the way through and he would beg me to read it… again and again and again.

But I did not stop there. I bought a copy for my other two grandkids, Merek and Reeve, then four and two. That’s me, a serial corrupter of young children’s minds.

And if there were a grandma license in the State of Mississippi, then mine would surely be snatched away. I am referring, of course to the tragic ridiculousness of the firing of an assistant principal in Mississippi for reading I Need a New Butt! to second-graders over Zoom.

Anyone who has ever spent any time with young kids knows that silliness is a magnet that draws kids into stories. I devoured Dr. Seuss, limericks, and rhymes as a child. My daughters loved the hilarity of Where the Sidewalk Ends with its rhymes about a child poet in a lion’s belly, baby brothers that ran away, and of course that sack with its mysterious contents (perhaps an extra butt is inside?) Stories with rich rhymes and rhythms build literacy. And maybe a sense of humor—something the world sorely needs.

I worked in schools long enough to figure out the back story on this one. Some self-righteous fool, who likely never liked the man, heard the story and called their friend on the school board. And then a spineless administrator complied, rather than standing up for a man whose life work was spent among children.

It’s a chilling tale of power and fear and extremism. And worst of all, the children of Gary Road Elementary lost someone who understands them, only to be left with school leaders whose butts may be tight and intact, but most certainly have cracks in their hearts and heads.

So, here’s the irony: I Need a New Butt! is now #1 bestseller on Amazon’s list of beginning readers for children.

The word should go out to every school board and legislature in the nation: whenever you ban a book, its sales will soar! Authors will wear your ban as a badge of honor. They may even ask you to ban their books so they too will benefit. Don’t do it!

Steven Singer is an experienced English Language Arts teacher in Pennsylvania. In this post, he shows how he created a lesson about Ukraine and linked it to Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.”

He writes:

How does one teach about war?

With pictures or words?

With speeches or documentation?

With prayers or curses?

With laughter or tears?

I began my class like I always do – with a question.

“Has anyone heard about what’s happening in Ukraine?” I asked.

A few hands, but they had only heard the words. They didn’t know what was happening.

So I showed my 8th graders a short video that summarized events so far. I drew a map of Europe and Asia on the board. I outlined Ukraine, Russia and the European union. I explained about the Soviet Union and its collapse. I explained about NATO and the struggle for power and prestige.

When I was done, there was a moment of silence. They were all staring up at me. It was one of those rare moments of stillness, a pregnant pause before the questions started raining down.

A patter at first, then a storm.

They asked about what they were hearing at home. They searched for corroboration, explanation and/or other viewpoints.

One child asked if this was NATO’s fault. If it was President Biden’s doing.


And yet another asked about nuclear proliferation and whether this war meant the end of the world.

I couldn’t answer all of their questions, though I tried. When there was something I couldn’t say or didn’t know, I pointed them in a direction where they might find some answers.

But it led to some interesting discussion.

Then I asked them if they had talked about any of this in their other classes – perhaps in social studies. They all said no, that a few teachers had promised to get to it after finishing the 13 colonies or another piece of mandated curriculum.

I was surprised but not shocked. I know the tyranny of the curriculum.

I was only able to talk about this, myself, because of the scope and sequence of Language Arts. You see, it was poetry time and I was about to introduce my students to Alfred Lord Tennyson and “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

Continue reading to learn about the lesson.

Recently the daughter of one of our regular readers (Roy Turrentine) posted a comment.

She wrote in response to the reports of politician

Bob Shepherd was delighted by her writing, and he offered her a reading list of some of his favorites (unlikely that these are on the Common Core reading list, since CCSS privileges “informational text” over fiction).

Bob wrote:

Have you read Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, yet? I fell head over heels in love with that book when I was your age. And take a crack at 1984, by Orwell, which may be the most important book to be read at this time in history. And here, a few suggestions for short fiction:


Asimov, Isaac. “The Last Question”
Atwood, Margaret. “Bread”
Benet, Stephen Vincent. “By the Waters of Babylon”
Bierce, Ambrose. “Chickamauga”
Bierce, Ambrose. “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Library of Babel”
Bostrom, Nick. “The Dragon Tyrant”
Bradbury Ray. “The Veldt”
Bradbury, Ray. “The End of the World”
Bradbury,. Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains”
Chiang, Ted. “Stories of Our Lives”
Chopin, Kate. “Story of an Hour”
Crane, Stephen. “A Mystery of Heroism”
Du Maurier, Daphne. “The Birds”
Faulkner, William. “The Bear”
Gallico, Paul. “The Snowgoose”
Goldstein, Rebecca. “The Legacy of Raizel Kaidish”
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappaccini’s Daughter”
Hathorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown”
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants”
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
Hemingway, Ernest. “The Long Wait”
Liu, Ken. “An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition”
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”
O’Conner, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
Roth, Phillip. “The Conversion of the Jews”
Thurber, James. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
Tolstoy, Leo. “The Life and Death of Ivan Illych”
Updike, John. “A & P”
Updike, John. “The Music School”
Vonnegut, Kurt. “Who Am I This Time?”
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use”

Jan Resseger received an early copy of a new book edited by David Berliner and Carl Hermanns (I contributed one of the essays), and she was delighted to discover that the volume contains what must have been one of Mike Rose’s last essays before his untimely death last summer.

She writes:

I just received my pre-ordered copy of a fine new collection of essays from Teachers College Press. In Public Education: Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy, editors David Berliner and Carl Hermanns pull together reflections by 29 writers, who, as the editors declare: “create a vivid and complex portrait of public education in these United States.”

It seems especially appropriate at the end of 2021 to consider one of the essays included in this new book—probably Mike Rose’s final essay—“Reflections on the Public School and the Social Fabric.” Rose, the wonderful writer and UCLA professor of education, died unexpectedly in August.

Rose considers the many possible lenses through which a public can consider and evaluate its public schools: “Public schools are governmental and legal institutions and therefore originate in legislation and foundational documents… All institutions are created for a reason, have a purpose, are goal driven… Equally important as the content of curriculum are the underlying institutional assumptions about ability, knowledge, and the social order… Public schools are physical structures. Each has an address, sits on a parcel of land with geographical coordinates… By virtue of its location in a community, the school is embedded in the social and economic dynamics of that community… The school is a multidimensional social system rich in human interaction… With the increasing application of technocratic frameworks to social and institutional life, it becomes feasible to view schools as quantifiable systems, represented by numbers, tallies, metrics. Some school phenomena lend themselves to counting, though counting alone won’t capture their meaning… And schools can be thought of as part of the social fabric of a community, serving civic and social needs: providing venues for public meetings and political debate, polls, festivities, and during crises shelters, distribution hubs, sites of comfort.”

Please open the link and read on!

Sara Stenson was a middle school librarian in Texas for many years. In this post, she calls on Governor Gregg Abbott to stop dragging school librarians into his culture wars with false and salacious claims.

She writes:

Librarians, as public servants, have no secrets. Anyone can access our online library catalogs. It is also important to note that the existence of a book in a library in no way signifies endorsement. Our job is to provide access to our communities and not only to materials which match our personal tastes or values. For example, children have access to “Mein Kampf” by Adolph Hitler in school libraries in Texas. A quick search of the Austin ISD catalog reveals that in the entire district, serving 77,000 students, four copies of “The Dream House” and three copies of “Gender Queer” are on our high school library shelves. And Austin is a liberal city. I suspect only a handful of these two titles exist in Texas school libraries….

Even the legal definition of pornography in Texas states that the term applies to “any visual or written material that depicts lewd or sexual acts and is intended to cause sexual arousal.” Neither book fits this definition.

Just because a book includes some mature content does not make it pornography. School districts have policies for dealing with book challenges, and these should be followed before any books are removed from the shelves.

Does the book have value as a whole? Does it serve certain students in the community? It depends on the local community and if the book is age-appropriate to the patrons. Do librarians make mistakes? I did. At times, I ordered books that ended up not being appropriate for my middle-school library and passed them up to high-school collections. Librarians choose books for their collections by consulting summaries and reviews in selection aids. They cannot possibly read each book entirely before it is ordered…

“The government — in this case, a public school — cannot restrict speech because it does not agree with the content of that speech,” the Bill of Rights Institute says in summarizing the case. “The decisions called libraries places for ‘voluntary inquiry’ and concluded that the school board’s ‘absolute discretion’ over the classroom did not extend to the library for that reason.” “Voluntary” is the key that protects libraries and our freedom to read.

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the censorship wars of his day: “If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.”

Read more at:

A reader, Nancy Papat, read Pastor Chartes Foster Johnson’s article about Governor Gregg Abbott’s campaign against pornography in the schools and school libraries. She concluded that the Bible is a dangerous book because it contains sexual innuendoes, violence, and even anti-capitalist propaganda (like driving the money-changers from the Temple).

She posted this comment:

By this standard, schools will have to remove the Holy Bible from school libraries.

* There is much too much sex – that story of David and Bathsheba is for mature audiences only

*There are stories of slavery and abuse which might make some children feel bad because that could be interpreted as Critical Race Theory.

*Then there is the story about Mary and Joseph fleeing Bethlehem for Egypt to protect baby Jesus after the King ordered the killing of male babies. Doesn’t that glorify and even deify refugees?

*Jesus threw moneychangers out of the Temple which could raise questions about wealthy pastors of mega-churches in Texas. Is that anti-religion for a state like Texas? [It is also critical of capitalism.]

*Years later, Jesus himself suffered the gory, torturous death of crucifixion. Clearly the Bible has too much sex, violence, and dangerous political statements for the state of Texas and its students.

Then there is the question of whether Mary and Joseph were married when she got pregnant. If God was the father of Jesus, not Joseph, this raises more questions.

Have you read any licentious or subversive text in the Bible? Please add to her list.

Surely this dangerous book should not be read by children!

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican who won the race for governor in Virginia, centered his campaign on education, specifically on his insistence that parents should have the right to determine what their children learn and on his promise to ban “critical race theory” in the state’s public schools.

The second part of the promise should be easy, because Virginia public schools do not teach “critical race theory.”

Youngkin ran a commercial on his behalf that showed a mother complaining that her son was compelled to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which upset him.

What the mother did not say was that her son was a senior in an AP English class where he should have been expected to read the work of a Nobel-Prize winning author.

What the mother did not say was that her son’s discomforting experience occurred a decade ago.

What the mother did not say was that her son went on to have a successful career in the federal government.

A recent article by an African American columnist at the Washington Post contrasts this young man’s experience of Beloved with her own. She too was deeply disturbed by the book.

“Having read it, I can confirm that “Beloved” is an intense, at times frightening book.

“Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has sex, violence, mention of bestiality. It centers on the story of a mother who kills her own child, desperate to ensure the infant won’t have to experience the horrors of slavery as she did. It’s visceral, and haunting, and deeply sad.

“But then again, imagine how enslaved people must have felt to live it.

“This exercise in empathy is, presumably, what is meant to be taught in an Advanced Placement English Literature course for 17- and 18-year-olds — which is where it was situated in the Virginia curriculum when Laura Murphy, the Fairfax County mother prominently featured in a viral campaign ad for Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, began to complain about it.

“In the ad, Murphy describes being horrified by the “explicit material” after looking at her child’s reading assignment. And indeed, in 2013, her son — who was by then a 19-year-old college freshman — told The Post that the book was “gross” and hard for him to handle. “I gave up on it,” he said.

“His mother tried to have the novel banned from county schools. Having escaped the hardship of thinking about slavery, the younger Murphy went on to clerk in the Office of the White House Counsel during the Trump administration and is now a lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“I was also asked to read “Beloved” in a high school English class, also in Virginia — Richmond, to be precise. It was a hard read. You felt bad. It was also an illuminating corrective, studied against the Virginia backdrop of Robert E. Lee worship, Stonewall Jackson fetishization, and the plantations where enslaved people, we heard in our history classes, worked mostly happily for noble, caring masters.

“The novel taught me the power of literature, how words could transmit deep emotion. It did keep me up at night, because I was grappling with the pain of another person, wondering how someone could get to such a place, how people could do these things to one another. The gory details of the book fled my mind in the ensuing years. But the feeling — I never forgot it.”

Isn’t that what great literature is supposed to do?

So, now we know that Mrs. Murphy’s son couldn’t bear to read Beloved, but it didn’t cause him any harm. Other students, however, learned from it, experienced it, and treasured their experience.

Alexandra Petri writes humorous articles for the Washington Post. She wrote this column in response to a furor in the governor’s race in Virginia. Democratic candidate Terry MacAuliffe asserted that parents should not tell teachers what to teach, and Republicans are outraged by his statement. They say that parents should have that power. Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin released a commercial featuring an angry mother complaining that her son in an AP class was required to read Beloved by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison.

Petri writes:

Hello, everyone! We’re going to have a great year! Some minor, barely noticeable adjustments to the curriculum have taken place since Glenn Youngkin took office. This is a college-level class in which we’re supposed to be tackling challenging material. But you may remember the Glenn Youngkin commercial starring the mother who was trying to stop “Beloved” from being taught in her senior son’s AP English class on the grounds that he thought it was “disgusting and gross” and “gave up on it.” Anyway, he supported that kind of parental control over the curriculum, so we’ve had to tweak just a couple of things!

Below please find our reading list new and improved reading list after being forced to bend to every concern from a parent:

“The Odyssey” mutilation and abuse of alcohol, blood drinking

Brideshead Revisited” not sure what’s going on with that teddy bear; house named after something that should be saved for marriage

“The Handmaid’s Tale” everything about book was fine except its classification as ‘dystopia’

“The Catcher in the Rye” anti-Ronald Reagan somehow though we’re not sure how

“The Importance of Being Earnest” includes a disturbing scene where a baby is abandoned in a train station in a handbag and the people in the play regard this as the subject of mirth

“Candide” buttock cannibalism

“Don Quixote” makes fun of somebody for attacking a wind-or-solar-based energy source

“Great Expectations” convict presented sympathetically

“Les Miserables” see above

“King Lear” violence and it’s suggested that there are scenarios where parents actually do not know best

“The Sun Also Rises” offensive to flat-Earthers

“Death of a Salesman” features a White man to whom attention is not paid

Okay, well, I’m sure there are still some books we can agree on even if they aren’t at the college level! We can probably extricate meaning from these.

“Charlotte’s Web” valorizes someone who uses her hindquarters to communicate

“Matilda” suggests that the tyranny of school administrators can create a stultifying environment for their children

“Harold and the Purple Crayon” contains The Color Purple which we have been told is badStory continues below advertisementnull

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” communist???

“The Snowy Day” several concerns, most to do with CRT

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” this gave my son a nightmare

Nope, sorry, we aren’t reading anymore. A parent complained that the books on the reading list transported them to different times and places against their will and forced them to imagine the lives of people different than themselves. This is like kidnapping and probably also brainwashing, and we can’t possibly read any texts that do this.

We’re looking forward to engaging with complex, challenging texts that will teach us to read critically, write compellingly and look at the world with new eyes sitting here staring at the wall thinking about what it might have been like to read books all semester long!

Megan Schmidt wrote in Discover magazine about the value of reading fiction. Although written a year ago, this article is timely because it decisively refutes one of the central tenets of the Common Core, which encourages teachers to spend increasing amounts of time on “informational text” while decreasing time for literature.

She began:

Would the world be a better place if people read more books?

Of course, asserting that reading can fix the world’s problems would be naive at best. But it could help make it a more empathetic place. And a growing body of research has found that people who read fiction tend to better understand and share in the feelings of others — even those who are different from themselves.

That’s because literary fiction is essentially an exploration of the human experience, says Keith Oatley, a novelist and professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto.

“Reading novels enables us to become better at actually understanding other people and what they’re up to,” says Oatley. “[With] someone who you’re married to … or a close friend, you can actually get to know them. Reading fiction enables you to sample across a much wider range of possible people and come to understand something about the differences among them.”

Perspectives on Empathy

Psychologists have found that empathy is innate, as even babies show it. And while some people are naturally more empathetic than others, most people become more-so with age. Beyond that, some research indicates that if you’re motivated to become more empathetic, you probably can. Although there are many ways to cultivate empathy, they largely involve practicing positive social behaviors, like getting to know others, putting yourself in their shoes and challenging one’s own biases. And stories — fictional ones in particular — offer another way to step outside of oneself.

Fiction has the capacity to transport you into another character’s mind, allowing you to see and feel what they do. This can expose us to life circumstances that are very different from our own. Through fiction, we can experience the world as another gender, ethnicity, culture, sexuality, profession or age. Words on a page can introduce us to what it’s like to lose a child, be swept up in a war, be born into poverty, or leave home and immigrate to a new country. And taken together, this can influence how we relate to others in the real world

Sometimes, empathy is described as the glue that holds society together. Without it, humankind probably wouldn’t have gotten very far. Our ancestors depended on acts of caring for survival — such as sharing resources, help with healing the sick, and protection from predators. And we’ll probably continue needing empathy to move forward. Yet, at this particular moment in history,it can feel like empathy is on shaky ground.

From this perspective, it seems that our current test-driven regime and neglect of literature are promoting the wrong values. Selfishness, competitiveness, hyper-individualism, lack of empathy.”