When I was teaching fifth grade in Glendale, California, I liked to use current writing that would appeal to the kids in my class who were mostly from immigrant families. However, most of this writing was not district approved. Not because there was anything wrong with with it but because it was new and had not yet been reviewed by the school district or even “leveled”, so I was asked to use only materials provided by the district from our textbook room.
One book that I picked was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It was nearing the end of the year and I wanted something different from what we had read but I liked the fact that a family was featured in this book, with the young girl being the main character. We hadn’t read any books in which the main character was a girl. We hadn’t read any fantasy or science fiction. So I checked to make sure it was leveled for 5th graders and that there were enough copies for everyone plus our two educational assistants and myself. Perfect. The numbers were all there and it was considered appropriate for 5th to 7th grade.
We began reading it and the kids really enjoyed it. They had to read in it at home so they took the books home. Two weeks after we began reading it, a very irate parent came in after school. I knew who she was but had not had any run ins with her but she did have a reputation for being loud, abusive, and very confrontational. I ushered her toward the front office where I could signal for an administrator to come to this discussion (that was the routine when parents confronted a teacher on school grounds). Her problem was the book we were reading. It was “demonic”, in her opinion. The assistant principal asked what was demonic about it and she said she hadn’t read it but “just look at the cover; it’s evil; its’ the devil.” She wanted the whole class to stop reading it. I suggested that we give her son a different book to read. She said no. The very presence of the book in the classroom was evil. And what did the administrator say? Well, she should have said that the boy could read a different book. She should have said that he could go to another classroom while the rest of the class read the book aloud. And she should have been used to it because her son was also dismissed to wait outside the classroom during the flag salute and during any discussion of holidays and any school parties. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and were used to being dismissed to another class. But she insisted. The administrator gave in. She didn’t back me up. She told me, in the presence of the mother, that I was to collect all the books and return them to the text book room and pick something else.
It wasn’t a formal banning. In fact the book was approved. It wasn’t a new book. It was published 40 years earlier! The entire class had to stop reading in the middle of the book and I had to pick something else that was not as interesting to the others and something that was a lot shorter because we had already spent two weeks reading this book and the school year was about to end. And the school had set a precedent for allowing parents to come in and censor not only what their child was reading but what an entire class was reading.
Censorship takes many forms. And while I agree that a parent has a right to object to what their child is reading if they think it is objectionable, I don’t think a parent has a right to interfere or censor what the entire class is reading or studying.
A Wrinkle In Time is still on the list of challenged books. It has been challenged as being too Christian and as not being Christian enough. Go figure.