In November, Culpepper County Public Schools stopped assigning a version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" to eighth grade students after a parent complained that it contains inappropriate sexual and homosexual themes. The contested version will remain in the school's library, but a different version, shorn of the sexual language, is now being assigned.
The school didn't follow its own rules for objections to educational materials, which requires a complaint to be made in writing and reviewed by a committee before any action is taken. Instead, according to Culpepper Schools' Director of Instruction James Allen, the parent complained orally and an administrator made the decision quickly thereafter. Allen was not involved in the decision-making process, but he did tell the local paper, The Star Exponent, that "I don't want to make a big deal out of this. So we listened to the parent and we pulled it."
The passage is about Anne Frank's vagina:
"There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can't imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!"
Censorship of classic literature is nothing new in American public schools. What is particularly alarming in this case is that the version of a classic book with such unassailable literary and historical value was replaced so quickly on the strength of just one single parental complaint.
Since 1990 the American Library Association (ALA) has been monitoring formal complaints for removal or restrictions of books in public schools. "The Diary of Anne Frank" has had six challenges against it, all of which complained about its sexual content and/or tragic nature. One complaint from an Alabama school in 1983 wanted to reject it because it was "a real downer," a reason that earned it fifth place on ALA's Ten most farfetched reasons to ban a book."
Despite the number of complaints against it, "The Diary of Anne Frank" is not one of the top ten books banned in US schools. ALA's list, from 1990-1999, does though include other surprising classics:
- Scary Stories (Series), by Alvin Schwartz
- Daddy's Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
- The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
- Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
- Forever, by Judy Blume
- Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
- Heather Has Two Mommies, by Leslea Newman
- The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Additionally, forty-two of Radcliffe Publishing Course's top 100 novels of the 20th century have been challenged at schools coast to coast, and nine of the top 10 have been banned at some point, including seminal texts like "The Great Gatsby," "The Grapes of Wrath" and "To Kill a Mocking Bird."
On January 29, Culpepper's local paper reported that due to nationwide criticism a committee will be formed in the spring and both versions will be reviewed before the start of the next school year. School board member Bob Beard said that until the review process is complete, a teacher can still assign the more sexually explicit version, a seeming backtrack from Allen's statement about the book being "pulled" from classroom assignments.
Beard told The Star Exponent that the problem was not only that the protest was a chorus of one but that the process for potentially restricting a book was disregarded. "It's not an issue of whether one complaint should be heard, because just one should," he said, "but all the voices should be heard, and that didn't happen yet."
Hopefully, the ALA's good work in exposing the crude efforts at censorship coast to coast will also help ensure that in future cases all voices are heard.