In Missouri, Banned Books Week Starts Early

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This is Wesley Scroggins, the man who will protect the children of Republic from dirty books. - image via
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This is Wesley Scroggins, the man who will protect the children of Republic from dirty books.

And by "banned books" we don't mean honoring books that allegedly concerned parents want removed from library shelves so they don't corrupt their sweet little innocents. We mean a concerted effort to remove even more books from libraries and schools.

This past Saturday, the Springfield News-Leader published an op-ed piece by Wesley Scroggins, a professor of management at Missouri State and a citizen of the nearby town of Republic, who professes deep concern about the curriculum in Republic's schools even though his own children are home-schooled.

"Sex education curriculum in the fourth grade includes topics on reproduction," he writes with barely-contained outrage.

Is this what parents and taxpayers in this community want their children exposed to in school? Is this how taxpayers want their tax money used? Equally shocking is the content of the high school English classes. In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.

Are they reading D. H. Lawrence down there in Republic? Henry Miller? Anais Nin? Why no! The "soft porn" of which Scroggins writes is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak concerns a teenage girl who essentially takes a vow of silence after her classmates ostracize her for calling the police after a popular boy rapes her at a party. It was widely praised by reviewers when it first came out in 1999 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. It more than deserves those accolades.

click to enlarge Look, kids, it's a dirty book!
Look, kids, it's a dirty book!

Scroggins has his own interpretation of the book, which his fellow professors might kindly call "contrarian":

This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like.

Scroggins concludes:

I confronted the school board with these issues at the June school board meeting. As far as I know, nothing has been done to address these issues to date. This is unacceptable, considering that most of the school board members and administrators claim to be Christian. How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality? Parents, it is time you get involved!

Now if you were the author of Speak, which would offend you more: the attempt at banning or the gross misreading of your work?

For Anderson, the answer is both. In a post on her blog she writes, "The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying. It gets worse, if that's possible, when he goes on to completely mischaracterize the book."

Anderson admits that maybe by even acknowledging Scroggins, she's giving him more attention than he deserves. But--

My fear is that good-hearted people in Scroggins' community will read his piece and believe what he says. And then they will complain to the school board. And then the book will be pulled and then all those kids who might have found truth and support in the book will be denied that.

Anderson has gotten the support of Judy Blume (also much-banned) who has brought the matter to the attention of the National Coalition Against Censorship. Now she's encouraging her readers to write to the News-Leader, the superintendent of the Republic schools and the Republic High School principal.

But already the high school has removed Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, another of the "filthy books" Scroggins cited in his op-ed, from its curriculum. ("This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame.") The third book specifically mentioned by Scroggins, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, is under review, though the district states that this is standard procedure anytime a parent or concerned citizen challenges a book.

(For the record, Twenty Boy Summer is about a girl who is grieving for a dead boyfriend. It also, writes Scroggins, "glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.")

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