Mat-Su school board bans 5 books from high school curriculum

April 25, 2020 GMT

PALMER, Alaska (AP) — A school board north of Anchorage, Alaska has banned the teaching of five books considered literary classics used for high school English elective courses without public comment, sparking criticism from some educators.

The Matanuska-Susitna School Board has voted Wednesday 5-2 to remove “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison; “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller; “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien; “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou; and “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Teachers are no longer permitted to use the books, district spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey said.

The Matanuska-Susitna Education Association has released a statement Friday condemning the board’s decision, KTUU-TV reported.

“This is a blatant effort to curtail critical thinking, stifle discussion, and deprive our students of the opportunity to share, as a class, the experience of studying some of the most classic American literature,” association President Dianne K. Shibe said.

The board made the decision with only minimal input by the community and disregard for the public process, the statement said.

This decision came after a request from a board member for more information about English elective books that might be considered controversial, district officials said, adding that the district routinely reviews course curricula.

Board President Tom Bergey, who voted in favor of the ban, did not return a request for comment Thursday.

The books are considered controversial because of descriptions of rape and incest as well as sexual references, “things that are pretty serious problems, especially in our teenage world,” said board member Jeff Taylor, a Wasilla business owner who also voted in favor of the ban.

It is unclear if the vote means library books would be removed, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Fireside Books, a bookstore in Palmer, was overwhelmed with feedback, requests and online orders for the now-prohibited books this week, owner Mary Ann Cockle said.

“One of the purposes in teaching books that have controversial content is so that teachers can guide students through the book to get to the underlying ideas,” former educator Pat Chesbro said in disagreement with the ban.

High school classes in the Anchorage School District use all five books in its curriculum, some as required reading, officials said. The Anchorage School District is just south of the Matanuska-Susitna school district.

The board also voted to remove The New York Times’ The Learning Network as a “mentor text” and creative writing teaching resource, officials said. The newspaper is still part of the school district’s journalism curriculum.