March 30, 2014

Cape Henlopen school board censors?

It seems there was some pretty provocative happenings at this past week's Cape Henlopen (Sussex County, Delaware) school board meeting. Colossus has learned via an attendee of the meeting that it seems a couple of school board members cited Delaware Code Title 11 Section 1361 -- that related to obscenity -- regarding a teacher assigning the novel Brave New World to her high school class. That's right -- school board members insinuated that a teacher could be hauled out of his/her classroom in handcuffs, and arrested on obscenity charges ... for having his/her high school students read the eighty-plus year-old classic novel by Aldous Huxley.

The problem? GASP! There's an "orgy" scene in the book. Yep. But as anyone who has read the novel can attest, it's hardly written in language you'd encounter in a book today. It's full of figurative language, metaphors and other imagery. The book was written in 1931. School board member Jennifer Burton was the one who referenced the "relevant" Delaware Code in regards to the novel. A man who identified himself as a Delaware State Police officer spoke at the meeting and agreed with Burton's assessment of the novel with regards to Title 11 of the Delaware Code.

Part of the catalyst behind this whole affair is that it seems the same teacher who assigned BNW had also given a homework assignment involving the video for the hit song "Blurred Lines." When students Googled the vid to check it out, apparently they discovered there are several other versions of it that are very inappropriate. It seems the teacher was unaware of this. (Note: In my opinion, the teacher should have been.) What the assignment was and how it pertained to the class is still unclear. With regards to this whole matter, Cape school board member Sandi Minard went on Dan Gaffney's radio talk show to discuss it. This was a violation of the "current [Cape Henlopen] Contract, Board Policy and Delaware State Law," according to the Cape Henlopen Education Association. However, Ms. Minard remained undeterred, saying "I will not be intimidated nor will I be silenced." On the radio with Gaffney, Minard remarked that she (and parents) were (paraphrase) "prepared to move forward" past the issue, but then had heard about the assignment of Brave New World and ended up right back at "the beginning," so to speak.

Attempting to keep the issues separate, I ask: When hasn't a teacher been questioned about an assignment ... especially when the topic is something (even remotely) controversial? This happens all the time, especially in the humanities courses (English, social studies). Isn't the proper course of action, as the CHEA noted above, to follow procedure -- you know, like contact the teacher about any concerns first, and then [school-based] administrators if no satisfaction is given by the teacher? Dan Gaffney, on his blog, notes that Minard went public "after the complaints didn't seem to grab any traction with superiors within the school." But what does that mean, exactly? Does not "grab[bing] any traction" mean that the explanations given by the teacher and administrators weren't good enough for the [questioning] parents? What were the explanations by the school? Were there assurances by the school that steps would be taken to rectify lapses in judgment/procedure? We don't know.

But then ... how does all the above evolve into attempting to censor one the greatest classic novels of the last 200 years? Our source at the school board meeting said that school board member Burton remarked that dystopian novels should contain "positive" messages. Apparently irony escapes Ms. Burton ... in more ways than one. And if she (and her constituents) really want to see teachers taken away in handcuffs for having students read classic literature, then go for it. This may assuage a hard-right conservative base, but it'll scare the beejeebees out of many others, libertarians especially, left and right. And it will also assist in keeping the state GOP a statewide non-force for decades to come.

Here's the American Library Association's list of Banned and Challenged Books based on reports from the Office of Intellectual Freedom. Yep, some real head-scratchers on there for sure.

UPDATE: The class in question (reading Brave New World) is an 11th grade Advanced Placement class.

Also, as kavips notes in the comments, here's more from Delaware Beaches. Comment of the day by a father concerned about the book:

“Why would we teach kids what is negative in society?” he said. “Let’s teach them what is right, to become good citizens and improve the fabric of society.”

Irony really does escape a lot of people, doesn't it?

Posted by Felix at March 30, 2014 02:10 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I would have responded to this earlier but got sidetracked hours looking at the other versions of Blurred Lines to which you referenced. I never knew they existed! Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Posted by: kavips at March 30, 2014 05:37 PM

ha, ha, ha, ha... just got around to reading the Delaware Beaches version

and OH MY GOSH, in Minard's own words she deprecates Aldous Huxley's book by saying this:

"In the book, the government bans Shakespeare’s works for their tragic and romantic themes."

OHHHH the irony... Love it. What a great story!

Posted by: kavips at March 30, 2014 05:45 PM

of course that "concerned father" wants everyone to be well behaved citizens, he's the state cop.

Posted by: Slower Lower at March 30, 2014 09:08 PM

You need to research the school assignment as far as the videos are concerned. There were 2 videos, and the assigned videos were not the censored videos....

Posted by: Jean at March 31, 2014 08:33 PM

Then why don't you tell us what they were, Jean?

Posted by: Felix at March 31, 2014 08:39 PM

This comment box is very restrictive. I didn't use any foul language and it repeatedly blocked my comments even after several attempts at rephrasing them.

How ironic.

"Your comment has been blocked by Snark with a filter score of 5.0"

Woohoo! Is 5.0 at the top of the scale or in the middle?

Posted by: Nick at April 1, 2014 07:00 AM

Jean, is that why not one of these "offended parents" with kids in that class showed up at the school board meeting to complain and is that why the video wasn't even mentioned once during the school board meeting. Not once.

Posted by: Slower Lower at April 1, 2014 07:01 AM

Nick: I apologize for the hassle but this is a spam blocking feature. Some IP addresses are inadvertently affected. There's a note at the top of the comment box (you may not have seen it as you came to this post via direct link) that says if you have problems commenting to e-mail us, and we'll post it for you.

I assure you there is no attempt at keeping dissenting voices away, especially on this topic.

Posted by: Hube at April 1, 2014 07:26 AM

BTW, Nick, our email is

Posted by: Hube at April 1, 2014 07:39 AM