Virginia School District Removes Classic Literature from Classrooms, Sparking Protest

Ashley Bateman,

A group of community members gathered to protest a Virginia school district’s decision to remove two classic novels from a public school’s classrooms.

Accomack County Public Schools Superintendent Chris Holland banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird in November 2016, following a parent’s complaint the books contain “racial slurs” and “offensive wording.”

Dozens of Accomack County community members, including parents and students, protested the books’ suspension outside the Accomack courthouse in December 2016. The district appointed a committee to decide whether the books should be permanently banned. The Accomack School Board voted in December to reverse the temporary ban of the books and allow their immediate return to school classrooms and libraries.

Educators ‘Narrowly Acculturated’

Martin Cothran, author of Memoria Press’ Traditional Logic, Material Logic, and Classical Rhetoric books for students, says today’s educators don’t understand students’ need for a diverse education.

classicbooks_small Virginia School District Removes Classic Literature from Classrooms, Sparking Protest Education

 “Between video games and text messaging, today’s young people, literally and figuratively, don’t get out much,” Cothran said. “In this cultural context, it is easy to see why a modern student would be in greater need of books that take them outside the narrow, culturally illiterate world he inhabits. Unfortunately, the people who now run most schools were products of the first culturally illiterate generation—roughly the Generation Xers. They, too, are narrowly acculturated and hence cannot even understand the benefits of broad cultural literacy.

“The fact that [this censorship] happened in the first place is just one more sign that the people who tout ‘diversity’ in our culture not only don’t really believe in what they say, but, because of the narrow cultural blinders they have placed on themselves, they can’t even understand what the word really means,” Cothran said.

Importance of Guided Discussions

Christian Braunlich, vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, served on the government school board in Fairfax County, another Virginia school system, for eight years. Braunlich says it makes sense to accompany controversial books with guided discussion.

“We had a ton of book challenges from people who felt like books in the school libraries were inappropriately placed, mostly due to sexual references,” Braunlich said. “I think there’s a qualitative difference between a book that is in a library and a book that is in a classroom, where discussion is guided. One [of the banned texts] was Huckleberry Finn. It’s one thing to use that in a classroom where the conversation is guided, another in a high school library where anyone can run assumptions about the appropriateness of the language. It ought to be used in appropriate English literature classes in guided discussions.”

Ashley Bateman (bateman.ae@googlemail.com) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.