As edits have been made and we prepare for the final presentation of our website tomorrow, we can reflect on our goals laid out for the project earlier in the semester. Starting with the mission statement, we hoped “to demonstrate all sides of the case” before knowing exactly what perspectives we would be able to secure or even who challenged the book. Fortunately, I feel we reached this goal through interviews with Carly Maldonado, Trish Warren, and Alex Sanchez, and while Rev. Morse was not willing to interview, I feel we fairly represented his perspective through the church in Rochester he worked for and his Facebook page. Through all of these voices, and some of the information shared in our historical context page. I think the complexity of the case is well illustrated. In terms of our use of materials, expectations matched reality with the use of WordPress, Youtube, Coggle, Googledocs, Readability, and online newspaper resources, though we ended up not needing to use Audacity to edit the Trish Warren interview because it was clear and complete as initially recorded. Looking at the division of labor, while some of our expected project components proved unnecessary and others were added in, we closely followed our plan for the most part. Both Liz and I wrote content for the site, found images and edited for accuracy and appearance. Liz handled the unforeseen task of compiling and transcribing our newspaper articles so I took care of all of the historical context to help maintain a fair balance. We also decided against incorporating a specific cast of characters page because the various perspectives are clearly laid out on the side of the website, and an extra page seemed redundant. Another challenge we ran into was the debate over interviewing Devin Flaherty as initially established in the contract’s division of labor and milestones. We thought Devin might be a useful perspective because she challenged Trish Warren years later on the decision to omit Perks of Being a Wallflower from the school library. However, we eventually concluded that spending time and space detailing that conflict, we would be better off using it as just brief context to the Rainbow Boys case and not focusing on Trish’s comments on the subject or choosing to interview Devin separately. Knowing we already had a former Webster Thomas student passionate about uncensored access to books in Carly Maldonado made the decision to omit an interview with Devin more reasonable. Our interviews stayed on schedule as well as they could considering the need to be flexible with our interviewees, and while some of our proposed dates for having content uploaded were missed due to various “life happens” moments, we caught up before the deadline for the rough draft on April 9th.
Overall, I thought having the project contract was most useful for establishing a division of labor that could keep Liz and I accountable and working equally to ensure the success of the project. We made adjustments as needed, trading off one task for another based on the contract which allowed me to always feel like Liz and I were contributing equally which I think is really valuable in such an extensive partner project. Additionally, the feedback from from our peers and Professors Dierking and Hajo kept us on track and helped us make changes as needed to end up with a project that I’m proud of and that also fits the goals we laid out for ourselves in the contract.
This week, I had the opportunity to peer-edit Drexel and Price’s website on The Song of Solomon and then hear feedback from Cara and Karina on our own website. The task of looking at the St. Mary’s website was hopefully useful for its creators but it also definitely helped me to have the chance (incentive) to thoroughly look at another site and pick up some ideas for improving Behind the Rainbow. As a general trend, I noted some typos on the St. Mary’s site that I corrected on Hypothesis, and the favor was returned by those who looked at our site. Essentially, everyone in the class presumably understands the basic rules of grammar but with the flood of hastily added content on our sites, it may not appear that way. Additionally, with the St. Mary’s site, there were some pages of content that I felt lacked appropriate background information to piece the site together for a visitor who does not know how each participant’s story links together. Looking back at our site, the same can be said as pointed out by Cara and Karina; we would benefit from a little more general information on our home page to establish the basics of what happened outside of the timeline. Similarly, there was a question on the St. Mary’s site of which aspects of the “Opinions” drop down menu reveal content and which do not. On our own site, we overlooked that the “Home” tab and the “Timeline of Events” tab are literally the same page and that could be confusing to a viewer. Finally, on the St. Mary’s site, I felt there was a good balance of text and images and rarely a page where one seemed to be dominating the other. Reflecting on our site, we could benefit from some more images to break up long chunks of texts.
Looking at the extensive feedback from Cathy and Rebecca provided lots of improvements to make to the site but reaffirmed that overall we have strong information to carry the project. Something I had thought about but was not sure how to incorporate was my own perspective on the material. Our voice was recognizable at various points in the site, but I think we would benefit from a separate perspectives section like the St. Mary’s site had. That way, we can synthesize all of the reactions, connections, and conclusions that arose throughout the research process. Next, giving the text of the newspaper articles luckily will not be too difficult because they’ve already been typed on either Alex Sanchez’s website or newspapers.com. Though I think some organization of that material could be in order in terms of putting it in a separate and more visible tab. It’s nice to see the framework for “About Rainbow Boys” and “Historical Context” is on the right track, and we’ll just add some more examples and analysis for those pages to give a more complete perspective. Looking at the Trish Warren page, I’ve battled some criticism on it since it was first made, but I still feel putting the entire single-spaced 4-5 page transcript on the page would be too long and I think the summary is fair and encourages interested parties to read on via the attached transcript. Lastly, I appreciated Cara’s point that our hyperlinks should be better contrasted because we relay a lot of information through them and we certainly want visitors to notice they are there.
Today is certainly a day of accomplishment with the draft of our website being completed! Liz and I had a Behind the Rainbow bash on Sunday night, eating various desserts and filling in what was left of our site. Though last week had some disappointments such as Reverend Morse and Carole Barnabas not responding to us, we still feel the site is complete and fair. Even without Carole, we had interviews with two supporters of Rainbow Boys who were actively involved in handling the challenge with Trish Warren and Carly Maldonado. As for Reverend Morse, a personal response would definitely have been useful, we found lots of useful context on the Reverend’s Facebook page and the church website where he used to work. Through these pieces of evidence and Trish’s recount of Morse’s positions in the District meeting, we are able to get a pretty clear, though not certain, grasp of our challenger’s concerns. Personally, I had to look back at my Trish Warren page and take out some of my excess commentary that sparked some debate last week. I thought the details of her spat with student Devin seemed less important upon reflection, and that is also where I what could be interpreted as criticism of Trish’s decision. Thus, I decided to take out the dramatic details of the Perks of Being a Wallflower case, and just include Trish’s flexible position on weighing book’s themes against gratuitous content.
Liz and I were unsure how to approach historical context, but we found there has been a pretty noteworthy shift in perception of LGBT issues, especially gay marriage, since the early 2000s. Not only has the general population risen from 35%-62% support of gay marriage but evangelical white Protestants, holding beliefs that closely align to Morse’s, have seen support of gay marriage rise from 12% to 35% since 2006. So today, not only would the town’s general response have been different, but it’s more likely that even religious figures would not take issue with stories that promote acceptance of LGBT life. Along a similar note, I’m thinking maybe we could still add the District policy on LGBT students. I’m not certain, but I’d imagine in 2006 there probably was no official stance on protecting and helping LGBT students whereas now there is one. It’s hard to imagine any high ranking District official in 2018 doing what Agostenelli did and swiftly agreeing to ban a book on the basis of same-sex relationships.
Looking forward, we’re certainly open to all criticism, but especially suggestions on the organization of content and having the appropriate balance of words, images etc. on each page of our site. We’ll also need to consider some final reflections for what our research has meant to us, what we’ve learned, and how we’ll move forward with it as to prepare for our presentation and maybe a page on our site as well.
This week Liz and I made our final efforts to recruit information for our project, with the deadline for doing so inevitably nearing as our projects are due next week. Liz scored some answers from Alex Sanchez and posted them on the website. Additionally, Liz and I were impressed with Cathy’s abilities to recruit information on Reverend Morse, and I took her leads and dug a bit further, confirming that Ron Morse’s daughter went to Webster schools and would have been the right age at the time of the challenge. Through Brittany (the daughter) on Facebook, I found Ron’s (Reverend Morse’s) Facebook. While we’re operating under the assumption this is the man who challenged Rainbow Boys, we cannot be certain. Though it was still very interesting to look around his Facebook: lots of preaching on what he thinks God wants in certain situations, a few posts bashing President Obama, and a bizarre amount of Facebook “fortune cookies” for a devout Christian. His Facebook also indicated he worked at the Victory Baptist Church in downtown Rochester after studying at Louisiana Baptist University. The Victory Church’s website is polished and straightforward but surely intense, stating its belief in “The literal existence of Satan, as an evil and powerful adversary, who acts as personal tempter and accuser.” Since Baptists don’t have a hierarchical structure to their denomination, the thoughts of Morse and other leaders of Victory Church are somewhat unfiltered in comparison to other churches. On his Facebook, Morse quipped, “My only problem with Christianity today is Christians. The desire for the church today is to present Jesus as a hip, loving, best-friend -you -could -ever – have, guy who took a bullet for you.” All this interesting information that I think could drive the challenger perspective of our site inspired me to reach out to Ron Morse through a Facebook message and ask him about the challenge to Rainbow Boys. I was careful to slightly alter my pitch from “a project on censorship” to “a project on what the right circumstances are for banning a book from schools.” While both are true, the latter, I hope, will be more appealing to Morse in terms of giving his honest impression of his issues with the book. I sent the message this morning (4/2) around 9am, and fingers crossed for a response. If he doesn’t respond, can we still craft some of our challenger’s perspective based on the strong probability that this man was the challenger, obviously being careful to indicate we are not entirely sure?
Looking forward, we can surely fill in our student perspective for Carly Maldonado, and I still need to look into separating some of the fact from analysis on the Trish Warren page, with the intention of building a seperate reflection page for all of research and interviews. Would such a page be done collectively or offer reflections from each students?
This past week offered a lot of great development for our project. Most notably, Olivia Durant from the Webster Public Library responded to my inquiry on her memory of the case, and she was able to find the name of the man who challenged Rainbow Boys: Reverend Morse! Unfortunately we don’t have a first name or a church affiliation, but it is nice to put a name to our challenger and have a lead on how we could eventually contact him. Though time is dwindling, I’m hoping to look through an old yellow pages for “Morse,” or even make quick calls to the handful of churches in Webster asking if a Reverend Morse ever was affiliated with their church. In other opposition perspective news, Liz tracked down a D&C opinion page on the challenge of Rainbow Boys and featured two responses that supported Webster’s decision to remove the book. These voices against the general trend of our project (librarians, teachers, students, the author, Liz and I) all in favor of displaying the book, demonstrate the polarizing nature of exposing children to a world different than the one their parents grew up in. And even the tone in which the responses handle LGBT issues, noting that “perversion has reached the schoolhouse,” reflects how much has changed since this challenge in 2006, as it’s hard to imagine a major newspaper giving that perspective a platform in 2018. Between Reverend Morse, these submissions to the D&C, and comments from the former Webster administration, Liz and I should hopefully be able to grasp the perspective of the Rainbow Boys opposition.
Additionally, Liz and I finally put some content on the site! For the most part, uploading content is a painless process. As is often true, getting things set up in terms of site theme and content framework proved to be the most challenging part, and our considerable amount of interviews and analysis already recorded make filling in the details a reasonable task. I have a good amount of analysis to go along with the Trish Warren interview, but because our conversation was nearly 20 minutes and the rest of our interviews are shorter Q&As over email, we can expect that page to be longer than most. I’m wondering if some of the liberties I took in analysis are acceptable there; how much of our own voice can show? Additionally, we’ve nearly completed our bio page and “About Rainbow Boys” page. I ran into some issues with the text editor and my ability to add media to our pages and Leah offered me some suggestions (different browser, clearing data cache) which temporarily worked. But by the time the issue came back, the all-powerful Liz had discovered what I hope to be a permanent solution which is typing in the web address into your search bar to ensure the connection is labeled “secure.” When the browser thinks the connection is “secure,” the site works more quickly and opens up more features. Looking forward, I’m hoping to hear back from Olivia on how her perspective on the incident has changed since 2006, as she implied that it did. We’re also hoping to find and contact Reverend Morse and continue to fill in the details we already know.
After transcribing my interview with Trish and being able to read it over more easily, I am interested in exploring some of the connections between what Liz discussed and our prior readings and class discussions. Reflecting on the Crutcher article “How they do it,” the similarities between the rush to judgement at the school that pulled his book and the reaction in Webster are apparent. Webster had a comprehensive plan for dealing with the selection and challenges of library material, 5292, that states “Access to a challenged material shall not be restricted during the reconsideration process.” This policy was ignored in the name of quickly pleasing a complaining parent, shedding light on the pressures administrators face and the sad reality that, sometimes, the threat to an administrator’s job comes from annoying a few vocal adults, not depriving hundreds of children the opportunity to build and expand their understanding. Looking back on Downs’ article on government censorship, the landscape of censorship has changed dramatically since 1945, with local opinion often lagging behind supreme court opinions, and the generation in which book challengers grew up reasonably playing an impact in their view of controversial material. As Trish Warren noted, “nowadays I think kids are exposed to far more than they were perhaps when the fathers of these kids, the challengers, were growing up, and I think that’s hard sometimes for people to accept.” Indeed, the challengers were appalled by certain passages in Rainbow Boys but were unable to look beyond what they might consider a singular instance of “smut” to see the value of the material wholistically. As we’ve noted in class, a single instance of inappropriate content may sometimes be irritating enough to warrant challenge, or merely serve as a gateway to banning the larger themes of a book. Though the motives of the Webster challengers are impossible to know for sure without talking to them, some combination of the two seems most likely. Even broader, one thing readings and discussions have clearly revealed is censorship is not as black and white as we are led to believe. Trish Warren notes of Perks of Being a Wallflower that she urged the public library to carry it but the amount of controversial material did not warrant a valuable enough “so what?” in her judgement. Though it is easier for the ALA to simply say “Read a banned book this week,” student age and the quality of the book, to name a few factors, clearly create the need for a case by case judgement if we’re serious about creating the best conditions for our students.
Looking forward, Liz and I need to take a cue from Sophia and Karina and enhance our aesthetics. Considering color schemes of all the smaller aspects of our site that writing focused analyzers like Liz and I could be prone to ignore. On Wednesday, with our newfound free time, LIz and I plan to give the website some of the attention it has been lacking, though I am confident that all of the components, context, and analysis we have been working to complete will drive our website to be effective and engaging.
Last Friday I completed my interview with Trish Warren at Thomas, and while challenging in some ways, the interview gave us great perspective along with a useful avenue for additional research. I came to the interview with a list of questions similar to the one I posted in my blog last week, but the interview turned much more conversational flowing in and out of different previously drawn fields of questioning. While unexpected, I think the quickly moving subjects represented Trish’s passion for the topic as one story would cue another and so forth. At the start of the interview, I took Cathy’s advice and was pretty direct in asking what information Trish would be willing to share about those that challenged the case. She said she would if she could, and that she just does not remember the specific names at this point, if the district even shared them with her over the course of the challenge. What she did remember is that the man who initially challenged Rainbow Boys was involved with a Webster church and had a daughter in 6th grade, sending them to the public library in the summer of 2006 to look for a story to use for her summer assignment. Looking in the section labeled high school, despite her age, they found Rainbow Boys and the father was displeased with the content of the book he saw that day. He called then-assistant superintendent Ellen Agostinelli who immediately pulled the book from the display upon his request.
At this point Trish stopped and showed me the district policy (5292) that should’ve been followed. The policy details the four step process librarians had set for challenged books and though Trish Warren said she would not have expected Ms. Agostinelli to have been familiar with 5292, this represents some serious discord between different parts of the Webster faculty. Then, in the meeting where Rainbow Boys was reinstated, Ms. Warren remembered, “vividly,” a group of three men, all representing a single church she cannot specifically remember, read select sexual lines from Rainbow Boys and a handful of other books. Trish encouraged them to think about the book’s larger context. Isolating a line will not reveal whether the book, holistically, has merit. She said for as long as she’s been a librarian, whenever she goes to buy a new book she asks the question “so what?”. If the book can help a student build their identity and expand their perspective then the thematic material should outweigh occasional inappropriate content. Though Trish noted that this policy places her on different sides of the censorship debate as her decision to not offer The Perks of Being a Wallflower under this same code drew criticism. Understanding a piece Trish’s general philosophy as a librarian will be useful for case details and our broader perspective piece. Next, I want to reach out the the former public librarian Trish mentioned in our interview that could hopefully remember the name of one or more of the men who raised the challenge or at least the church they represented. This post could use an attached transcript of the interview or a suitable picture of Trish, but I’m currently working on both of those and they will appear on the website.
Going into the week of March 5th, our focus is on maximizing the effectiveness of my interview with Trish Warren this Friday afternoon. While Liz prepares to interview Alex Sanchez, I will focus more on the meeting with Trish, though we’ll take a collaborative approach to drafting the questions and analyzing each interviewee’s responses. I had already temporarily secured permission to interview Trish about a month ago when I initially reached out asking for information about the Rainbow Boys challenge. On February 6th, Trish said “I would be happy to meet with you in March. I will share as much as I can, though I will have to be a maintain a degree of confidentiality when it comes to specifics.” Obviously, we can see Trish is aware that there are some restrictions on what is appropriate to share, which is an admirable stance, but not necessarily useful to our project. With the case happening over a decade ago, perhaps Trish will be willing to share a little more information than if the challenge happened last month. Just today I reached out to confirm that Trish was willing to interview and set up a time and place. Trish agreed to my proposal to meet sometime in the afternoon this Friday March 9th. We plan to meet in the library which should be a quiet but friendly place to conduct the interview. I’ll pick up a recording device from CIT before departure from Geneseo on Friday morning, and I’ll be able to meet the somewhat tight 72 hour loan window, having to come back to campus for departure for (warm and sunny!) spring break by Sunday evening anyways. I also need to remember to bring the COPLAC permission to interview form and have Trish sign it. Thinking about the actual questions that should be asked in the interview, I want to build off of the material Trish already included in our initial correspondence.
As a librarian, what are your thoughts on issue of challenging books as it relates to your profession? To your personal views?
Recalling the challenge to Rainbow Boys, do you remember the specific dates or months of important moments in the case like the initial complaint, the book’s removal, and the ensuing return?
Depending on how much you are comfortable with sharing, describe the meeting with you, the building principals, and the complaining parent. What positions did you advocate for in that meeting? What did the parent(s) advocate for? How did you feel about the resulting agreement to return Rainbow Boys but more closely screen future books? How do you feel about reading every summer reading book?
Did this issue ever reach a board meeting or somewhere it was recorded by the district? What were the results of Mrs. Agostinelli’s decision to remove the book from the display without following procedure? What was that initial procedure?
My partner Liz and I have gone through a variety of channels to try and access the name of one or more of the parents that challenged the book. Do you have any advice on finding the name and/or are you willing to share that name if you know it?
Liz and I would also like to offer a teacher perspective on the Rainbow Boys challenge and banned books in general. Are there any teachers you think would be willing to discuss this? Carly Maldonado shared Carole Barnabas’ name with us- do you have any means of contacting her that you could share or might you be willing to ask her permission for us to contact her?
In our research we heard about Perks of Being a Wallflower also being challenged in Webster; do you recall that? How do the two cases relate?
Is Rainbow Boys currently available in the Webster Thomas Library?
What are your thoughts on representation of LGBT characters or other underrepresented groups in YA books; how does it matter?
A couple new avenues have opened in our research as the approach Liz and I hope to take also becomes more clear. We’ve began to think about our eventual project as one that intends to represent multiple perspectives: student, author, librarian, administrator, teacher, and community member. Hearing voices from all of these perspectives will be somewhat challenging and some might be more prominent or detailed than others, but we’re already pretty well on our way. I imagine an eventual menu on our WordPress site that allows someone to view our project through the lens of these varying perspectives. At the point of the last blog progress report, I had contacted the Webster Thomas librarian Trish Warren, learned her account of the challenge and temporary ban to Rainbow Boys, and made plans to have an official interview with her over spring break. Since then, Liz has emailed the district in an attempt to track down the name of one or more of the challenging community members, though progress with the district has been slow. This comes after I initially emailed the superintendent and asked if there were any records from this case and was told “no, there are not,” but Liz and I figure we will look at the meeting records ourselves.
Our continued search for these records was inspired by Carly Maldonado, the older sister of one of my friends from home. Carly’s name came up when we found an op-ed she wrote to the Rochester newspaper, Democrat and Chronicle during the challenge to voice her opposition to the district’s position. I emailed Carly for more information and she broadened what we are now calling the student perspective, sharing how the issue was addressed in town and school, her efforts to gain acess to the district decision making process, and her impressions of the district’s policies at that time. I asked Carly if she knew the name of the challenger, and she did not, but she recommended the board minutes from the summer of 2006 as a place to find it, hence Liz’s renewed quest to have the district send them to us. Carly also named a since-retired teacher from that time who was involved in a way that was not made entirely clear but that she would probably be willing to share her perspective of the issue with us if we reached out to her on Facebook which Liz has since done.
Meanwhile, in my “Topics in Secondary English” class just today, an interesting supplemental case was revealed to me by a student who also went to my high school. This student, Devin, told me that she was involved in arguing against an even more recent case of a challenged book in Webster where Perks of Being a Wallflower was removed from our school library. Again, totally surprised because I never knew of any challenge in Webster and now there’s two!
Though the Perks challenge does not come up on the internet, I’m going to email Devin to get more information because I think it could provide interesting context and comparison material for our investigation of Rainbow Boys. Through all of these cases it’s important to think about the context in which these contributors were raised in terms of education, generation etc. because as the Downs article we discussed explains, the prevailing attitudes on censorship have shifted dramatically in the last century.
This week Liz and I surveyed technology at Geneseo that could be used in our research and I continued to familiarize myself with WordPress. Our search started in the library when we went to Computing and Information Technology (CIT). In the past, I had thought of CIT exclusively as printer/laptop tech support and not a group that could aid in a project of this nature, but I was pleasantly surprised. CIT loans out a variety of technology for free for various number of days depending on the demand for that piece of equipment. Of special interest to Liz and I was their digital voice recorder which students can borrow for three days at a time. Looking to treat our work for this research as seriously as we can, a digital voice recorder is a step up from a phone in terms of quality, storage abilities, and also less chances of getting distracted i.e. not getting a phone call in the middle of interviewing Trish Warren next month. Later on, Liz and I may decide to make use of CIT’s “Creative Media Assistant Hours” where trained assistants can work with students or faculty on media creations or projects. Also in the library is the Teacher Education Research Center which I have access to from the School of Ed. TERC gave me a copy of Rainbow Boys from their YA collection, and I know TERC is making increasing efforts to advance the technological aspects of the center and the faculty that manages TERC will be good resources to keep in mind.
Reflecting more specifically on WordPress, I’m looking to maximize resources I can access when it becomes time to load a lot of our content onto our site since I lack any sort of background in this. I discovered last week WordPress is making its presence felt in multiple aspects of my life as my English Editing and Production class (which Liz is also in) publishes the SUNY-wide literary journal on a WordPress site at the end of the semester (https://www.gandydancer.org/). The first time I saw that site I reflected on how it’s nicely organized and has a lot of content in a few different menus with good visuals, so I was pleased to find out it was constructed through WordPress. Even better is that Alison Brown, the Digital Publishing Services Manager for Geneseo, worked with the class to construct the journal site and also could help Liz and I for some local WordPress expertise on this project. Meanwhile, Liz and I opened up our WordPress site for the first time and began to play with some of our options for developing our page. What I’m finding is there is a lot of features to consider but that I don’t really know how to use many of them. WordPress tutorials will be of use, for which many are online, and any and all expertise passed my way I will be appreciative of. Luckily, I think between instructors, Leah, CIT, TERC, Alison, and Liz we will find our way to a useful, lawful, and aesthetically pleasing website.