March 29, 2019
Youngblood: Their policy is first to uh form or fill out a written complaint to the administrator, administrator reviews it, and then he will then bring it to the school board. The school board will discuss it in a closed meeting, and then if they deem it uh I guess necessary, if they feel like the complain has enough umph behind it, then they’ll bring it to a public school board meeting.
Kristan: Okay so let me make sure I understand you. The actual… The actual investigation had to do with the way in which the complaint was filed, not necessarily the fact that.. so the parent brings forth the complaint, what happens when the complaint is registered, not registered, but received by the administration, what happens? Give me a little bit more about that so I understand that part.
Youngblood: What did happen, or what’s supposed to happen?
Kristan: What did happen?
Youngblood: Well uh the principal and who was it, it was one other person, but the two of them agreed to pull the book out of the classroom completely while they uhm while they looked further into the issue.
Kristan: Right. Okay.
Youngblood: And then they decided within 10 or so days to form a committee to investigate the uhm pulling the book and what the parent was complaining about. And then by the end of the month, the same month, because of public outrage and newspaper coverage, they kept the abridge version to the classroom but put the definitive edition in the library.
Kristan: Okay okay so when you say outrage what was the outrage about? That the kids were asked to stop reading it or that it was revealed that the definitive version was being used in the classroom?
Beitzel: I think it was that they took Anne Frank away. That they said ‘we aren’t going to read this version anymore.’
Kristan: So they took away the definitive version, and that was the outcry.
Youngblood: At first they took it away completely and then after the committee was formed and the public got involved they decided to restrict the definitive version to the library and keep the abridged in the classroom.
Kristan: Okay, I think I have an idea, an idea, of what was going on a fairly decent idea, go ahead.
Beitzel: Have you taught the Diary of Anne Frank before and if so what version was it?
Kristan: Okay so yes I have, but it was the Penguin version and this was many years ago and it was the version for the audience which Is at the time they were middle schoolers. So there in lies part of the problem you’re running into right? So its censored, not censored, the parents are upset because the version that their children are reading is clearly meant, from what you can tell me, I have not read the definitive version but it sounds like its meant for a different audience than 8th graders. And 8th graders are highly impressionable and still kids. So the version I taught was probably the Otto (Frank) version meant for children.
Beitzel: How did it go?
Kristan: Well your examining it for a whole other… through a different lens. The idea is perseverance, the idea you know perseverance in the face of true evil. A young girl who’s growing up under these horrific conditions, who still tries to find ways to be positive about life who has a faith in humanity and in the goodness of mankind. And then of course there’s the tragic element right that she’s not actually saved, but yet her voice lingers and it saves other people by the lessons and so how does it go? It goes very very well! I mean it’s one of the canon, especially for the young well very young adult – middle schoolers – I mean its part of the canon and I wouldn’t be scared to say it has helped to shape the consciousness of the world not just America but generations of children. So do I feel it should be continued to be taught, absolutely it should. But with that said, the definitive piece, where maybe you know she’s exploring… the time frame of the growth of Anne Frank is similar to that of all children growing up. That they’re wondering who they are, what are they, where do they fit in society and the greater world. So I’m not surprised that the Definitive version would have those kinds of deep, personal, thoughts and experiences and examinations, its not unusual. But I can also see how in the classroom some of those conversations, there would be parents would feel that its something that should be held at home, not necessarily in front of peers. When you’re talking about a group, really an audience that’s still experiencing it themselves, so I can see where there are a lot of hot button issues that would make a lot of parents uncomfortable.
Beitzel: How do you think or have seen censorship affecting the learning in the classroom or of students.
Kristan: Have I seen censorship over the years? In my 24 years of experience? Truth is I have actually not encountered a lot of personal censorship. We have at the county level, reserved books, recommended books, and then you have books that kids can just choose from in the form of book clubs or independent reads, right? Our county is moving towards you have an anchor text and then you learn that anchor text together, and then you do more of a thematic exploration on your own through either book clubs or independent reading and that’s where the whole definitive version so lets make believe the anchor text is the young adult friendly version, right and if the children wanted to they could then go to the library, which actually which incidentally sounds like 10 years ago what they had done, they made it accessible right, so they walked that – meeting people in the middle, they’re making it accessible for those who are interested but its not required reading. Where it becomes problematic, where censorship then steps into the realm is when it is required reading, when the kids are forced to read it. So, uhm, one of the big books of course is Huckleberry Finn, it’s a perennial book on the banned book list because of the use of the n word, because of the racial tensions, but that was Twain’s intent, he was pricking the consciousness of America and he was trying to show humanity and make humanity evident, to an audience that didn’t all regularly come into contact with native – excuse me – well with any minorities, African American, black or otherwise right? So, you know I personally when I taught Huckleberry Finn uhm – where you in that class?
Beitzel: mhm I was!
Kristan: you were in that class! Okay and you remember, it was a very touchy uhm subject because the n word appears in the book over 259 times or whatnot. So, I myself have never been censored, right I haven’t had anyone come in and say ‘hey you’re teaching this book you shouldn’t be teaching this book’ have I had people question, sure. Because when you’re teaching those upper level courses, you’re always you know you are helping your students bridge to the adult world where a lot of these things are not sanitized, and in this day in age nothing is filtered! Nothing is filtered. So in my opinion, I think it is important that you learn to talk about some of these very difficult subjects, in a classroom with a trusted teacher, who can help not only allow kids to learn how to talk to one another instead of at each other so that when something is censored you can talk about why it merits being censored. When people hear the word censorship they automatically default to the negative connotation of the word. That’s not necessarily true, if things are censored, sometimes there is a good reason behind it. But the problem is, just like the word jargon, just like the word propaganda, censorship now has an automatic negative connotation and that renders it a weapon rather than a tool. So is there a role for censorship in today’s American education? I think absolutely, I think there is. But it again it needs to be looked at as a tool to help craft the curriculum, to help move kids from touchstone to touchstone to touchstone. So would I now as an AP teacher or say AP lang teacher would I say ‘remember when you read the Diary of Anne frank? Well that was the version geared towards kids your age. Now lets look at the version she wrote, and talk about this as emerging adults.’ So, but again there is a role for censorship, it can’t be a free for all, and teachers should not be given the power to pick just any book in any uh genre in any frame and just toss it out there, because we have what’s called well this isn’t really applied in local parenthes (?) where teachers are supposed to or educators are supposed to in the time that kids are here are supposed to act as parents. That means we are looking out for their well-being, so you have to be mindful and sometimes you run into censorship issues not because of malintent, its because of good intent. But we don’t all see all sides of an issue, and that’s where having a strong community and an open-door policy to discuss things becomes critical. So back to your case, I think they handled it properly. They did the investigation, we put a pause button on those books – they aren’t going anywhere – we put a pause, we explain why, we talk to the kids about it, you don’t go in and rip it out of their hands that’s number one, its disruptive, it causes confusion and anxiety. Instead you say ‘kids, there has been some concerned that’s been raised because of x, y, and z. so we’re going to put a pause, we’re going to stick a pin in this for just a little bit, we’re going to come back to it and then we will let you know what the resolution is. Kids need to be brought into that sphere, so they can learn how to deal with that kind of conflict. When things go bad, is when every body feels like what they need to do is just shout. We see it in the media, we see it in the news, and I think honestly the role of educators is becoming far more complex because of the world we are in now. And its because we haven’t taught people to deal with censorship, disagreement. There is a very long winded answer to your question, I hope it helps!
Beitzel: Oh it does!
Youngblood: It does! It’s interesting to see the differences I guess in how you answer certain questions versus how Professional Archivists who study the Holocaust answer the questions.
Kristan: Oh really? How’d they answer the questions? That’s interesting I want to know!
Youngblood: Well she touched more on like the historical aspect of the Diary and how its used as a historical document is important, which she did agree with you, with the middle school censoring, the definitive edition isn’t necessary because what they are editing out is not part of an important historical record for middle schoolers.
Kristan: Yes, that is true.
Beitzel: And that there is other stories that could be used as well. So when I was in elementary school we read Number the Stars, and then when I was in middle school uhm we read the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank, so we still had the story of Anne Frank, but uhm it was definitely cleaned up, because it was the textbook version. It was an orange textbook too haha!
Kristan: Yeah no but that is, that is important. The thing that is lost though, and I’ll be honest with you, is that it used to be, we call it the canon, the classic books, and the canon is changing. And that’s a good thing, because it reflects the movement forward in society and books lose their relevancy and we know that, they speak to a certain audience. The problem with that is, as a culture, we lose those connections between one another, illusions lose their power. And then what happens is things get watered down, so you only have the idea of who Martin Luther king was, not necessarily the words that he wrote. You have the idea of aspects of parables of the bibles, say Goliath versus.. oh gosh I’m drawing a blank help me…
Kristan: David! Thank you! Okay but you understand what I say right, I say David and Goliath right, people say oh yeah little man overcomes and beats the giant! Yeah but it was a little more than that. It had to do with his faith in God that allowed him to get the courage to stand up, and it was his faith in God that allowed him to win ultimately but that’s all lost. So, you know censorship actually plays a role in all that. When we begin to cut the threads between people, from here to where ever in the country, we really do cut the threads. Right the things that bind us together as Americans, our belief in freedom, our belief in the American dream, our belief in fair play, our belief in the law, our belief in doing what’s right and working for the betterment of others and when we start pulling those threads out, because sometimes its books, sometimes its speeches, that actually lay down the its called the undersomething you can pick up the metaphor later, but it’s the underneath the clothing, there is sometimes a layer that provides the stability that the rest of the fabric is attached to, I forgot what its called, look it up.
Beitzel: Ha okay.
Kristan: But that’s the point, to go with the metaphor. And a lot of the time its our books that do it, and when we start to cut those books…well we’ll see what happens.