Choosing the Case
Part of the specifications of the COPLAC Digital class for this project is that the case must be local. After looking at a couple of different cases in the towns around us, we ran across a news article explaining how a Culpeper County school took The Diary of Anne Frank out of the students hands as they were reading it. We both had experiences with the diary, and Culpeper was a close drive. After discovering a wider variety of news sources, we selected our case and began researching.
Researching and Roadblocks
When researching this case, we did run in to some problems. We contacted faculty and staff who worked at the middle school, but all of the teachers who worked during that time had left and been replaced. There was also no paper record of this case; the complaint was verbal, and there was no discussion on record about the decision to pull the novel. This meant we had no primary sources, nobody who experienced this case that we could interview, no good pictures of the school, and we were behind on our schedule. We took a step back and took a different route to solve these problems. We were pointed in the direction of a UMW Alumna, Dr. Erbelding, and interviewed her about Anne Frank and the case. During one of the classes, we reflected on our past experiences in English and thought of interviewing our previous teacher, Mrs. Cadang-Kristan. The schedule was back on track and we got right back to work! We also drove to Culpeper to take a picture of Floyd T. Binns Middle School.
Visiting the Holocaust Museum
We were lucky enough to go to the Holocaust Museum when we interviewed Dr. Erbelding. This was our first time in the Museum, but we had heard a lot about it and were excited to see it. We started in Daniel’s Story, an exhibit featuring a young Jewish boy named Daniel and his family before, during, and after the Holocaust. It started off in some rooms in his house, moves to the street where his family’s shop was vandalized, then to the ghetto where his family stayed, and ended with a fence and luggage thrown about which represented the concentration camps where Daniel and his father were liberated from. As you walk through, they set up large versions of his diary so you could read what was happening through a young voice. Going through this exhibit, we were reminded that Anne Frank and her story skims the surface of what happened during the Holocaust. This experience also reminded us of one reason why we chose this case: to find out why a book about the Holocaust was taken away from the school. Of course that question and its answer has many layers.
Reflections on our Interviews
We both had our own views on this case before we went to our interviews. We kept the questions for the interview unbiased, and some of those questions were ones that we asked ourselves. Talking with Dr. Erbelding and Mrs. Kristan helped us form a better idea of why the school did what it did and why the parents may have been upset. Not only was it an amazing experience to interview a professional archivist and our old teacher in a new light, but it was very informative. Mrs. Kristan helped us understand the administrative side of the case, bringing it back to the students to explain the reasons behind pulling the book and then allowing access to the Definitive Edition in the library. Middle school students are very impressionable; they are still trying to find out who they are and where they fit in society. It is the important role of teachers to help guide students through the literature that displays this transition among youth and young adults. Dr. Erbelding brought up the point that The Diary of Anne Frank is a great historical document, but it is not the most harrowing story of the Holocaust we have. This means that the parents are not afraid of their children learning of the Holocaust, but it is about the more mature passages Anne Frank wrote about in her diary.
Our perspectives have changed multiple times. In the end, we cannot say much as we do not know exactly what happened at the school. As far as we can tell, the school did the right thing by removing the novel from the curriculum as they looked in to the complaint. It was a rushed choice, and the Definitive Edition was only placed in the library after public backlash. We also cannot speak for the school about the events that happened, we can only interpret.
Censorship is a fine line. As Mrs. Kristan said in her interview, it has been said in such a bad light so often that we automatically assume the most negative meaning of it. Censorship can be good, it can also be bad, and it can also have no real affect in certain cases. It is up to us, the readers and citizens, to keep a watch on what is censored and most importantly why it is censored. It is up to us to keep a clear head and look at all the facts before jumping to judgement. It is up to us to write these stories that challenge ideas and make people think and discuss.