A COPLAC Digital Distance Learning Course

Author: gordon (Page 1 of 2)

Defense of Our Contract

As the semester winds to a close, the time for reflection is upon us. While this course might be ending early for some of the other COPLAC schools, it’s ending late for us, and I feel like I can finally give it my full attention. This post is an evaluation of to what extent Baylee and I followed our project contract for the construction of our website.


The pages that make up our website wound up being significantly different than what we had originally outlined. While we scrapped the “key players” section–because there were only about 3–I added branching pages to the “historical context” tab that I think are useful in breaking down the individual components that make up the case’s background. We also added the “About Us” and “About COPLAC” sections, which we hadn’t thought of when we built our contract. I feel comfortable with our deviations from the contract on this front because I think it shows a good amount of adaptation to the specific needs of our project as it developed and became more substantial.

I also think we successfully adhered to our mission statement, which was as follows:

The goal of this site is to build an informative and comprehensive account of the censorship dispute between young adult fiction author Ellen Hopkins and Whittier Middle School in Norman, Oklahoma is 2009. We intend to showcase the importance of the case to the state of literary censorship in Oklahoma and locate its place in the larger framework of historical and cultural movements related to censorship.

USAO 2019 Project contract

My only lament is that our account of the case could have been far more “comprehensive” if we had the voice of the complainant. Though we were not given her name, fear still lingers with me that we could have tried a little harder to get it and track her down. If we had that, we could have a more thorough “other side” of the story and its events.


I’m extremely happy with how the visual components of the website turned out. I owe lots of this to Baylee, because the time I spent trying to figure out the colors and layouts was unproductive and frustrating. I think the images we chose are sleek and coherent with the visual scheme. We succeeded in producing the “uncluttered, professional appearance” we outlined in the contract.

Though we had a list of tools outlined in the contract, the only one we used in the final product was TimelineJS. We never did an in-person interview, so we did not use Audacity or Soundcloud at any point. While I love how the timeline looks embedded in the site, I’m sad that we didn’t get to experiment with more. I’m also still bitter about the Venngage embedding debacle, because I think clickable infographics could have added a lot to our site’s navigation scheme. However, I think the relative simplicity of the site is appropriate for the subject and the goals of the site.

We also managed to make the site easily navigable, which our contract states as a major goal. While I would have liked to include a search bar, our site probably doesn’t have a large enough amount of content to justify one.

In Conclusion

Overall, I think Baylee and I accomplished what we set out to with this site. We produced a visually-appealing, user-friendly site with a good amount of information both factual and analytical. We kept the division of labor we outlined, playing to our individual strengths, and the result reflects that. It might not be the most complicated or fancy site in the world, but it is appropriate for our topic, and I consider it to be a success.

Responding to Chris Crutcher

Chris Crutcher in 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)

After working hard to get our website draft up and running, then annotating Telena’s site, I went back to explore some of our readings from earlier in the semester with newer, wiser eyes. I landed on Chris Crutcher’s short piece, “How They Do It,” and found many spots of relevance for our Ellen Hopkins case. Crutcher does a great job articulating many of the same themes I wanted to point out in the “significance” section of our site. Because he, like Hopkins, writes mostly for teenagers, the case where his novel Whale Talk was challenged in Fowlerville, Michigan shares some common attributes with the censorship of Glass.

“The damage had been done”

Like the case at Whittier Middle School, Whale Talk was not successfully banned from the high school in Fowlerville, but it was taken out of the school-wide curriculum whereby it was being taught. The incident even inspired some students to reach out to Crutcher and tell him how meaningful his novel was for them. Regardless, however, Crutcher maintains that censorship still occurred, despite its undramatic outcome:

The damage had been done. The flow of the project was interrupted, various teachers and administrators intimidated, and what had been a successful, innovative project, crashed. I was informed through back-channels that many teachers simply told their students to finish the book with no further discussion.

Chris Crutcher, “How they do it”

As was the case with Glass, poor administrative handling of the situation cause disruption that in itself should qualify as censorship. This case has shown me that it is important to remember that even unsuccessful censorship still limits the intellectual and creative freedom of an entire community and creates an environment that is skeptical of educators and “controversial” material of all kinds.

Philosophy over Humanity

Crutcher moves on the highlight a key, contradictory element of those who censor and challenge literature for teens: they usually don’t at all care how kids feel about it. “These people embrace their philosophy over their humanity,” he says, stressing that the massive number of young gay teens who have found meaning and comfort through his books means nothing to these parents who somehow claim they want “the best” for their children. “These folks cling to some obscure holy pronouncement that allows them the illusion of control,” writes Crutcher; these parents are so convinced that the public education system is an indoctrinating, malevolent force that they are willing to entirely disregard the wishes and intellectual needs of their own children in order to feel like they hold the power.

Ellen Hopkins expressed a similarly frustrated sentiment in one of her blog posts about the Whittier challenge. By writing about drug addiction, she asserts, she is “allowing them to live vicariously through my characters, so they don’t actually have to experience those things; literally saving their lives.” The substantial crowd Hopkins drew when she finally spoke at a church in Moore is a testament to her popularity and impact with young readers.

The key to resolving these tenuous censorship interactions between controlling parents and the institution of education, according to Crutcher, is for administrators to “stand up for their teachers before they stand up for non-educators with squeaky wheels.” I couldn’t have expressed so succinctly my main takeaway from the Ellen Hopkins case any better than this. This is what must happen to stop the ability of one parent to dictate the intellectual experiences of an entire student body.

Progress: Website Draft

After lots of coffee and approximately a thousand years of arguing with WordPress, the first draft of our page is complete!

The Good News

I definitely feel much more proficient in using WordPress than I ever thought I’d be, and I’m impressed with what we’ve gotten our website to do. Baylee very skillfully placed some hyperlinked buttons around our site which look sleek and help with navigability. I, on the other hand, have been enjoying using the PDF embedder feature for the case documents.

The last few days have been mostly taken up by the “Significance” section of our site, where I tried to outline some of the case’s major themes in the larger context of censorship. I wanted to outline how our case works with the general argument between controversy and literary value/merit, as this seems to be at the core of most, if not all, major censorship cases. I also devoted some time to talk about the faulty handling of this case by Norman Public Schools, and how that reflects a general ineptitude on the part of school district administrations in handling cases like the one at Whittier in a way that does not allow the complaints of one to dictate the experience of all. I’m quite proud of this section–and it doesn’t even look that much like an essay! Yay!

The Bad News

An agonized Baylee desperately tries to fix her graph (Gordon, 2019)

Baylee and I were never able to find a way to embed our Venngage infographics onto the site. Although she was able to make some great graphs for her demographics page otherwise, I’m very bitter that I couldn’t use by beautiful, clickable navigation graphic. By the time we figured out it wouldn’t work, it didn’t seem worth it, time-wise, to make another one on a different site. I might still do this before the final draft of the site is due, but for now, Baylee’s buttons look just fine.

Also, I never heard back about permissions to use our clippings from The Daily Oklahoman. I’m going to keep them on the site for now and try emailing them yet again this week.

We also never got an interview with our professor, Dr. Rees, as her schedule got too hectic last week. We could still do this, but I think our site functions perfectly well without it. She also doesn’t know a lot about the author, book, or case, so I’m second-guessing how much this would contribute. I’ve been feeling somewhat anxious about the amount of material we have compared to other cases, but it should be good enough. The site is concise and navigable, and I think it accomplishes what it sets out to.


Having this first draft done is a huge weight off my chest, especially considering the workload I have for other courses this week. I look forward to seeing what everyone else in class has to say about it, and I can’t wait to look at the other projects in more detail.

Reflecting on our Interview with Karin Perry

Last Monday, we finally received answers from Karin Perry to the questions we sent her! They are informative and to-the-point and will help tremendously in our efforts to accurately represent the events and environment surrounding the Whittier Middle School case.

Whittier Middle School (normanpublicschools.org)

What Perry Had to Say

When asked whether or not she thought Glass was appropriate for middle school students, she gave a resounding affirmative. She cites the fact that the book was only ever checked out by older middle school students at Whittier, 7th or 8th graders, rather than younger ones. She suggests, like the Reconsideration Committee did, that the book explores important topics like drug addiction, allowing students to “experience these things from the safety of a book.”

Interestingly, Perry does not think that the incident at Whittier was symptomatic of any larger trends in Oklahoma or Norman. In her 5 years at Whittier it was the only challenge case, and she believes it to be “an isolated incident.” For the section of our website about Norman, we will try to come up with potential explanations or influences on the case by looking at political, religious, and socioeconomic demographics for the area. However, Karin Perry may well be right; either way, her opinion is important in understanding how the event was perceived at Whittier.

When we asked her about the Norman Public Schools administration, Karin Perry expressed similar opinions to Ellen Hopkins herself: she characterized the administration’s response to the parent complaint as a “knee jerk reaction.” Instead of canceling Ellen’s visit to Whittier, she says they could have just exempted the parent’s student from the event. She was glad that the proper Reconsideration process was followed and that Hopkins’s books were eventually ruled appropriate, but she thinks the process should have been done faster. As of last week, she says the books are still on Whittier’s shelves. (yay!)

Ultimately, Karin Perry sees the heart of the issue to be that the Whittier parent should not have been able to affect the educational experiences of other children. When we asked her how the Whittier case fits into censorship more generally, she stressed the importance of being aware of the appropriate way to challenge a book, as well as the idea that one parent’s opposition shouldn’t result in an entire school missing out on opportunities like Hopkins’s event.

Moving Forward

Now that we have Karin Perry’s thoughts, we can use them to start adding meat to some of our website sections along with designating a section for the complete questions and answers. While Baylee works on the Norman and “About the Case” sections, I’m focusing on gathering permissions. I am still waiting to hear back from The Daily Oklahoman for permission to use clippings and headlines on the site. Pretty soon Baylee and I will sit down to work out final touches on the site to prepare it for the first draft’s due date!

Progress: Working and Waiting

While Baylee and I were so glad to hear that Karin Perry would do an interview with us over email, we are now experiencing the downside of not doing a face-to-face visit: she still hasn’t answered us. To compensate and use this found limbo time wisely, I’ve been messing with our WordPress site and attempting to better plan out the next few weeks.

Website Construction

Our website, finally, is no longer called “USAO Project Site,” though “Glass by Ellen Hopkins” isn’t much more interesting. I’m trying to come up with something clever but not too silly; I named the TimelineJS project “Shattered Glass,” but I’m not yet sure if I think that’s good enough. Plus, I think Baylee thinks it’s too punny. We’ll see.

I was finally able to fix the homepage header so that the site title isn’t pushed up against the left side of the screen, and it looks great now! I also did some rearranging of the parent sites on the site menu because I thought that we had too many “abouts” that could easily be consolidated. This arrangement still may change, but for now, I think it works.

I’ve also been using this time to work on my Historical Context section, where I now I have two subpages: Young Adult Censorship and Censorship in Oklahoma. I think these two sections help to really hone the huge body of censorship history research down to the two things that make the Ellen Hopkins case particularly exigent. The Oklahoma-specific section discusses some of the major censorship disputes that have similar themes to the Hopkins case and illustrate the kinds of things Oklahomans often take issue with. Knowing my problems being essayish, I’m trying to restrain myself from going into too much detail.

I’ve embedded our TimelineJS project into the “about the case” section of our site, and it runs smoothly. It shows up awkwardly large on the page, perhaps because there is no other content. I hope to resolve that issue soon. I’m very happy with how the timeline looks and how it describes the events of the case, and I think it will be an indispensable facet of our descriptive section.

Moving Forward

Because she is the primary contact with Karin Perry, Baylee will send our interviewee a follow-up email soon to try to hasten her response. Hopefully we will hear back this week so that we can start incorporating her answers and viewpoints into the site. We also plan to interview an English professor here at USAO, Dr. Shelley Rees, about censorship of young adult literature.

In terms of website pages, my primary focus this week will be to complete my historical context situation in a way that is as non-wordy and approachable as possible, as well as to begin writing an engaging description of the Hopkins case to accompany the timeline in the “About the Case” section. Additionally, I plan to start figuring out what media we need to obtain permissions for, as well as making our site look clean, readable, and professional.

Responding to “The Reader Speaks Out” alongside Hopkins

It’s finally spring break! This means I finally have enough breathing room to sit down and actually read the book Baylee and I have been discussing for the last few months. I’m only about a third of the way through, but reading it made me think a lot more about the Grace Enriquez article we encountered earlier in the course, “The Reader Speaks Out.”

Adolescent Responses

I’m shocked by how much I actually, on some level, agree with the Whittier Middle School parent complainant about some elements of Glass. There is an awful lot of explicit language, which I don’t usually think of as bad, but some of it seems unnecessary. There is quite a bit of sexual language and innuendo, though some of it may slip past its younger readers, but I understand why it’s there. An interesting part of the Whittier parent’s complaint is that she only objected to its exposure to middle-schoolers, not to all adolescents; the book itself issues an “ages 14+” warning, so I’m tempted to agree with her on that.

I decided to take a look back at Enriquez’s study to see exactly what kinds of responses a book like this would get from young readers, and it doesn’t appear that they would be entirely positive. A lot of the students interviewed expressed distaste for sexual or drug-related content in the books they read, partially because they felt like they weren’t supposed to be reading it, but sometimes because they just didn’t care for it. They disagreed with the prioritization of censoring sex over violence, though, which I found to be a very mature and warranted observation of the hypocrisy of the adult world.

Controversy and Literary Merit

Students in Enriquez’s study were careful to point out that a “good plot” made controversial material like sexual content and explicit language excusable or even inconsequential. This is an area that I think Hopkins excels in; I found myself lost in Glass even though I know its entire plot already, because the writing is engaging. This was something the Norman Public Schools Reconsideration Committee brought up in defense of the book when they refused to pull it from the shelves. “The quality of the writing is outstanding,” they wrote, “and motivating to reluctant readers.”

As an English student, a lot of what Glass has made me think about so far is the advantages it could present in introducing literary style and devices to its young readers. This is something I wish Enriquez would have touched more in her article: the role of literary quality and merit in the way young readers feel about texts. Glass would not only be useful as a cautionary tale about addiction but also as an instrument by which to teach the advantages of a free-verse poetry format to express the inner thoughts and perspectives of a struggling addict. I think with an increased emphasis on this aspect of young adult fiction, students could gain a knowledge and appreciation of the ways different styles and narrative choices foster empathy and interest in different ways. That way, students will be able to acknowledge that it is not just a “good plot” that makes something controversial worth reading, but also its contributions to literature and writing as a whole.

Preparing to Interview Karin Perry

Whittier Middle School (normanpublicschools.org)

Why Karin Perry?

Karin Perry is the former librarian at Whittier Middle School who was responsible for organizing Ellen Hopkins’s visit to Norman. Aside from Hopkins herself and the anonymous (to us) complainant, she is the main player in our censorship case. She dealt directly with Ellen Hopkins and was responsible for moving her talk to a local church when the event was canceled by the administration. For these reasons, we think she will be a perfect candidate for a detailed interview to include on our website.

Although Perry now lives and works in Texas, she has graciously allowed us to send her interview questions by email. She is our key to understanding the general mood of Whittier’s student body and parent groups during the case; through her, we can hopefully get a better sense of what it was like to be working or going to school at Whittier during a heated challenge like this. By interviewing someone so directly involved, we will be able to gauge some of the real, human reactions to the Hopkins challenge: things we can’t get from newspaper articles.

Interview Questions

Because we already know much of how the story unfolded, we do not want to waste time asking for summaries of the key events. Several of our questions instead focus on why things happened, and how they fit into their social contexts. We want to know her perception of the dispute, including how she feels like the school responded.

Our questions are as follows:

What are your feelings about the suitability of Glass and the rest of the Crank series for middle school audiences?

Were you surprised by the complaint? How often did books get challenged while you worked there?

Were students and parents at Whittier Middle School aware that Ellen Hopkin’s books and visit were being challenged? If so, how did they seem to feel about it?

To what extent do you think the complainant’s issues with the book reflected concerns of the Whittier or Norman communities? Do you feel as though it was an isolated incident, or indicative of larger trends?

Do you feel like the administration of Norman Public Schools and Whittier Middle School, including Superintendent Siano, handled the Ellen Hopkins case effectively and fairly? Why or why not?

How did Ellen Hopkins handle the situation once her talk was moved?

What effect has this case had on the overall discussion about book censorship? Do you think censorship issues are important and still worth talking about?

While some of these questions are relatively broad, they are all worded to avoid simple, one-word answers. Although it would be ideal to conduct a face-to-face interview with Karin Perry, an email interview will allow her to potentially answer much more thoroughly than she would be able to in person. We will also not have to worry about recording, editing, and transcribing this interview, which will make it much easier to incorporate into our site. I’m looking forward to the extra dimensions and details Karin’s interview could provide to our understanding of the case!

Survey of Technology

Coming from a family of near-Luddites, the technology component of this course has been both very challenging and incredibly helpful. When it comes to building a website, though, I have a hard time being creative or imagining what types of tools are even appropriate to use, let alone how to use them. After surveying some available resources, I know I have more options, but it’s still difficult for me to visualize our end product as anything besides a relatively basic WordPress site. I imagine my confidence will build with time.

Technology on Campus

USAO’s campus seems to be adapting much more slowly to technological advancements in education than other universities. This is probably due to the fact that we are, A: in the middle of rural Oklahoma, B: dealing with a temperamental state government that funds public higher education very poorly, and C: have fewer than a thousand students total. A lot of the on-campus resources that would be useful for our project just aren’t there, but it makes sense because I can’t imagine how rarely they’d ever be used. So far, though, the only thing that might be a problem is the lack of audio recording equipment for interviews. I can use my phone, but I’d like to have better-quality recordings on the site.

Although there is no digital humanities lab or fancy equipment, we do have access to many online humanities databases that will prove especially helpful for the historical context section I’m putting together for the site, like the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Collection and the University of Oklahoma Digital Collections.

Site-Building Resources

All we know so far about incorporating fancy features into our WordPress site is that we definitely want to include a detailed timeline from TimelineJS. I am also interested in adding some nice infographics from either Infogram or Venngage, both of which facilitate some pretty nice-looking graphics. I think this might be a nice tool for explaining certain elements of the Ellen Hopkins censorship case in ways that are readable and user-friendly. I will probably end up picking one site over the other once I gain more familiarity with both. I would also like to continue using Coggle to organize my thoughts about the different sections of the site because I really enjoyed its interactivity and ease of use.

Using WordPress

So far, WordPress has been relatively easy for my technologically-incompetent brain to wrap itself around, but I looked around for some tutorials which have been helpful in demonstrating the different things I can do with the site. Learn.wordpress.com has sections about publishing content, personalizing themes, and (very helpful) definitions for WordPress lingo that I wasn’t familiar with.

Ultimately, this technology survey made the idea of building a website a lot less intimidating. A lot of these tools have very accessible tutorials and FAQ sections that will continue to be helpful down the road. I might still not get too fancy with my share of the website, but it’s nice knowing that I have the resources to make it what it needs to be so that it’s as reader-friendly and informative as I anticipate.

Project Contract Draft

University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma

A Burning Idea–Project Contract

27 February 2019


The goal of this site is to build an informative and comprehensive account of the censorship dispute between young adult fiction author Ellen Hopkins and Whittier Middle School in Norman, Oklahoma is 2009. We intend to showcase the importance of the case to the state of literary censorship in Oklahoma and locate its place in the larger framework of historical and cultural movements related to censorship.

Our intended audience is anyone interested in issues of censorship, particularly in Oklahoma. The site will be most helpful for students, as it will provide a more detailed account of the case than we have been able to find anywhere in our primary searches.

Our site will have the following sections:

  • The case (its story, background, and outcomes);
  • Historical and cultural context (including the history of young adult fiction censorship);
  • About Ellen Hopkins (her work, literary reputation, and her responses to the case);
  • About Glass and Crank;
  • About Norman Public Schools and Whittier Middle School;
  • A section listing the key players in the censorship dispute;
  • A section for our primary research documents and links to further research.


Our website will be built using WordPress. We will use the theme Parabola, but incorporate a color scheme and visual look that will be cohesive and appropriate to our subject. We will develop this as time goes on.

For our website, we plan on using a couple different outside tools, including:

  • TimelineJS
  • a search bar
  • embedded video
  • anything else we think would help shape the context of our case

The timeline will be useful for properly showing all of the different events in the order they occurred. We want all of the tools we use to help the audience get a better understand of the case, so we may add more tool as we work on the cite.


Of the 8 major sections within our website (including the home page), we will each be responsible for the content of 4 of them. However, the final version of each page will be reviewed by both of us to ensure agreement and maintain similar styles of writing and design. The division of these sites is as follows:


  • About the Case
  • About NPS/Whittier Middle School
  • About Glass and Crank
  • Key Players


  • Home Page
  • Historical/Cultural Context
  • About Ellen Hopkins
  • Primary Sources and Further Research


The tentative due dates for the various tasks and sections are as follows:

  • February 28:
    • Decide on interviewee
  • March 1:
    • Draft the website’s color scheme and visual theme
  • March 8:
    • Content of “About Ellen Hopkins” (Genevieve) and “About Glass and Crank” (Baylee) drafted
  • March 15:
    • Content of “Historical Context” (Genevieve) and “About NPS/Whittier” (Baylee) drafted
  • March 18:
    • TimelineJS timeline completed
  • March 23:
    • Interview completed
  • March 30:
    • Content of “Home Page” (Genevieve) and “About the Case” (Baylee) drafted
  • April 6:
    • Content of “Key Players” (Baylee) and “Primary Sources” (Genevieve) drafted
    • Finalization, tidying, and final details
  • Content of “Key Players” (Baylee) and “Primary Sources” (Genevieve) drafted
    • Finalization, tidying, and final details
  • April 8:
    • Website draft due
  • April 26:
    • Final revised website due

Responding to Downs and Boyer: Censorship and Sexuality

The accounts about the history of media censorship in the United States provided by Paul S. Boyer in “Gilded Age Consensus” and Donald A. Downs in “Government Censorship since 1945” were fascinating. It was enlightening to read about how complicated the issue of censorship has always been, and how interwoven it has always been with public stakeholders like publishers and keepers of morality. I was most struck by the relationship this history has with something we discussed in class the other day: that sex and sexuality in literature and other media (like film or television) are more likely to be censored or deemed inappropriate for children than violence or gore. I struggled to find examples in either article of a book being banned based on its violent content; just as it is now, it seems as though the main criteria were sexual content and explicit language. Both sex and violence are difficult subjects to approach, but they’re also things that happen every day. One is an expression of extreme love (or lust), the other of extreme hate. What does it say about our society that we are more concerned with banning love?

Parental Concern

In research conducted by the Parents Ratings Advisory Study, 80% of parents said they were concerned about their children seeing graphic sex scenes at the movies, while only 64% were concerned about them seeing graphic violence (Time).

Why this disparity? In a Time article entitled “Why Parents Care More About Sex than Violence in the Movies,” Belinda Luscombe suggests that parents are less concerned about representations of violence leading to violent urges or action than they are about sexual representation encouraging sexual desire or activity. The research on to what extent this is accurate is unclear.


I’m inclined to view this dilemma as an issue of public and private–most of us consider sex to be an inherently private thing, an intimate thing that should not be exposed to the public eye. On the other hand, there have been acclaimed and unchallenged books throughout all of American history about the most public display of violent action: war. It’s interesting to me that we can often justify representations of violence by assigning “good guys” and “bad guys,” but a sexual description or visualization of two people in love is controversial no matter who they are.

Sex (Non)-Education

Wikimedia Commons

These articles made me realize that Glass by Ellen Hopkins is in good historical company alongside the many, many books that have been challenged for their sexual content. The articles make it clear that sex has been a taboo topic for centuries and unavailable for any sort of discussion. While it is becoming somewhat less so now, the movement towards abstinence-only sex education, particularly here in the south, emphasizes reducing all information children and young adults are given about sex to “don’t do it.” This is a key component of the social milieu that brought about the 2009 challenge at Whittier Middle School.

The most destructive part of this is that work like Hopkins’s, which uses sexual content instructively so as to educate young readers about its complexity, potential riskiness, and consequences, is dismissed by parents as being graphic while hyper-sexualized advertisements and other media run the risk of being the only sex education these children get. Hopkins uses sexuality in her books for reasons, not just for erotic value, and her work has the potential to be more instructive and helpful to her young adult audience than any war novel could be.

Work Cited

Luscombe, Belinda. “Why Parents Care More About Sex than Violence in the Movies.” TIME, 4 December 2015. http://time.com/4135760/why-parents-worry-more-about-sex-than-violence-in-the-movies/

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