Deselected

Robert Wright, a San Jose middle school teacher, saved some “deselected” library books from the Dumpster:

Tituba of Salem Village
The October Country by Ray Bradbury
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Black Stallion
The Yearling (2 copies)
Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (3 copies)
Child of the Holocaust
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
How Green Was My Valley
The Pinballs
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow–His Life
Jacob Have I Loved
Medieval Tales
Beethoven
The Making of Linguistics
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Babe The Gallant Pig
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
I Sing the Body Electric by Ray Bradbury
Ben and Me
Ivanhoe
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Durango Street
Mutiny on the Bounty
By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie
Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie

All are stamped with an explanation:

This book has been replaced for one or more of the following reasons:
Material is inaccurate
Does not meet district standards
Stereotypes gender or culture

I can’t even guess why most of these were dumped. Was The Black Stallion rejected for not being African-American?

Update: The books weren’t popular with students, says the school’s “media technician.” Really? I can see where The Making of Linguistics might sit on the shelf, but they don’t have students who want to read Bradbury or Poe or The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Alice in Wonderland? And why not donate surplus books to schools that don’t have extra copies of The Witch of Blackbird Pond?

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Mrs. Davis says:

    That’s a better set of books than most summer reading lists. Perhaps that’s why they were thrown out.

  2. Gary in Olympia says:

    Where did you say that dumpster was? May have to fly down for a “dive”.

  3. Parent2 says:

    The library probably needs the space for computers.

  4. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Tossing out Poe? Whitman??? There’s no accounting for taste, that’s for sure!!!

  5. Richard Nieporent says:

    I’m only surprised that they left Fahrenheit 451 off of the list.

  6. Walter E. Wallis says:

    How about a list of replacement books?

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    …and why not make it a real learning experience and let the students throw the non-standard books in a bonfire?

  8. dangermom says:

    How in the world is “Babe the Gallant Pig” too racist to leave in the library?? That’s an amazing list.

    I recently read a new edition of “And then there were none” and the island had been changed to Soldier Island, with 10 little soldier figurines. I guess we can hope that the library has bought that new edition, but I’m not sure how I feel about such thorough sanitizing of one of the most popular mysteries of the 20th century. The fact is that for something like 60 years, the original title didn’t bother (white, English) people, and that’s part of the book’s history. “Ten Little Indians” was itself a sanitization to make it less offensive. OTOH, it’s nearly impossible for a modern person to just sit back and enjoy the mystery in its older versions, which is after all the point of reading Agatha Christie in the first place. Reading an older edition turns it into an exercise in history and ethics, not the nice bit of brain candy it was meant to be. So for a middle school library, I’d come down on buying the new, bowdlerized version–but I’d also keep the old editions in a larger library with a wider audience.

  9. Robert Wright says:

    And yesterday I returned to rescue two more titles: A Bell for Adano and The Human Comedy.

  10. Robert Wright says:

    And yesterday I returned to rescue two more titles: A Bell for Adano and The Human Comedy.

  11. Jessica Lucas says:

    wow. maybe elementary and middle school teachers should just stop teaching children to read..then we wouldn’t have to worry about kids getting their little hands on this type of offensive literature…

  12. Cardinal Fang says:

    Ivanhoe is virulently anti-Semitic, as I recall. And I think the two Christies have some repellent racial attitudes– at least, a lot of her novels do.

    Not that I support the library de-accessioning those books for those reasons. I’m just saying.

  13. I wonder how many other libraries are dumping doubleplus ungood unbooks?

    One item in the list that caught my eye was “The Making of Linguistics.” I have never seen the book, but I’m guessing that some of the example words, phrases, and/or sentences were regarded as offensive.

    Here’s a site on “sexist example sentences” in linguistics:

    http://ling.wisc.edu/~macaulay/exx.html

  14. Richard Nieporent says:

    And I think the two Christies have some repellent racial attitudes– at least, a lot of her novels do.

    You are right Cardinal Fang. Her Hercule Poirot novels are replete with anti-French bigotry!

    Not that I support the library de-accessioning those books for those reasons. I’m just saying.

    If you really are not in favor of removing these books then do me a favor and just don’t say. There are already too many people out there who would jump at the chance to sanitize our literature so that it will reflect their “enlightened” standards. We don’t need to give any encouragement to these censors.

  15. Is anyone doing anything to protest this? I would sign a petition, though I live in New York. I wonder which books have been “deselected” here.

  16. Ivanhoe anti-Semitic? That’s not what I remember, although it’s been quite a while.

    Indeed, I believe Scott’s sympathetic portrayal of Jews in this book was intended as a statement against rising anti-Semitism in his own time.

  17. Well, there goes Twain.

    I wonder how many of our books they’ll be tossing in 50 years.

    SusanS

  18. Also Poe, Bradbury, Whitman, Kipling, Lewis Carroll…

    Do the students have extensive libraries at home, or might the middle school library their only access point for books?

  19. chartermom says:

    Wow! This is mind-blowing! Let’s remove all books that might offend someone, somehow.

    While I’m sure some of the offensive things are simply reflections of their time, others may have been written in by the author to help make a point.

    And whether or not the author was trying to make a point, I think that most kids can read something and figure out that it’s a “historical” perspective and not a current one and maybe even get a better understanding of what life was like in the past.

    Ahhh well — my son got to read a large collection of Poe stories during a Horror/Mystery section in English this year.

  20. Gee, I wonder why they haven’t thrown out Langston Hughes for stereotypes! The dumpster seems to be the recipient of choice for all kinds of books schools wish to get rid of. Both in Texas, where I used to teach, and in South Carolina, where I now teach, the schools have been caught (by parents) throwing whole class sets of texts into the dumpster. They need to be introduced to the “free” category in Craigslist. On second thought, I suppose they didn’t want the corruption of minds to spread.

  21. Is there a link to a news item where this was first reported? Not that I question the veracity of the story here, but it sounded like Mr. Wright’s experiences were being quoted from somewhere.

  22. It all depends on the librarian or library tech.

    At our school, we get the chance to snatch up the removed books for our classrooms.

  23. dangermom says:

    Ivanhoe has a lot of characters who say awful things about Jews and treat them badly. It also has a Jewish heroine, though her father doesn’t come off quite so well. IIRC Scott was trying to make a statement against anti-Semitism, but to a modern person it all comes off as really distasteful and horrifying unless you know the context, which a lot of people don’t.

    I suppose it’s a bit like Huckleberry Finn–you have to be able to see nuance, and let’s face it, modern censors aren’t big on nuance.

  24. I’ve known Robert Wright for many years. This comes from an e-mail he sent me.

    When I read Ivanhoe as a kid, I thought it was a very sympathetic portrait of Jews. My guess is that someone thought the book was too hard for middle-school students to read.

  25. I’m going to hope that the librarian was just weeding worn copies of books, not that he/she actually got rid of every copy of that title. (I’m afraid, I’m wrong, but I’m still hoping!)
    BTW, as a librarian, I never put weeded books in the dumpster. Someone always brings them back, saying, “LOOK! someone threw these out!). If the teachers don’t take them all, they get sent to recycle.

  26. BadaBing says:

    I think the authors’ being white has something to do with it. Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street has a definite anti-male bias, but it was written by a member of an oppressed group, so you will never find it in a dumpster.

  27. Sharon R. says:

    Hmm… well, The Black Stallion (which I read every summer for many years) has a stereotyped Italian character. But I remember being required to read Witch of Blackbird Pond in 8th grade English — without which, given the intense focus on slavery studies in the history curriculum, I would never have known that there were indentured servants before slavery became profitable. I wonder why that book is out? I barely remember what it was about….

  28. Robert Wright says:

    None of these 686 books were tossed for stereotyping or for not meeting district standards or for being inaccurate, but, according to regulations, they needed to be stamped as such to be disposed of.

    Almost all were in excellent condition and didn’t show the slightest wear. The book on Thucydides clearly had never been cracked open.

    They were tossed because they didn’t appear to be popular. Some hadn’t been checked out in years.

    Getting rid of them, I’m afraid, isn’t going to improve their popularity.

    There did happen to be a news item about this after Ms. Jacobs posted the list I sent her. You can find it by googling my name and Pigman or maybe this link will work: http://origin.mercurynews.com/ci_9728020

  29. I’m betting that the “educators” who made this decision are big on recycling, conserving resources, etc. But they never bothered to think about taking the books to a used book store or a retirement home so that these resources could be recycled into further use (or first use, it sounds like in many cases)…after all, the TV and the radio talk about recycling plastics and newspapers, and the conceptual leap was probably a little too difficult…

  30. Richard Nieporent says:

    None of these 686 books were tossed for stereotyping or for not meeting district standards or for being inaccurate, but, according to regulations, they needed to be stamped as such to be disposed of.

    Robert, shame on you. I trusted that your post was accurate and thus conveyed my outrage at what I perceived to be “leftist” censors. What it turns out to be is nothing more that the library getting rid of underused books. While I consider it a sacrilege to throw out classics that is a far different issue than books being removed because someone decided that they were politically incorrect. If you wanted to see how we would react to that situation, now you found out. However, I for one don’t like to be fooled, so I will ignore anything you say in the future since you can’t be trusted to give an accurate report.

  31. When do we ever provide an opportunity for students to discuss bias or see an author’s perspective through a sociological/historical lens? This is a frightening. As a young high school student I fell in love with the power of literature during the days my English teacher engaged us in writing and discussion of The Merchant of Venice.

    Two questions come to mind:
    1. Are the students in elite private schools and more affluent public schools being provided the same limited literary diet or are they being given the opportunity to experience literature as a way to understand themselves and the world and not just the now?
    2. Imagine how these actions of literary laundering might be perceived 100 years from now?

    What are we afraid of?

  32. Robert Wright says:

    My report was accurate but it looks like you needed more information to draw better conclusions.

    The school board voted to dispose of these 686 books, they were all stamped with that stamp, nobody on the school board was familiar with the titles or condition of any of the books, and I saved quite a few of them.

    No, leftist censors weren’t the villains this time.

    It was the school system.

  33. dangermom says:

    The obvious inference from the original post was that the books were discarded for PC-gone-amok reasons. If that wasn’t the case, you should have said so in the first place; most people expect that if a book is stamped with such a stamp there’s a reason for it. You gave incomplete information.

    Now the story becomes one of waste and shortsightedness instead, which is certainly bad enough. Somebody wasn’t following simple, basic library procedures. Who actually did the culling and throwing out? Undertrained library clerks, because the district won’t hire enough real LMCs to staff the libraries with people who know how to run them? The school board? Or LMCs with a faulty understanding of how libraries should be run?

  34. Richard Nieporent says:

    My report was accurate but it looks like you needed more information to draw better conclusions.

    Robert, if you want me to have even less respect for you that is a good start. No, Robert your report was deliberately misleading. How hard would it have been to tell us that the books were thrown out because they were not being read? In other words why didn’t you report it in the same way it was reported in the newspaper article that you conveniently didn’t link to? Yes it is troublesome that the school system would have a stamp that includes stereotypes gender or culture as a reason for getting rid of a book. However, that is not the reason they discarded the books, so why did you make us believe that was what happened? Even worse, when you saw that we believed it was due to censorship you never attempted to disabuse us of that notion.

  35. I agree that Robert Wright should have told us the whole story, and that the partial story gave a false impression. That said, the “truth” is every bit as disturbing as the original story, if not more so. Is it right for a school to stamp a book in that manner, just because the book is unpopular and unused? The school is essentially stamping negative judgment on the book without even knowing its contents.

    Moreover, part of the reason that kids don’t read these books is that the schools don’t teach them as part of a curriculum. The classroom libraries are filled with Captain Underpants and the like. The teachers who choose to teach classic literature do so at their own expense (and sometimes even their own risk).

    It is sad that a book’s popularity should determine its longevity in the library. It is not only sad, but bizarre, that an unpopular book should be stamped as inaccurate, inappropriate or offensive.

  36. “nobody on the school board was familiar with the titles …”

    Do you mean they had no idea what books they were discarding, as in they were discarding books that had not circulated, or that they didn’t have knowledge of the works themselves? Either way, this – if now accurate – remains disturbing.

  37. Parent2 says:

    Having read the article, I think one could argue that the books “did not meet district standards” for middle schoolers, because the district doesn’t expect middle schoolers to read.

    Taxpayers’ money was spent on these books. Throwing them out is a misuse of resources. The school librarian could have sold the books on Amazon, or Ebay, and returned the money to the school’s accounts.

    Another alternative would be to donate the books to another school.

    I did find a brochure on “weeding” library collections online: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/lb/documents/weedingbrochure.pdf. The brochure suggests a weeding guideline of 10 years (!) for fiction. That may be one source of the problem.

    There are many empty shelves in the newspaper article. The library has to make space for Captain Underpants?

  38. I think those who criticize Robert Wright for giving a misleading story are missing a very important point. Every story is misleading, or can be considered so by someone with a different perspective and incomplete information. And every story has incomplete information. I learned this many years ago from the Ladies Home Journal. I would often read their monthly article “Can this marriage be saved”. They always present the wife’s side first. I would read her side of the story, decide the husband was a knave or a fool or both, and then read his side of the story and realize I was the fool. To this day I am amazed when a person will read something disturbing in a newspaper and flatly refuse to consider that they might have a misleading or incomplete story. I am equally amazed that Ann Landers, or Dear Abby, or any other advice columnist, would presume to actually give advice based on what a reader writes. Every story changes as you learn more. Every story always will.

  39. Mrs. Davis says:

    No, leftist censors weren’t the villains this time.

    It was the school system.

    I wasn’t aware there was a difference.

  40. While I’m sure some books still get thrown away, here in Sacramento County we have the Surplus Book Room. Schools send old or unused books there and they’re offered to the public for free or for a nominal fee. Many of the books on the shelf in my classroom are from the Surplus Book Room–someone got rid of them, but students still enjoy reading them.

    Also, I worked at a junior high many years ago and we had our staff meetings in the library. I wasn’t very interested so I perused the books on the shelf near me. A book by Asimov, about how to use slide rules, caught my attention, and I noticed that the last time it was due was my 10th birthday! I took it to the librarian (after the meeting, of course), she coded it out and gave it to me. Beats throwing it out, or even sending it to the Surplus Book Room.

  41. Schools send old or unused books there and they’re offered to the public for free or for a nominal fee.

    I bet local homeschoolers love it. Why wouldn’t every school do that instead of just trashing the books?

    The public library might also want them for their used book sales. Or the AAUW for their book sales – don’t they do that just about everywhere? I can’t believe they wouldn’t bother to find a way to recycle/reuse the books.

  42. “I’m only surprised that they left Fahrenheit 451 off of the list.” Before RW came through with the rest of the story, I was thinking that they must have got rid of that one long ago…

    Now, I’m just shocked that no middle school students are reading such books as Ivanhoe, the Ray Bradbury titles, Whitman’s poetry, or even Kipling’s Just So stories. But if the school board didn’t recognize these titles, it’s obvious where the problem with that school system starts…

  43. Parent2 says:

    If the middle schoolers aren’t reading the books, what of the high schoolers? Could the school library pass them on to the local high school?

    Part of the problem is the idiotic stamp they use. It is obviously intended to limit the “weeding” of public property, or at least to stem public outrage should a member of the public come across a discarded book. I don’t think a crooked librarian could make a profit selling discarded books on the side, but the stamp could also be intended to stem embezzlement.

  44. Reality Czech says:

    A book by Asimov, about how to use slide rules, caught my attention, and I noticed that the last time it was due was my 10th birthday!

    Proving that the mathematics teachers weren’t very imaginative with either their methods or their extra-credit assignments.

  45. I don’t know what’s sadder – that the school would censor these books or that it doesn’t teach the students to enjoy them.

  46. Robert Wright says:

    1. I’m being criticized for writing a misleading article. The fact is, I did not write the post nor did I write the newspaper article. I forwarded information that I found disturbing to people I know. I didn’t hold back information to create a false impression. As I found out more information, I forwarded it with subsequent emails. I didn’t put a spin on anything.

    2. I read in the school board agenda that 686 books were to be disposed of for being “obsolete.” Because I had previously rescued a nice, hardbound copy of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which the bureaucracy thought fit to dispose of, I was concerned by what they were considering obsolete this time.

    3. When I found the books, I saw that nearly all of them were in excellent condition. I didn’t see anything “obsolete” about any of them and a few of them were real gems like Cheaper By The Dozen and The Human Comedy.

    4. My concern was to rescue some of these books and to question the system that would dispose of them. And if the system gave me absurd answers to my questions, I wanted the whole world to know. Sometimes when nonsense is exposed to the light of day, it evaporates.

    5. I emailed the superintendent and asked him why these books were classified as obsolete. He said he didn’t know but assumed there was a good reason. He also suggested, after I sent him a list of titles, that perhaps he needs to monitor the process a little better.

    6. The action of the school board on Friday night was to declare the books obsolete to enable their disposal.

    7. They were all stamped with the following official notice:

    This book has been replaced for one or more of the following reasons:
         Material is inaccurate
         Does not meet district standards
         Stereotypes gender or culture
    Deselected based on EC 60500 and BP 3276

    8. The wording of that stamp appeared in the post on this blog. Many people here read it and assumed that the books were deselected for having stereotypes yet two other possible reasons are given. That is jumping to a conclusion which I in no way suggested.

    9. Though a newspaper article delved further into the issue, I still do not know why these books were slated for disposal. A new explanation was given, that they were underused, but since space in the library isn’t a problem, I don’t see how that makes more sense than the other official reasons given.

    10. Those who were champing at the bit to attack “leftist censors” were disappointed to learn that they in fact jumped to the wrong conclusion. Some PC nonsense was certainly part of the story, but it wasn’t at its center. It would have been just as logical to have jumped to the conclusion that Babe The Gallant Pig was deselected because it fell short of district standards.

    11. I still would like to know why some perfectly good books were removed from a library that has plenty of room for these books and thousands more. The official explanations are in black and white — and they’re absurd. And that’s why I attempted to expose them.

  47. Robert:

    I apologize for being one of those who jumped to conclusions. I respect you for rescuing the books and finding out what happened to them. To me the final story is more perverse than earlier interpretations.

    They stamp the books to enable their disposal–then treat the stamp as though it were truth, announcing in the school board agenda that these 686 books were to be disposed of on account of being “obsolete.”

    That’s awful–to stamp a book as “obsolete” so that it can be removed, and then refer to it as “obsolete” because it has been stamped as such.

    I would be gladder than ever to sign a letter or petition… and kudos to you for your investigative work.

  48. Mrs. Davis says:

    Those who were champing at the bit to attack “leftist censors” were disappointed to learn that they in fact jumped to the wrong conclusion.

    I still would like to know why some perfectly good books were removed from a library that has plenty of room for these books and thousands more.

    But we can be sure that those champing at the bit as a result of Wright’s misleading e-mail jumped to the wrong conclusion. That’s clear.

    I go with lack of circulation due to teachers failing to assign challenging (to their leftist beliefs) texts.

  49. I admit I came to the wrong conclusion. Here’s why:

    “Material is inaccurate”: Most of the books are fiction, so this doesn’t apply to them. And I couldn’t imagine a fact-checking patrol going through the non-fiction books.

    “Does not meet district standards”: Surely this couldn’t mean the books were too easy – I’ve never heard of school libraries underestimating their students – and the thought that the books could be too *hard* didn’t occur to me. So I thought that “standards” referred to a PC code.

    “Stereotypes gender or culture”: All it takes is a glance to find something objectionable in a book. Easier to do with 686 books than determining whether the nonfiction books were “inaccurate.”

    My error was in assuming the stamps were meaningful.

    I assume (dangerous word, I know!) there are no plans to reorganize the library to make more space for computers or other cooler-than-book devices. Or plans to acquire a huge number of new books.

    At the moment I’m guessing that a bureaucracy unfamiliar with this particular library requested to remove all books that haven’t been borrowed in years from all area libraries, regardless of whether any of those libraries needed space for new acquisitions or not. A one-size-fits-all policy gone awry. Or not, depending on what new facts surface.

    As Brian Rude pointed out, “every story has incomplete information.” Ideally, we shouldn’t judge until we know all the facts, but that’s impossible. When do we have enough to justify reactions and judgments?

  50. “My error was in assuming the stamps were meaningful.”

    In other words, I couldn’t think out of the box and consider the possibility of some other reason for the dumping.

  51. Robert Wright says:

    Thank you, Diana.

    Amritas, thank you for giving me stuff to think about–once again.

    And Mrs. Davis, how can you say my email was misleading when you’ve never read it?

  52. Richard Nieporent says:

    Robert, please don’t act as if you were the aggrieved individual. It is unseemly of you. If you had simply given Joanne a link to the newspaper article or informed her that this was not a case of PC gone amuck then nobody would have jumped to the wrong conclusion.

    And Mrs. Davis, how can you say my email was misleading when you’ve never read it?

    So now you are trying to place the blame on Joanne for misinterpreting your email?

    This incident is not a big deal. However it doesn’t say much for you for refusing to own up to the fact that your report was misleading and that you did not immediately correct that impression when people assumed that the books were discarded for reasons of political correctness.

  53. Robert Wright says:

    Richard, I sent Ms. Jacobs two or three email before the news article was written so I couldn’t very well have sent her a link at the time.

    You too did not see my email so I don’t understand how you can be critical of it.

    I don’t place blame on Ms. Jacobs for anything. She’s a true hero of mine.

    Your disappointment that it wasn’t a case of PC run amuck is misdirected. Blame the district, not the messenger.

  54. Mrs. Davis says:

    Thank you, Richard. I couldn’t have said it better.

  55. All I can add is that many of those books are on the shelves here in my home, where my child is educated, and I am thankful that no one can come in with a stamper and take them away. Thanks for the post. It was enlightening and infuriating and sad, all at the same time.

Trackbacks

  1. […] In the library, Darren of Right on the Left Coast discusses the plight of a Teacher Suspended For Year and a Half because of a book they chose to read in the classroom. Joanne of Joanne Jacobs puts books on hold. Read her post about books that school libraries have Deselected. […]

  2. […] general. My favorites were this post (a dedicated teacher worries about failing his students) and this one (a list of books taken off school library […]