Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Torpedo Tintin?

Jones Library:  The people's living room

I guess Bill Clinton would say it depends on how you define "censorship".

Clearly Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry subscribes to the American Library Association's definition:  "A change in the access status of material, based on the content of the work and made by a governing authority or its representatives. Such changes include exclusion, restriction, removal, or age/grade level changes.

The group of concerned parents who want to relocate the "Tintin" series of colorful comics believe there's a "principled middle ground" that would allow for "placing material that uses derisive portrayals of a racial group that has been historically discriminated against purely to entertain the reader, as is the case in the comics, to areas for older readers."

 But clearly, that would be a "Change in the access status of the material, based on content ..." Or in the eyes of the ALA, censorship.

And of course the concerned parents "drive this point home" using the racially offensive book "Simple Additions by a Little Nigger," as an example of a historically dated work targeted at children they would expect not to find in the Jones Library.

And last I looked (this morning),  the book "Simple Additions by a Little Nigger" was NOT available at the Jones.

But I'll let the two opposing sides speak for themselves:


Anonymous said...

It figures it's the same couple who have children at Fort River and who were the core group behind the Peanut ban. If it was a gay issue and any from of censorship, you can bet they'd be waving a rainbow flag. Guess they don't know that in trying to censor Tin Tin they are indeed censoring gay literature

Anonymous said...

Maybe a little off topic, I recall one of Amherst's School Committee members (Shabazz) came out of the blue in the middle of a s.c. meeting this past fall, that parents contacted him with angry objections to their kids having to read "to kill a mockingbird" in h.s., because it uses the "n word". He seemed to agree and he seemed angry about it too. Does anyone know if parents contacting a school committee member and objecting to material that their kids are reading in school represents a formal challenge? or whether his objecting to the choice to include that book in the h.s. curriculum, during a s.c. meeting, represents a challenge?

Larry Kelley said...

ARPS and Jones Library are two completely different animals.

Not sure what the school policy is to "challenge" material or whether they even have a "Request for reconsideration of library materials."

Maybe Superintendent Maria Geryk can address it on her upcoming blog.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this would apply to Shabazz's statements:

Expression of Concern. An inquiry that has judgmental overtones.

Oral Complaint. An oral challenge to the presence and/or appropriateness of the material in question.

That's from the ala definition of challenges to library material that Larry quotes from in his article, maybe it's a different deal when your talking about h.s. curriculum.

Anonymous said...

did not see your response before i posted my last comment.

Anonymous said...

Citing "Simple Addition by a Little Nigger" is a rather extreme association. It shows how weak their argument is.

I'd imagine Nick Sharratt's book "My mom and dad make me laugh" which unlike their example is found in the children's section at Jones should be banned because it's not gay-family friendly. Where do these people draw the line, when they've eliminated all culture and history?

Anonymous said...

But no one's looking for "Simple Addition by a Little Nigger" to be part of the Jones' collection.

There's no groundswell for that.

So the comparison fails.

Anonymous said...

But no one's looking for "Simple Addition by a Little Nigger" to be part of the Jones' collection.

True, but to drive home their point that Tintin ought to be moved, these parents argue that "the images and language [in 'Simple Addition'] explicitly mock and insult a social group based on race." Certainly the language is racist, but they denounce the images, too, and they include two of them as a hypothetical example in their request for reconsideration.

I looked closely at the images they chose to illustrate their point, trying to see what the parents found so mocking and insulting. My first thought was, "Oh, the smiling little boy must have made a mistake in his addition, which would imply that he -- and by extension all black children -- is stupid." But no, the boy got his sum right.

The only other conceivable source of the parents' perceived mockery and insult is the boy's clothes. But it is difficult to imagine how anyone could take offense from them, either: he's not wearing rags, or anything that I recognize as stereotypical "black" clothes (whatever those might be). His clothing would look no more or less appropriate on a white or Asian or Latino boy.

So maybe someone can tell me: What is so horrible about these two images? (Remember, I concede that the language is blatantly racist.) If no one can explain, then I'll have to agree with the previous commenter, that by choosing these images as their prime example these parents have inadvertently exposed the sloppiness and weakness of their own argument.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:15 pm
There was a parent who came to the 11/12 school committee (SC) meeting this fall (the meeting after the one (with the infamous comment about some SC members "cannibalizing their allies") to express concern about her child reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" in class and how uncomfortable it made the child (who is mixed race) and classmates of color feel to read passages aloud with the n***** word and then hear that offensive word repeated in the hallways afterwards. The parent was concerned that some teachers might not be sensitive to how children of color might feel in this situation and others like it.

In that parent's comments, that the book should be banned, but that more sensitivity should be used when exposing students to racially charged material. She gave other examples in her comments as well.

Anonymous said...

It is great to see hyperbole alive in well in Amherst. The "simple addition ..." title is just an over the top example. People stop being to nit picky and anal retentive. Get over yourselves and your self worth. If the self righteous hypocritical egos in Amherst grow any bigger the town will have to lease space from Pelham. Amherst the whole world laughs at how ridiculous you really are.

Anonymous said...

anon 9:58 PM:

Nope. what I'm talking about is the first time anyone, including the School Committee and the administration, heard about an objection to "to kill a mockingbird" being included in the h.s. english curriculum. I just re-watched my dvr recordings of the s.c. meetings. That objection was raised and presented by Shabazz, in the middle of a meeting that occurred at least a week before another meeting when a parent came and made unfounded accusations bout student behavior in the hallways in the h.s. english program. Shabazz said he had been contacted by parents (plural) who objected to the choice of that book being included in the curriculum, because the n word was used so frequently in it. when the chair of the committee and the superintendent responded that he should immediately direct those concerns to the administration, specifically the supt so that she could address the concerns with the parents directly, he said in typical fashion: "I didn't have time". Just like when he resigned from the one s.c. sub-committee committee he was on, during a temper tantrum, immediately after losing the election for s.c. chair, he said "I don't have time for it."

If you don't have the time, why did you run? What do you believe your role to be?

And could you please explain why the comment about "cannibalizing your allies" is "infamous"? I didn't know anyone had any concerns about it. It seems like you believe that comment was racist, but I can't find any precedent for that.

Anonymous said...

same friggan hot air balloon b.s. in this town, we want this and that, but you do it for me, we don't have the time.

Anonymous said...

I believe Shabazz came to run with the intention of making a difference. Once he came in and saw how ridiculous the school board is, how it does what it is told, how it is a puppet of Geryk, and namely when he was told to get on board because this is how things are done here, all bets were off.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that he really doesn't have time for anything, even at his paying job at UMass. Didn't have time to do his chair job there, either.

It's all hot air and a show: lots of attending conferences, dressing the part of professor, giving the camera the angry eye at s.c. meetings, pontificating on this or that, but never getting down to it, no real substance. And I guess now we know, at least according to you, (who must have spoken to him or you wouldn't know he was allegedly told to "get on board" and that he thinks the board is "ridiculous",) that he has no intention anymore of trying to be a cooperative, difference-making member of the team we elected him to in order to do a job that needs to get done, (and not to use the s.c. meetings as his personal soap box.) He's supposed to be representing all of us and all of our kids. But I guess it's just too ridiculous to even try. Same old b.s.

Great, "all bets are off" and we have two more years of this crap to look forward to. He should get out now if it's so ridiculous, because there's a lot of work that needs to get done.

But I digress, this post is about censorship and intellectual freedom, and according to Shabazz parents objected to the decision to include "To Kill a Mockingbird" in the h.s. English curriculum. That's what I wanted to talk about.

Winston Smith said...

It's not censorship when liberals want to ban books.

When George Orwell imagined his nightmarish totalitarian state in 1984, he thought the Party would need a vast bureaucracy to control what people could read and say and think.

He probably never imagined grass-roots volunteer thought police, happily censoring away in the perfect confidence of believing they are doing good.

If these neighborhood totalitarians get their wish, I think everyone in Amherst should start demanding that books be removed from the Jones. Overwhelm the library administration, choke them with complaints. Go after liberal holy books like "The Color Purple" and "An Inconvenient Truth." Go after every single classic author from Plato to Robert Frost.

Make it clear that this is a road they should not even be thinking of going down.

Anonymous said...

I guess even when one of the library trustees who was there, and the director of the library who made the decision, come out and say no one wanted to ban any books or remove any books from the Jones, there are going to be ignorant people in the community who don't listen and persist with their fantasy-based, reactionary garbage.

Anonymous said...

Go after liberal holy books like "The Color Purple" and "An Inconvenient Truth"

Let's even demand they remove all the dictionaries as being offensive to the Dyslexic.

Let's have a good old-fashioned Nazi-style book burning in the parking lot. Burn those damn books, all the damn books before anyone ever reads any of them.

And then let's shoot all the teachers & burn down all the schools so that the children never learn how to read and in a generation we can all be submissive mindless cannon fodder.

Oh Brave New World...

(NB: Never forget that Orwell was writing in response to Haxley's earlier novel of the same name.)

Anonymous said...

no one wanted to ban any books or remove any books from the Jone

No, they just wanted to hide them. How exactly is that not a "distinction without a difference"?

I'm reminded of the school librarian in a very socially conservative high school (not in Amherst) who would just happen to "misplace" the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition -- give it to the janitor with strict instructions that it not leave the boiler room.

The school had a full subscription to Sports Illustrated and she didn't ban any of the editions, it's just that one of them would always be "misplaced" to the boiler room (where students were not permitted to go).

Chris Hoffmann said...

Anonymous 11:34:

This thread is branching into topics beyond the Jones, but I did want to say to my mind there is a big difference between "hiding" and "banning". And the parents weren't even trying to "hide" the books -- they asked us to file them in our graphic novel collection or with older children's books, or maybe label them to let parents know they contain potentially offensive material.

If the question had involved "hiding", our decision would have been easy....

Dr. Ed said...

Chris, this is "bullying" and little else.

Those parents are showing that they have the power to prevent a book from being where it was because they don't like some of the values the book promotes.

They are not arguing that people shouldn't read it, they aren't asking you to put their response to the book next to it so that the objective reader can read both sides, instead they are asking you to make it more difficult for the targeted audience (i.e. age group) to find it.

Making something more difficult to find constitutes "hiding it" in my understanding of the concept...

Milton would have advocated the concerned individuals to write out exactly why the book's ideas were wrong, and if they are (which I and probably everyone else believes), then in such a "free and open encounter", "truth will prevail over falsehood."

That's how this would be resolved if it wasn't bullying, if this wasn't an exercise of power for the sole purpose of demonstrating power. Instead of pushing a smaller kid into a snowbank, they are pushing this book out of where it has always been displayed -- for all the reasons that bullies bully.

I personally detest the quite illogical books of Dr. Seuss. I can make an argument -- a more solid argument -- against The cat in the hat than has been made against TinTin in the Congo -- and if you were requested to move The cat in the hat to your EdPsych section, would you do it?

Why not? And that is why I say this is bullying...

Dr. Ed said...

One other thing:

It is a biological fact that someone with two "X" chromosomes is female. By definition, by the definition of how we define the term "female."

Yet when such a person looses control of a bicycle (which *is* what happened) and winds up dead as a consequence of the subsequent collision with a so-called "truck", we are bullied into referring to the deceased as a "he."

Even though it's not true. Even though any forensic lab looking at a blood sample or a piece of hair would say that it came from a woman.

Race is a social construct, sex is basic biology -- chromosomes and body parts. It's a provable fact -- "her" DNA would say she was female beyond any question -- and is considered so reliable that DNA evidence is routinely admitted into court (at least for paternity issues).

I won't even get into the gem that Mitchel Chester wrote regarding gender choice in the K-12 schools of the Commonwealth, but when you are forced to change names on already-issued high school diplomas and re-issue them with a different name on them -- well, isn't that a bit Orwellian?

I'm being offered no small amount of money to write about all of this, to reduce it to ridicule.

Should I?

That's what I mean by "the middle not holding" -- that at some point the (small "l") liberal values we hold will evaporate and the political and personal become commingled.

"Can" and "should" are not the same thing. I can write anything I damn well please, and the library can put books anywhere it wants to. The question is one of "should."

A specific person having the right to be left alone and live life as the person desires is one thing -- and something which I support.

Forcing me to deny reality and instead affirm that he is a she is something else -- he has the right to be a "he" if desired, I may wish to affirm that because I may be a kind & decent person, or at last a polite one, but she doesn't have the right to compel me to affirm something I know not to be true.

People who think Tintin is racist have the right to persuade others -- not to compel them -- not to read it. There is a very big distinction between these two things.

Anonymous said...

Somebody hide the key to the liquor cabinet.

Dr. Ed said...

And I'll add one other thing here -- back in the 1980's, there was a Federal lawsuit against a library in way DownEast Maine over it's decision to remove a book entitled 365 Days. This was a book written by a doctor who treated Vietnam Vets and was quite critical of the war -- and because it quoted soldiers verbatim, contained an awful lot of one specific word that resembled "fire truck."

It was in the high school library, but that was the only library in town and I believe the public had a right to borrow books from it, but am not sure.

This is a part of Maine where the Baptist Minister has an awful lot of power in town -- and not only did it have that word on nearly every page, but people down there had actually supported the Vietnam War, and this was during the Reagan administration, when the Moral Majority was running around, and when things were different.

However, the Federal Judge - Conrad Cyr - (now on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals) ruled that "an author also has a right to be read" or something to that effect and hence that the book must be returned to the library.

Something to think about -- and yes, Ed really doesn't want to go out and swap out that brake caliper in the cold....

See BDN on it:,3648411

Anonymous said...

Someone find the butterfly net.

Anonymous said...

All those who are reading Ed's stuff, please raise your hand.

These parents were not bullying. That's an absolutely unwarranted charge, and reflects more on the speaker than anything else.

We can have disagreements in this town without resorting to name-calling and rhetorical excess....well, at least most of us can.

Thank God we have trustees with some finesse.

Walter Graff said...

Ali and Jeannette are both fantastic parents. Say what you want but you can't take away who they are, great people.

Anonymous said...

You might be right about that Walter, but having read so many ugly things you've submitted here about other people that are known to be great and fantastic, you sort of lack credibility.

Anonymous said...

Whether they were right or wrong in what they were proposing as a remedy, these parents performed a public service in doing the hard work in raising awareness about some materials that many other parents might find offensive or hurtful for their children. They should be commended. They were being good citizens. They illuminated something that they saw as a problem.

Not every disagreement in town rises to the level of Armageddon.

Most people know that.

Dr. Ed said...

These parents were not bullying.

"Bully (verb) use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants."

Telling the parents that it is there would be one thing, and I'd still like to know how many children of that age can *read* French.

Getting it out of the collection is a demonstration of power -- Q.E.D bullying. They may be the nicest parents in the world, but in this situation, they are bullies.

And the other thing -- which I don't think anyone has quite considered yet, is that this legitimizes the other side -- i.e. the racists - to spread their filth around. Good job folks...

Anonymous said...

The parents did not have "superior strength or influence". Nor did they "intimidate" anyone.

Walter Graff said...

I don't see why the books can't be moved to a more age appropriate section regardless of it's antiquated view of the world. Since the book is technically designed for older youth, why is it located in a section for younger kids.

Would it be censorship if someone found a calculus book in the children's section and asked for it to be moved to a more appropriate section?

I think they went about this wrong making it a censorship issue rather than what it is, a misplaced book. If you drop the notion that the book has stereotypes and look at this as simply a book that is not age appropriate where is it, they have a good reason to ask for it to be moved to a section where it can be appreciated more by more age-appropriate readers.

Larry Kelley said...

Or as kids on the playground might say, "do over."

Chris Hoffmann said...

The only thing I want to say about the idea that this is clearly "bullying" to some readers vs clearly "just reclassification" to others is that perfectly illustrates why this particular request was not a simple thing for us to deal with. I'm sure I'm not the only one that spent hours researching the ALA website and reading articles on how other libraries have dealt with similar issues.

I clearly agree the request required "restriction" and for me that is enough to be considered "censorship" by ALA standards. But maybe not in other situations.

As for being moved to a different location within the Children's Room: One of the board's president's requests was to do see whether the current shelf was the most appropriate. But again, "appropriate" means making it as available as possible to the children who are most likely to be interested in the book, not keeping it away from younger kids because someone disagrees with some of the content. If it turns out that the 3-5 year olds also have had a big interest in Tintin, then there's no reason to rearrange the Children's Room.

By the way, since I've now been commenting in at least three threads I want to repeat what I said in my first post -- I am speaking only for myself, not the board. I can only tell you what I think and report on what I heard and saw during our meeting. Other board members may have completely different reasoning or memories!

Anonymous said...

If 3-5 year olds have an interest then the book is fine where it is. If you are a parent who does not want your child to read it, then simply tell them it's not a good book for them.

As parents, our first instinct is often to protect our kids from pain, disappointment and failure. The problem is, if we hover and coddle instead of thicken their skin, we put them in an insulated shell. And when they get older and have to face real life, they will either hide like hermit crabs or flail helplessly like turtles on their backs.

History is history. You can't change it, but you can learn from it and use it as a tool, not as a feared weapon. The opposite of ignorance is education.

Anonymous said...

History is history. You can't change it, but you can learn from it and use it as a tool, not as a feared weapon. The opposite of ignorance is education.

And with Dr. King day next week, think of the "teachable moment" -- at the most basic, you can say to your children "this is what they were upset about -- can you see why they were upset?"

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I was at the Jones Library recently and was surprised to see that the kids comic section, including the Tintin books, have now been relocated to a less heavily traveled part of the library next to the kids non-fiction books. interesting development....