The Ventura County chapter of the NAACP has demanded that the Moorpark and Simi Valley school districts stop teaching a novel that the group considers offensive to blacks.
NAACP spokesman Theodore Green asked the Moorpark school board on Tuesday night to ban “The Cay” by Theodore Taylor from the district’s classrooms. Green said he plans to make a similar request to the Simi Valley school board next week.
“The book is slanderous,” said Green, who heads the local NAACP’s education committee, which reviews teaching materials for evidence of racial bias or insensitivity. “It’s defaming. It’s belligerent.”
But the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People does not want the book removed from school libraries, said John Hatcher, president of the local chapter.
“You don’t want to stop people from reading whatever they want to read,” Hatcher said Wednesday, adding that he has read “The Cay” twice. “I just don’t think they should teach it. It tends to stereotype blacks.”
The book has been approved by the state Department of Education for use in junior high schools.
Green said this is the first time that the Ventura County NAACP has requested school officials to stop teaching a particular book.
The book was brought to the NAACP’s attention by the parent of a student at Simi Valley’s Sequoia Junior High School, Hatcher said. He said the parent told NAACP officials a few months ago that her son was offended when the novel was taught in his class, where he was the only black, Hatcher said.
Sequoia Principal Jan Britz said several parents complained about the book last year, but she thought that their complaints had been put to rest during a meeting with school officials.
Besides being taught in Simi Valley junior high schools, the book is part of the curriculum for Moorpark students, said Charles L. Smith, assistant superintendent for curriculum in Moorpark. In the Ventura Unified School District, “The Cay” is on an optional reading list for seventh-grade students, said Mary George, director of curriculum. The Conejo Valley Unified School District also teaches the novel, Smith said.
Moorpark school officials defended the novel, saying it is about how a white youth shipwrecked on a Caribbean island forms a deep friendship with an uneducated black man. Through this friendship, the boy rids himself of the racial prejudice that he was raised with, Smith said.
“One of the lessons of the book is how prejudice occurs and how it can be overcome,” Smith said.
“The Cay” is a contemporary version of Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Smith said.
Attempts to remove any school-sanctioned book from a curriculum “are very worrisome and dangerous,” said Michael Hudson, vice president of People for the American Way, a Los Angeles-based anti-censorship group. “It deprives students of the opportunity to make up their own minds. Protecting them like that is not good for them or for our culture.”
Hudson said he is not familiar with “The Cay.” But his group has opposed efforts by NAACP chapters in other parts of the country to ban Twain’s books from classrooms.
In his remarks before the Moorpark school board, Green referred to several passages in “The Cay” that he said were offensive. In one, where the boy first sees the older man, he describes him as “ugly. His nose was flat and his face was broad.” In other passages, the boy calls the man stupid because he is illiterate.
“You could pull passages out of the Bible and be offended by them,” Smith said.
But Hatcher, the NAACP chapter president, said he does not accept the argument that the book teaches children about the nature of racial prejudice.
“I’m talking from a black point of view,” Hatcher said. “They’re not sensitive enough,” he said of school officials who sanctioned the novel.
Smith denied that claim. “There are many black educators that support the book,” he said.
Indeed, Sequoia Assistant Principal Terry Webb, who is black, said she taught the book in English classes for many years. “I did not find it offensive,” Webb said. “I focused on the positive relationship that developed between the two characters.”
NAACP officials plan to meet with Moorpark Supt. Thomas Duffy soon. But Smith said it is unlikely that the district will remove the book from its curriculum.
Green plans to address the board of the Simi Valley school district at its meeting Tuesday, he said.