Feedback: What teachers say about a school district’s book ban threat
Regarding Dorany Pineda’s article “Off the Reading List” [Nov. 12]: The Burbank Unified School District has taken an anti-education stance in halting the teaching of the classic books due to their perceived racism: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Cay,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” (Newbery Medal) and “To Kill a Mockingbird” (Pulitzer Prize).
Interestingly, “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” was written by a Black author.
For the school district to empower four parents to alter the education of 15,200 students is astonishing.
I taught “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice and Men” for most of my 31-year career as a high school English teacher. These books were often the favorites of my students. In “Of Mice and Men,” the wisest person in the book is Crooks, the sole African American character. In “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Tom Robinson is found guilty by an all-white jury then shot 17 times by the police.
I have seen students cry over the death of Tom.
The texts of these books teach anti-racism, decency and empathy. Since African Americans make up a small percentage of Burbank’s population, it is all the more reason to mandate that these literary treasures remain as teaching tools for educators.
District administrators should also listen to their own English teachers who actually use these books when teaching students how to live peacefully in a diverse country that is too quick to pounce and not pause when an uncomfortable moment arises.
Think cancel culture. We used to call that a “teachable moment.”
The debate in Burbank schools over book-banning and teaching anti-racism brings into sharp focus the racism and trauma that Black students continue to experience in school and society at large. I empathize with the parents who filed the complaint, and those who signed the supporting petition, in their effort to protect their children.
But banning books is not a solution.
Any of these books can be a valuable tool for critical examination of not only history, but also issues of race, class, gender, power, privilege and voice. In fact these texts can be used as powerful counterpoints to the virulent bigotry and hate we’re currently witnessing in our communities.
Teachers need professional development and ongoing support to effectively address such complex issues with their students — inside and outside the classroom.
How are antiracist practices being implemented throughout school culture? The answer to that essential question is the pathway to a solution.
Although I have taught “Huckleberry Finn” in class, reading aloud, many times in the past, I would not do it in today’s climate.
However I do approach the issue of young people and race with books that hit more of a nerve with young people. Nothing ever gripped a class like August Wilson’s play, “Fences,” which I have used with 10th graders. Richard Wright’s “Native Son” has always worked if one brings out how the lack of shared experiences is tragic for teens of all colors.
A very troubled class once requested and loved Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima.” Today I would recommend the works of Angie Thomas. Any of those will cause a few “often offended” parents to squirm. But I guarantee you that they will get passed around under desks, in secret, to kids in classes that don’t get to read them.
This article was on point in saying that teaching historical racism isn’t the answer. However, would you like to guess one historical text which has found resonance in the hearts of kids from all backgrounds? It’s “Oliver Twist” (unabridged), the story of a youngster storm-tossed in the machinations of adults.
Mark Twain is obviously still doing a bang-up job with “The Adventures of “Huckleberry Finn.” Any American who seeks to ban this book along with John Steinbeck’s and Harper Lee’s novels clearly demonstrates their complete ignorance of these works of literature.
Kerr is author of the California historical fiction series “The Bear.”
As a retired educator, I am dismayed, if not horrified, by parents who impose on public schools their fears of other people, other cultures, and divergent ideas, and demand the removal of books. But what your story truly reveals is not the danger of particular books, but the dangers of inadequate instruction, ineffective teachers and poor school leaders.
What’s next? Book burning?
To quote old Abe: “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”
What would Ray Bradbury have had to say about the school district’s decision not to teach those novels?
Although the present controversy centers only on five novels, it will not end there because there will always be something that offends someone. If critical thinking is an important goal, students need to be exposed to material that may make them uncomfortable in the short run.
That’s a small price to pay in the long run.
I agree that book classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” should continue to be included in Burbank USD reading curriculum. Rather than ban the books, re-evaluate how they are taught.
If every book with anti-Semitic references written throughout the 19th through 20th centuries were banned because it offended some Jewish parents, perhaps half the bookshelves would be empty and the students would miss out on some great literature.
Ann C. Hayman
Perhaps the most sinister threat to a society built upon the free and open exchange of ideas may be the kind of cultural cleansing underway in the Burbank school system. Though its causative factors were admittedly painful, I’m not certain removing such a profoundly humanist classic as “To Kill A Mockingbird” from a curriculum benefits either our students or our society as a whole.
The last four years have seen growing concern in our country about perceived threats to our freedom from the right. Ironically, steps such as Burbank’s may constitute a far subtler but equally ominous, and in the end sinister, threat.
We have nothing less instructive than Nazism’s early years and the infamous book burning of 1933 to warn us.
Don’t let them kid you as by promoting these racist books they show no compassion for Black people. They don’t care if the books make people cry and promote blatant discrimination.
Obviously, they’re on the side of America’s white supremacy and bigotry, which has been encouraged under this administration.
The petition on antiracist books is an oxymoron — as they are definitely not antiracist books at all.
We have a lot of problems with race in our country, but “Huckleberry Finn,” “Of Mice and Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” are not the cause of them.
These classics of literature that express so eloquently the people and places in which they were written, that portray so definitively who we are as Americans, have established their reputations by reflecting and revealing the emotions, ambitions , struggles — and prejudices — not only of their protagonists, but of America itself. To allow the Burbank Unified School District, its parents, administrators and students to pass judgment on these books and to decide whether they should be read and studied by students is a rebuke of the very values and lessons they can teach us.
The fact that the Los Angeles Times itself can minimize “To Kill a Mockingbird” as “a white savior story” is just ignorant.
These books [should] be read by young people in the proper context. That’s always a part of studying great literature. Some of the content make students uncomfortable and angry, without a doubt.
That is eternal inquiry into the human condition and why we continue to read the classics along with contemporary works.
But to have shortsighted local school districts, parents and students become the arbiters of what literature should be taught is a dangerous, narrow-minded path to censorship.
If we ban these books, what’s next? The books in question are classics in American Literature. . In school you learn; it is up to the teacher to qualify the contents of the books in discussing them with the class. It is unfortunate that this child had to be treated this way.
But banning books carries ominous future actions.
As an educator, I cannot believe restricting literature in school curriculum. We cannot judge books written in the past with today’s standards.
For example, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was set in the period where segregation was encouraged. It is terrible to hang a man just because he is Black. We see Buck’s humanity and contrast it with the racist town folk. The white attorney, Atticus Finch, is the “hero” because in those days, there were no Black attorneys in the South. Talk about the history, don’t ignore the book.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” uses racist and derogatory language that is not acceptable today, but it is reflective of how people felt and talked in the 1850s.
More important than the language is the friendship between Huckleberry and Jim. Huck knows that society looks down on Jim, but Jim is Huck’s friend. Again, it is the racist whites who are the villains. Jim is a hero figure, trying to free his enslaved wife.
Let us not whitewash history, but use it to show how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.
Book banning seems to be another source of conflict that simply does not go away. I submit that it is simply the same struggle all art faces that is beautiful, powerful and long lasting. Its greatness is renewed through its truth.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” lays bare a truth, as true now as ever it has ever been true. A white society, a Black man, false accusations, an execution, out of sight, beyond the reach of justice.
It shares its truth with the other books on the list. Now it seems the truth is too much for young eyes to behold and young minds to examine.
The idea of not teaching great books that challenge the reader’s preconceptions upsets me. The books in question are being portrayed as insensitive and hurtful.
They were not written with that intent. They must be taught in the proper historical context. Allow teachers the opportunity to teach rigorous and relevant material that will help make our students positive critical thinkers.
Is Carrey’s Biden mask malarkey?
Regarding television critic Lorraine Ali’s review “SNL’s Biden Is Not a Winner” [Nov. 12]: I disagree with her assessment of Jim Carrey’s spoof of Joe Biden.
She says Jim Carrey is a brilliant talent, but Biden is hard to spoof because he doesn’t have the overt mannerisms of the likes of Trump or H.W. Bush, and that’s the excuse for Carrey not having him down.
The brilliance of Carrey is that he out-Bidens Biden, subtle but hilarious. When he said, ”In every election there are winners and Loooooooooooosers,” combining Carrey and Biden, I laughed more than I have in four years.
I think Ali’s opinion of Carrey’s Biden is malarkey.
I feel like a voice hollering in the wilderness over Jim Carrey’s impression of Biden. The complaint being Carrey is having a difficult time portraying Biden’s intelligence, compassion and decency.
Personally, I’m willing to sacrifice Baldwin’s hilarious Trump for a man who provides so little for Jim Carrey to parody.
“Saturday Night Live” has enjoyed years of riding high on the parody of the Trump administration with amazing imitations of the president, his cabinet and family.
Maya Rudolph has been spot-on as Kamala Harris.
Jim Carrey’s take on Joe Biden is not. Carrey is not doing justice to Biden. It’s time for “SNL” to let the White House go and show respect to the man and the office Mr. Biden deserves.
Thanks to Lorraine Ali for pinpointing what’s wrong with Jim Carrey’s Biden: It’s too much about Carrey’s mugging, and not specific to Biden at all.
It was Dan Aykroyd who played Jimmy Carter on “SNL” and, as he did with Nixon, Aykroyd played Carter without bothering to shave his mustache.
“SNL’s” best Reagan — and arguably its funniest political sketch ever — was Phil Hartman, alternating from a befogged, gee-whiz Gipper (chatting with Dana Carvey’s Jimmy Stewart) to a hands-on Farsi-speaking conspirator-in-chief in the Iran-Contra spoof titled “Reagan the Mastermind.”
Trump’s Twitter noise
In Mary McNamara’s commentary on President Trump’s “Rage Tweets” [“Happy to Dump the Rage Tweets,” Nov. 12] I didn’t see the most obvious solution: The media must take away the bully pulpit.
The Times and other media outlets (save Trump’s favorites, OAN and Fox News) need to immediately stop reporting every tweet. The tweets aren’t news, they are opinions.
You may argue that these tweets bring eyeballs and increase advertising revenue, but you also have a great responsibility in what you choose to report.
Hopefully, one day, this stain on our democracy will be faded. That may only happen if the media acts responsibly.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mary McNamara, for my own mental and physical well-being I have avoided watching and listening to President Trump’s obscene, hateful and moronic comments for the last four years, just as I would ignore any angry, screaming infant with a full diaper. Actually, I would gladly change the diaper because it would bring peace and quiet, but there is nothing that will stop ex-president Trump from his tweeting tirades, unless we all (I mean all of us) ignore him.
Electing Joe Biden was the first step toward rebuilding trust between all Americans as well as the rest of the world. Trump and his mindless followers will run out of steam (and rage) long before 2024.
A hidden gem
Amy Kaufman’s article about the Cannes favorite “The Climb” [“Are the Wheels Off for Film Loved at Cannes?,” Nov. 16] reminded me of yet another reason I have for feeling grateful these past months.
Last year I had the unqualified thrill to view this film on a big screen in Culver City while voting for the Film Independent Spirit Awards.
This independent gem may find and grow its loyal audience for years to come, much like one of the creators’ favorite films, “The Big Lebowski.”
Marc Antony Melocchi
A review than enthralls
I won’t go so far as to say that Justin Chang’s review of a film always determines whether I’ll watch it. But reading his deconstruction of “Hillbilly Elegy” [“Superficial ‘Elegy’,“ Nov. 11] had the usual effect: From start to finish, I marveled at his keen insights and florid phrasing. So much so that I shared his review with friends in distant lands, and then set it aside for myself to re-read.
Mediocre movies don’t do much for me, but Chang’s reviews of them invariably enthrall me.
Can Oscars and Grammys learn from the CMA Awards?
Regarding “CMA Awards: Can’t Just Wish Away a Virus” [Nov.11]: I really enjoyed watching the 2020 CMA Awards show, and was thrilled to hear of messages of unity, not political division.
I wish I could enjoy watching the Academy Awards and Grammy shows, too, but the liberal elites always seem to preach to the audience and discount anyone with a different view than their own.
Master class in classical music
I am a casual listener to classical music and intermediate pianist, and have followed Mark Swed’s concert reviews for many years. I especially appreciate his recent series How to Listen Wednesday music series, which I hope to see in a compendium, perhaps enlarged.
It’s the best introduction to classical Western music since Jim Svejda at radio KUSC.
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