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Alaska school district removes classic books due to ‘controversial’ content

A school district in Alaska has removed several books from its curriculum due to “controversial content.”

Included in the list: “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

According to KTUU, the Mat-Su School Board’s vote was 5-2 in favor of the books’ removal. The board also voted to get rid of the New York Times’ “The Learning Network,” a teacher resource program.

Board Vice President Jim Hart said that “if I were to read this in a professional environment at my office, I would be dragged to the equal opportunity office.” Board member Jeff Taylor added “Is there a reason that we include books that we’ve labeled as controversial in our curriculum? I would prefer they were gone.”

A school district document lists various reasons why the books were “challenged” in the first place. Angelou’s novel allegedly is “anti-white” and contains sexually explicit material. Ralph Ellison’s “The Invisible Man” contains objectionable language and references to rape and incest, and “Catch-22” has a “handful of racial slurs” and its characters “speak with typical ‘military men’ misogyny and racist attitudes of the time.”

From the story:

As word of the decision started to circulate Thursday morning, the backlash was fierce. Tweets, Facebook posts, and all manner of social media displeasure, was shown.

River Kelly, a high school student at Mat-Su Career and Tech, told KTUU what he was hearing from his friends. “Almost everybody I’ve talked to has been shocked, demanding that these bans be taken back,” the sophomore said.

Former Colony high school English teacher Peter Hopple was even more succinct saying, “I’m stunned, absolutely stunned.”

“I’m pretty familiar with all the books,” said Mike Okeson, the principal at Mat-Su Career & Tech, who used to teach English. “If you ask me to articulate for you what’s controversial in “The Great Gatsby,” I could not do that.”

The Mat-Su Education Association condemned the board’s vote. Union president Dianne Shibe said the decision was “a blatant effort to curtail critical thinking, stifle discussion, and deprive our students of the opportunity to share, as a class, the experience of studying some of the most classic American literature.”

According to NBC News,com, Hart noted the books aren’t “banned” as they’re still available in district school libraries.

Read the article.

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