District 41's Ban on The Perks of Being a Wallflower

"Those who seek to protect children from thoughtful artistic content may well instead 'protect' them from a full and complete education"–Julian Darius

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perks1Two parents of a graduating Hadley student, Jen and Brian Bradfield, recently requested that The Perks of Being a Wallflower be banned from Hadley Junior High School for its upsetting sexual content. Their daughter found Perks  in a “literary classroom collection,” according to the Chicago Tribune.* It wasn’t required reading, or even in the main library. It was available for students to pick up and read (or not) as they chose.

The Bradfields object to the book because of its sexual content, including “bestiality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, oral sex for money.”** They decided their parental disapproval should apply to every single other Hadley student and requested that the book be banned from the junior high library. Although a committee that The Patch describes as “comprised of Hadley teachers and administrators, one parent and a district administrator” recommended the district keep the book–while increasing communication with parents about the book’s content–the Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education voted 4-2 to ban the book.

The school board has changed members since the vote to ban Perks (my apologies for not having this info up on the site earlier; I wasn’t clear on the specifics of the term changes). Sam Black will be board president until 2015; according to The Glen Ellyn Patch, he “said while he’s reluctant to censor material, he agreed the issues addressed in the book have no place in a middle school.” John Kenwood, not present at the vote, will be vice president until 2015. Drew Ellis will still be on the board (he voted against keeping the book), as will Erica Nelson (who voted against the ban). I do not yet know how new members Dean Elger, Joe Bochenski, or Patrick Escalante feel about the ban.

Terra Costa Howard and Erica Nelson (the only women, interestingly) voted to keep Perks available at the school. Nelson told The Glen Ellyn Patch that “This book might not even be appropriate for someone in ninth or tenth depending on their maturity level, but it might be appropriate for somebody at the end of eighth grade (with a different maturity level),” while Terra Costa Howard, the mother of two young girls, offered another sane perspective: “The book was a suggestion (to my child) and she brought it home and we looked at it and talked about it, and she read it. …As a parent, that is my responsibility…We, as parents and as board members who have been around, cannot in today’s day in age put our heads under the sand and think our children don’t know, and are not exposed to, (these) things… We live in an age where these kids are exposed to things much sooner than we want them to be.” Sadly, Terra Costa Howard is no longer listed on the site as a board member.

Hadley teachers Kelly Coleman, Tina Booth, and Ali Tannenbaum have joined many parents and students speaking out against the vote, urging the board to “consider the freedom of speech and support the pursuit of knowledge,” according to the Trib. Literacy teacher Lynn Bruno has brought up the reality that most eighth graders have heard of blowjobs before, like it or not, and that books like Perks of Being a Wallflower are valuable because of the lessons students can learn from characters’ decisions in difficult situations.

Barbara Jones, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, told the Chicago Tribune that the board’s decision is “stunning. “We don’t understand how one parent can keep all these kids in the district from reading this book. Yes, the book has been challenged, but most good young adult novels get challenged because teens love them. ” She encourages parents to use books with difficult subject matter as a foundation for conversation. “Discussing the issues is what should happen, not banning.”

Superintendent Ann Riebock says that the school district is going to re-evaluate how it selects books.

*The information here was gleaned primarily from this Chicago Tribune article and this article from The Patch. To keep from being perksquoteiitedious, I’ve only mentioned the specific source when quoting directly; anything I don’t cite can probably still be found in those articles. Feel free to contact me if I’ve gotten things wrong.

**One must assume that if the Bradfields find both homosexuality and heterosexuality objectionable, they believe all YA characters in “appropriate” books must be bisexual or asexual. Or maybe Brian Bradfield listed his objection to homosexuality, then didn’t want to sound like a homophobe, and decided to throw in heterosexuality to round things out?

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