By Heather Mullinix
A motion to remove the novel The Catcher in the Rye from the school system failed to pass the Cumberland County Board of Education after the motion's support was removed.
Jim Blalock, 8th District representative, said, "We have a book that is offensive that may or may not be used in our school system named 'The Catcher in the Rye.' I would like to have that book removed from the Cumberland County School System and it not be used."
Blalock's motion was seconded by Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, who said, "That's the strongest material I've ever read in my lifetime. It's gutter stuff. I was embarrassed for myself to read it."
The item was not part of the published agenda but was added at the beginning of the meeting Thursday.
J.D. Salinger penned the 1951 novel and deals with complex issues of identity, belonging, teenage angst and alienation. While being hailed by many critics as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, it has also been the subject of numerous challenges in the United States and abroad. Challenges include the novels liberal use of profanity, sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values and moral codes and the central character being a poor role model.
The book was included on a required reading list for an Advanced Placement English class. Prior to the book being assigned or discussed in class, a committee was formed to review the material. That committee included parents, students and a board member.
Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle noted the committee determined the book would not be required reading and alternate material would be available.
"We did follow board policy," she said and noted students had the choice not to read the book.
"That's board policy and law," VanWinkle said. "It is off the required reading list. It is in the library if someone wants to check it out."
Policy 4.801 states parents may request a student not be required to read a book, use certain materials or participate in an activity. A written request detailing the objections must be submitted to the principal and the principal will determine if the objection has merit and a suitable alternative assignment. No student who is granted such a request is to be penalized academically. The board has the final decision concerning use of controversial materials.
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, asked the board, " Have any of you had experience being engaged in censoring reading materials?"
Davis said, "All you have to do is look at it. If that's what we're getting to in education, especially in high school ... I could understand in college if a person wants to read it on their own. But if it's required. To me, stuff like this has no business in a high school or elementary school."
Roger Hyder, 4th District representative, agreed with the characterization of the book, but said the board needed to look to its attorney before taking action.
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said, "Maybe we need an NC-17 and PG-13 ratings and scales, but I don't know that it's in the board's position of authority to be making those decisions. And once you open that can of worms on one book, you're talking about the huge plethora of books that are out there, you can make an argument for every book out there down to See Spot Run.
"We're venturing into an area we need to think long and hard about if we want to make that stand."
Davis said, "Why would you not take a stand when the Creator's name is taken in vain 200 and something times?"
Student representative Tyler Janow said, "I feel that removing the book would be infringing on my rights as someone who is able to read."
Janow noted the school system was trying to expand the number of dual credit and advanced placement courses offered to students.
"If this is required reading for those classes, are we saying we won't have those classes?" he asked.
BOE Attorney Earl Patton said nothing of this nature had come up during his tenure with the school system, so he had limited experience with the subject, but he recommended the board take no action at that meeting.
Patton said, "If you are going to choose to do something of this nature, my advice would be do it very deliberately and to make sure you understand any implication that may come at you if you decide to vote on this tonight, especially with it being added to the agenda tonight."
Tollett said that, while the book does include strong language, it was not likely students were unfamiliar with the language used.
"Cumberland County is a great place to live, but if you want to put us on the map, in a big way, go on and ban this book," Tollett said. "I've been to book bannings. I've been to book burnings. It ain't a pretty sight."
Davis asked if Blalock would consider rescinding his motion. Blalock said his motion would stand.
Davis said, "My opinion of the book hasn't changed. I wouldn't want my child to read it. But that's my opinion. So be it if it's in the library. But we need a recommendation from the attorney before we do this."
He withdrew his support of the motion and the motion died for lack of support.