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Posted at 5:43 PM ET, 02/ 1/2010

'The Diary of Anne Frank' and parental book complaints

By Valerie Strauss

Culpeper County public school officials reacted quickly to negative publicity they received last week for a decision to remove from the eighth grade curriculum a version of Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s diary.

In a statement, schools officials said that they would continue teaching the definitive version of “The Diary of a Young Girl,” which contains some sexually explicit passages that drew a complaint from a parent.

I wrote about the complaint last week, quoting a local newspaper as saying that the books had been removed from the schools. Rather, a decision was made to stop teaching it in the eighth grade curriculum, though the books were not physically taken from the buildings. The decision was made without going through a process intended to be followed when curriculum is challenged.

The definitive version was published on the 50th anniversary of Frank’s death of typhus in a concentration camp and includes passages previously excluded from the widely read original edition published in 1947.

The diary describes the daily life of a Jewish girl who lived in hiding with her family in Amsterdam during World War II. Some passages in the newer version detail Frank’s emerging sexual desires.

According to the Star Exponent newspaper, the school system statement says that officials will convene a committee this spring to review the book and determine which version should be taught next fall.

The school system’s superintendent has now ordered the creation of a reading list in middle and high school English courses that ensures “students are exposed to a wide range of literature and also enable parents to review the list at the beginning of the course.” That way, parents can seek an alternative for their child if they deem fit.

The idea that a committee has to get together to decide whether the book is acceptable to eighth graders in Culpeper County is unsettling. The diary is the best known piece of Holocaust literature in the world and eighth graders should have been exposed to enough sex education to deal with the material.

What made the original decision upsetting to many people was that school officials had allowed the voice of a single parent to override a curriculum decision made by professional educators.

Can any parent complain about any part of the curriculum and be assured that a committee will be convened to review its suitability?

This can easily get out of hand, as it just did in the Menifee Union School District in California. In the 9,000-student K-8 district, officials pulled dictionaries off of school shelves after a parent complained that the word “oral sex” was one of the word entries.

A parent with a child in Oak Meadows Elementary School had complained that a child had found the definitions and thus all copies of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary were removed.

That didn’t last long; a few days later, district officials decided to allow the books back in, though parents could decide to keep them away from their own children. There is some concern in the district that a college-level dictionary is inappropriate for young children.
The dictionaries were purchased, according to the Press-Enterprise, to allow children who could use them look up words they didn’t know.

What an unusual use for a dictionary.

It is certainly true that not every book is appropriate for every student. That is why adult educators consider developmental stages when they design curriculum and lesson plans.

Parents can make decisions for their own children, but beyond that, they should leave it to the professionals.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 1, 2010; 5:43 PM ET
Categories:  Literature, Reading  | Tags:  book censorship  
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A college-level dictionary for elementary students makes more sense than the dictionary the elementary school where my mother taught required the fourth-graders to buy. When the teachers--and some parents--complained that it was too limited and students needed a new dictionary in the fifth grade, the embarrassed principal explained (to the teachers, not to the parents) that the dictionary was designed to accompany the reading texts and furthermore, the school got a kickback from the publisher for every copy purchased. The teachers flatly refused to recommend the dictionary any more.

Buy them a dictionary "suitable" to the grade if you can afford a new one every year or so, but otherwise buy them one they can grow into.

(The elementary student who copied out all the definitions must have had questions or he wouldn't have hunted for the terms. He should have been able to ask his parents instead of having to search on his own.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 1, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

I remember looking up dirty words in the classroom dictionary when I was in elementary school. It was funny to see the words printed in a book, but I can't say the words and definitions corrupted me. Not even the illustration of a "codpiece" did any permanent harm.

Posted by: pundito | February 1, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

The whole concept of one (as in a single individual) person can railroad a whole school district into not teaching something is extremely disturbing. Will we finally get to the point where there is no real education going on in schools because someone somewhere will object to being taught about evolution, intelligent design, chance, or whatever? What is the point of education anyways at that moment? We might as well stick our heads in the sand.

Posted by: Greg S. | February 1, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

"What made the original decision upsetting to many people was that school officials had allowed the voice of a single parent to override a curriculum decision made by professional educators."

Exactly. Before trusting the teachers who must constantly update their education, who spend 5 years acquiring a license, school "authorities" listened to one crackpot. It didn't even take a crazed, semi-literate mob to make those wusses buckle. Well, the kids know the score. They know they're getting fed pablum.

Posted by: UsedToBeGOP | February 1, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

You would have fun down here in Texas.
2 months after the 40th anniversary of our landing on the Moon, the Texas State Board of Education decided to approve a list of so-called "famous" people who would be discussed in classes in public schools.
Neil Armstrong's name was dropped from that list because (paraphrasing) "we just can't include everybody."
That's the state of public education in Texas, where most of their time was dithering over whether or not they would allow evolution to be taught beside creationism.
Thanks for the excellent quote from Albert Einstein in the left top corner of this page!

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | February 1, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Valerie, you say "leave it to the professionals". For too long, the state of public education has been a dictatorship by the "professionals". Too many students go through the schools poorly educated. Many parents realize this, but can't get the problem corrected. At one time the schools taught useful subjects like reading, writing, arithmetic, history, and geography and the students actually learned. Now, it's a crapshoot. The policymakers are far from the parents and students in their administrative and school board ivory towers. They "know what's best" and are not to be questioned, no matter the result of their policies. It's time to get rid of the "policies" and go back to basics so that we actually educate kids.

Posted by: allamer1 | February 1, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Can you explain that portion of the parent's complaint relative to homosexuality in Anne Frank's unexpurgated edition?
That complaint must be a vast stretch, because, as I remember the book, it defies reason.
(Yes, I did read the new edition.
I can't remember anything in my reading which would fit into that category.)
God help us when one bigot can wreak such havoc.

Posted by: Judy-in-TX | February 1, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

I had a parent who challenged the teaching of mythology in 9th grade claiming that it was "anti-Christian."

Posted by: sdl63 | February 1, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

Wow. I had to use a big kid dictionary to look up the definition of "pablum". Thanks UsedToBeGOP.....:)

Posted by: changingfaces | February 1, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

The kids are curious . . .use this as an opportunity to teach them about abstinence and safe sex.
If you don't teach the kids . . .the kids will educate each other, and then you end up becoming grandparents before you want to be.

Posted by: momof20yo | February 2, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

War is pretty explicit too.
Where was Anne Franks mother when she was writing this terrible "stuff"
I'm just being sarcastic. This book around for years without this kind of small minded conduct. I welcome the book. Let today's kids grow up learning what it was like growing up in war time.

Posted by: peep1935 | February 2, 2010 7:56 AM | Report abuse

How it is that the true, honest, feelings of a young girl be considered wrong for students the same age as her? This is not teaching thoughts or behavior, merely allowing children her age and older to share in some of the same feelings and thoughts they are probably having themselves; albeit through the filter of horror and war. These things together give our kids a glimpse into a world that they should know about and be wary of, and most importantly... to learn from.

Posted by: JorgeGortex | February 2, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

At least they are learning about the holocaust, the only thing my 6th grader has learned about WWII is the evil US dropping the bomb on Japan, and the Japanese internment camps. They are now reading a book about the Cultural Revolution which I will be interested to read, especially as the worksheet references "Chairman Mao", not Mao Tse Tung. Kind of like asking a question about "Der Furher" or "Comrade Stalin", a bit familar for objectivity.

Posted by: dgb100 | February 2, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

I presume the children of the parent who objected to Anne Frank's diary don't watch TV, ever.

I once objected to showing a movie my adolescent grandchildren wanted to see on the grounds that it had some objectionably violent material. My eldest grandson said: "Grandma, don't watch that part!"

Posted by: FedUp1 | February 2, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

“The Diary of Anne Frank' and parental book complaints
I wrote about the complaint last week, quoting a local newspaper as saying that the books had been removed from the schools. Rather, a decision was made to stop teaching it in the eighth grade curriculum, though the books were not physically taken from the buildings.” -- By Valerie Strauss, February 1, 2010

“Taking Anne Frank off shelves: Indefensible
This isn't the first time that a classic book has been pulled off a library shelf because a parent didn't want their darling child to read it, but it is equally obscene every time it happens…

The problem for Allen is that it IS a big deal when books are pulled off shelves because a parent doesn’t want their student to read about female genitals in the context of this Holocaust memoir, which is the passage in contention here…

In fact, most challenges--or attempts to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of an individual or a group--fail, according to the American Library Association, because of librarians, teachers, parents students and others who are committed to fighting censorship.
How unfortunate that that was not true in this case…

Removing the most widely read Holocaust memoir in the world from a school library because one parent was upset is indefensible… --By Valerie Strauss, January 28, 2010



YOU BECAME SO UNHINGED THAT YOUR FIRST BLOG CLAIMED, “Removing the most widely read Holocaust memoir in the world from a school library because one parent was upset is indefensible.”



Posted by: ChesDead | February 2, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Momof20yo writes: "use this as an opportunity to teach them about abstinence and safe sex."

No, this is a time to teach kids about the Holocaust. Rather than teach about safe sex, I'd rather see objective discussion about the US's reaction to the long time persecution of Jews and our inability to use one of our 1 million European bombing sorties to try to take out the camp or the tracks leading up to it.

On another matter, does anyone really think that Anne wanted everything she wrote to be read by millions of people? And then why doesn't her father's feelings count for anything (the owner of the diary) until his death when he gave the missing portion to a "friend" who sold it for $300K.

By the way there is a SC ruling on this sort of thing (Pico). Funny that it limits the power of SB's to pull material, but does give them total power to ban it before it even gets to the classroom/library. And SB can pull whatever they want from 5th grade. Pretty strange ruling.

Posted by: rjma1 | February 2, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Nazis in hell are beaming with pride at their right-wing progeny whose astounding ignorance and remarkable stupidity rekindle hope for fascist revival.

Posted by: JovialReaper | February 2, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

I guess I have learned my lesson abour reading columninsts and thinking I'd gotten "the" news.

Perhaps the reporter who wrote the article for this paper was looking to temper this dispute?

Elsewhere in this paper -

"A Culpeper mother of an eighth-grader at Floyd T. Binns Middle School became concerned about an entry in which Frank describes having erotic feelings for another girl and another in which she describes what her vagina looks like, Johnson said. The mother did not want the book removed, she said. She was asking that her daughter not be required to read the book aloud, as the class had been doing. "

If I were a young girl I might not want to get stuck reading the erotic passage out loud either.

So I think this story had more than any one journalist may have told us about.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 2, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Red Bird- You're just being a spoiled sport. The story is much more juicy if we can use words like Nazi, Censorship, Prudish, etc. I don't think most boys would want to read it out loud either.

If that is all there is to it, how are you going to bring the righteous indignation into it?

Also for the author and the other band wagoneers, tell me how anyone was hurt....and then compare that to the slashing of the Culp. County school budget. But this this is what raising the blood pressure.

Posted by: rjma1 | February 2, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Gee--when I was in high school all the reading had to be done on our own time and classtime was reserved for either discussing the book or listening to the teacher's opinions. (The exception was Shakespeare--the teacher was a frustrated actress and read large chunks of the plays to us.)

When we discussed "Catcher in the Rye," the teacher that year walked in, wrote the F word on the board in big letters, looked at the snickering class, and said, "Now that we've gotten that out of the way and you've had your giggles, let's get down to business." He then erased the word and led a serious discussion about the language in the book and the fact that in the long run, Holden Caulfield expresses his disgust with the ubiquitousness of the word.. Most of the class agreed that they were pretty tired of their friends who threw words like that around just to act big, an opinion that would have surprised most of the adults who objected to the book because of its language.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 2, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

I hope the parents in Culpepper County will first create a committee that advises families about quality television shows, internet use, free choice reading outside of school, diet, and ample exercise. If they can demonstrate their whole community exhibits the highest moral, physical, nutritional, and educational standards while at home -- where people learn much more about life than they do at school -- then they can form school committees. I have a feeling most of these families don't have any idea what their kids are into or what they read, watch, and do when they're not looking.

Posted by: guybrarian | February 2, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

It is a sad day when books are banned in the US. If parents don't have time or the incentive to teach their children right from wrong or truth from lies this country is going down the drain. If they leave it to the schools that graduate students that are not smart enough to tie their own shoes, and they relay on the government to teach them morels there is no hope. Just take a good look at the morels of our elected officials. The government can enact all kind of laws but no one can legislate morality. That has to be taught in the home.

Posted by: OldCoot1 | February 2, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

I find it curious that this blog treats the most recent edition as the "definitive" one when Anne Frank herself probably would not approve of the publication of much that is included in it. Toward the end of her time in hiding, Frank began revising her diary with publication in mind, and she cut out a lot of the parts that are in the most recent edition...and also a few parts that are in the original edition. Any coherent edition has to make editorial choices about whether to use the revised material or original material, or whether to combine them in some manner. The new edition may be more useful critically for scholars, but the original edition remains the one that the world fell in love with, so which is the more definitive? There is no reason that a school cannot teach the original edition and avoid controversy.

And, as a parent, if my child were a 4th grader reading Anne Frank, I'd probably prefer the original edition. By high school, students may find things in the new critical edition that are awkward or uncomfortable, but nothing should be objectionable. And if a parent does raise objections, a school should be able to respond to that one parent to make an exception for that student without revising the entire curriculum for everyone.

What a tempest in a teapot!

Posted by: blert | February 3, 2010 3:42 AM | Report abuse

fr OldCoot:

>...It is a sad day when books are banned in the US...<

SO true.

Posted by: Alex511 | February 3, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

The only variety of oral sex that children must be spared is the icessant stupid-talk by repressed wanna-have/in-your dream Cotton Mathers.

Posted by: craigslsst | February 3, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

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