Friday, June 18, 2010

Nickel and Dimed?

An unusually honest book challenge is still under consideration in Easton, Pennsylvania, according to Lehigh Valley I say unusually honest because many book challengers never admit that their objections are political or religious in nature, especially when they really are. Too often, challengers exaggerate -- or outright fabricate -- claims that a book contains sexually explicit materials or foul language, specifically to avoid revealing their true objections.  Not so in Easton.

The book in question is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America. This is a journalistic investigation into what it’s like for Americans earning the minimum wage to try to make ends meet.  Ehrenreich tried living this way herself, and wrote up her experiences from an eye-witness perspective. The results are less than kind to corporate America and even to some individuals with a higher standard of living.  At the Easton Area School District, the book was “part of the school's 11th-grade Advanced Placement English curriculum.”  As one administrator put it, “We read books like this to spark debate, get kids thinking about what they actually believe in, and stand up and defend it.”

Since the book is non-fiction and contains no sexually explicit material, the challenger had no choice but to be honest.  He accused the district of engaging in “political activism” by using the book, which he claims promotes economic fallacies, socialist ideas, and illegal drug use.  He also claims it belittles Christians.  The challenger has no children in the school district, but feels he has standing to make his claim as a tax-payer and as a graduate of the school district.

This kind of challenge is a waste of time for the school district and for the challenger, since even if the challenger’s claims are true, they do not constitute a legally defensible basis for removing a book.  In fact, removing books in an attempt to enforce political orthodoxy has been specifically tested and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court (Board v. Pico, 1982). Nevertheless, waste time is just what the school district did, creating an 11-member committee to review the book. No harm done. The committee met in December and found the book pedagogically sound, voting to retain it.

The school board has yet to discuss the challenge. It could override the review committee’s recommendations, as School Boards have sometimes done in other book challenges. Let’s hope the board of the Easton Area School District are abler than those others.


  1. Hi,

    Great post. A most interesting challenge! I wondered if you would mind if I included your post in its entirety on the Fahrenheit 451 Blog, as a guest columnist?

  2. It will be an honor to be a guest columnist on your blog. Feel free to use the article.

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