Sunday, May 23, 2010

Revolutionary Voices, part 2

Earlier this month I noted that the Rancocas Valley Board of Education, in New Jersey, had made a dubious decision to ban (remove from library shelves) Revolutionary Voices, an anthology by and for queer and questioning youth.  What will happen next remains to be seen, but there might be more to the story.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union reports on its own website that it has made an Open Public Records request for documents relating to the board's decision.  That doesn't mean they ACLU will necessarily take action against the board, but it does indicate that they're considering what action to take.

Why seek these documents?  Probably because they ACLU is looking for evidence as to the motivations behind the board's decision. Court precedents, especially the 1982 Board v. Pico decision, make it clear that school boards need to have a valid pedagogical reason for removing a book that is already on a school library shelf, and cannot remove books in an attempt to enforce any kind of political orthodoxy. Were the ACLU to sue the school board over this act of censorship, the court would probably examine transcripts of board discussions, emails, memos, and the like, looking for information about what motivated the ban. The court would probably ask whether or not the district had an established procedure for handling challenges to library books, and whether or not that procedure was followed.  The court would want to know if the board followed or overrode the recommendations of a review committee, if there was one. The court would try to determine whether the board members actually knew the contents of the book, what details of the contents made the book educationally unfit, and how that analysis was arrived at. Of course, any comments indicating that the board made an uninformed decision, or made their decision in order to implement political or religious objectives, could weigh heavily against the ban.

In deciding what action, if any, to take, the ACLU would be likely to evaluate those same kinds of documents in order to estimate the strength of a possible lawsuit. It would be interesting to see what documents the school board produces in response to the Open Public Records request, and what they contain. I can only speculate, but with a copy of the banned book right here in my hand, I'd say the school board made a major legal blunder.  If they're smart, they'll reverse their decision before they have to divert large chunks of tax dollars to pay legal fees.


  1. we are doing a theatrical reading of excerpts from the book to show it is NOT pornographic and should NOT be banned! check out our website for details & performance dates:

  2. Will you be showing the two men having sex while the cub scout watches and the cub scout leader points to the men having sex also as part of the performance...just curious.

  3. Anonymous:
    What you describe in your comment is not actually in the book. It is frequently claimed that the illustration on p. 103 shows what you described, but if you look carefully, you'll see that the men are clothed. The editor of the book described the picture as a stock football photo. (The obscenity, in this instance, is in the mind of the reader, not in the photo in the book).

    That being said, you'll have to attend the performance to see for yourself what it does or does not contain.

  4. See for yourself! Playing Football? Naked maybe!

  5. I guess my other post didn't post. I said:

    See for yourself. Playing football? Maybe naked.

  6. Thank you for sharing the link, Anonymous, but it doesn't change the facts. I think it is clear to anyone who looks at the picture on the blogsite you link to, or who looks at the image in the original book (as I am doing right now), that the picture contains neither nudity nor sexual activity. The caption given to the photo on the blogsite claims that the it shows two men engaging in anal sex, but that just doesn't hold up to any inspection that is reasonably attentive to detail.

    LOOK AGAIN! See what's on the page, instead of what some people are trying too hard to see!

  7. I guess I should add that I can see how this photo is easily misinterpreted. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the artist had selected it specifically because of its ambiguity, although I have no way to determine that. Such ambiguity comes nowhere near to constituting legal obscenity, however.

    This book is not for everyone. But it gives voice to people who very often have no voice. It has serious literary and social value, and could be quite valuable to some youth who might be struggling to understand themselves. It would be a serious shame to take this away from people who could benefit from it just because some other people can't figure out for sure what's going on in one picture.

  8. If you don't know what is going on..then I think you need to read a different book.

  9. Really? What book would that be that will educate me so?

    Part of being an adult, sir or madam, is a willingness to face reality as it is, rather than on how one wishes it to be. Grow Up!

  10. Noncensor99...I have to laugh. Maybe you play football like that...but it's a little too intimate for me...I've never seen the quarter back with his arms around the waist of the center, and his pelvis locked on his butt, but I play the game the normal way...and never ever seen a caption of "Boy to Man" on photo describing football. And someone explain the boy scouts...or is that another football analogy only "you " recognize. As I recall this book has more than this. There are sections that describe to the grade 7-12 "young adult seeking knowledge" how to go about selling ones self for gay S&M activities. Again, you may feel this is jolly good stuff for grade 7-12 as GLSEN does. But frankly I agree with the school board! I know as self appointed savior of all that is holy in book banning you feel anything goes in the high school libraries, the reality is there are limits to what "children" should be exposed to in a public school. Rev Voices exceeded with it...nobody burned the library down...they just applied something you seem to not have...common sense when dealing young people...So you can keep fooling yourself but you don't fool anyone else.

  11. If you are prepared to say in the book, by page number, what portions of the text are too objectionable, I'll be happy to investigate them (i'm still trying to find the naughty bits).

    But I see we've gotten to the core of the matter without that. Now your personal sense of what's proper for minors of various ages is "common sense," while I, as you explain it, would promote "anything goes" in the public schools, even though the book I'm defending here is far, far from "anything goes."

    You're operating atop a vast pile of untested assumptions and assertions about what is appropriate for young people of various ages, what the book contains, and what my position is. Get off the soapbox and come back down to planet earth where sane people have contact with reality!