UPDATE: Missouri school district bans two books

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 | 12:12 p.m. CDT; updated 4:02 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 26, 2011

REPUBLIC — Two books have been banned from the libraries and curriculum at Republic High School in southwest Missouri after a parent complained that their content taught principles contrary to the Bible.

The district's school board voted Monday to remove Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" and Sarah Ockler's "Twenty Boy Summer," but to allow Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak" to be used in the district's high school, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

Superintendent Vern Minor said the board based its decision on whether the books were age-appropriate.

"We very clearly stayed out of discussion about moral issues," Minor said. "Our discussions from the get-go were age-appropriateness."

Wesley Scroggins of Republic, who had challenged the books and lesson plans last year, said he was mostly pleased with the decision.

"I congratulate them for doing what's right and removing the two books," said Scroggins. "It's unfortunate they chose to keep the other book."

It took a year to reach a decision because the complaint prompted the 4,500-student district to form a task force to develop book standards for all its schools, Minor said. The panel considered existing policies and public rating systems that already exist for music, TV and video games before adopting new standards in April. Those standards were applied to the three books, Minor said.

Several people read the books and provided feedback.

"It was really good for us to have this discussion," Minor said. "Most schools stay away from this, and they get on this rampage, the whole book-banning thing, and that's not the issue here. We're looking at it from a curriculum point of view."

Minor said most people supported keeping "Speak," which is taught in English I and II courses, because although it had one short description of a rape, it had a strong message at the end.

But he said those who read "Twenty Boy Summer," available in the library, thought it sensationalized sexual promiscuity and included questionable language, drunkenness, lying to parents and a lack of remorse. And he said "Slaughterhouse Five" contained crude language and adult themes that are more appropriate for college-age students.

Minor said students will be allowed to use those two books for extra class material if they have their parents' permission.

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Paul Allaire July 26, 2011 | 1:02 p.m.

"after a parent complained that their content taught principles contrary to the Bible."

Now I realize that I'm about to go incendiary here and then I thought "Did the parent really say that exactly or is this what I get after the story has been repeated through however many people it had to go through to get here?"

The next thing I wanted to do was to note how incredible I found it that a rural school district in south west Missouri would have a book such as "Slaughterhouse Five" on it's curriculum, right before admonishing the same for caving in to the views of a few individuals.

I saw the movie in high school in a college theater. I found it to be a quantum leap from most everything which I was accustomed to viewing. Age appropriate? Possibly, as the remainder of the audience was, as far as I could tell, university students. I actually have a copy of the movie and wouldn't show it to someone with a short attention span regardless of their age, but then I also wouldn't expect someone without an attention span to appreciate reading Madame Bovary, Pere Goriot, Candide or any of the other books that I read in my senior English class.

Please let's not take away good reading material on account of it being a little too good for someone to latch onto quickly, because it raises more questions than provides answers. Please let's not make our dumbed down educational systems any dumber than they have to be.

(Report Comment)
Louis Schneebaum July 26, 2011 | 2:29 p.m.

Slaughterhouse 5 is a great book. The other two? Not really... Should they be banned? Probably not. Is the country full of idiots? Sigh...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 26, 2011 | 5:50 p.m.

I have a difficult time understanding why Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse 5" would be objectionable reading material for high school students. While the book is fiction it deals with an historic event (the fire bombing of Dresden).

On the other hand, some would eliminate Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," because it deals with race and has the "N" word in it.

Some high schools give students a list of approved books and let students make their own selection.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 26, 2011 | 6:36 p.m.

I'm guessing that people were most likely offended at the book because it sort of makes a Christ figure out of the main character and because the main character isn't Christ and doesn't act exactly as they would expect of Christ. The (movie) causes me to think about religion. I believe that a small group of individuals perceived the book as a mockery of their religion. And since we live in MISSOURI we all know that the separation of church and state was only meant to be a limited separation...
And we also know better than to THINK when something like RELIGION is involved...

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle July 26, 2011 | 10:08 p.m.

I think Ellis is right: many Americans might have a hard time with a book that poses troubling questions about the morality of area-bombing during WW2. (Let's not forget: Vonnegut was there for Dresden; he was a prisoner of the Germans, housed at Dresden.)
We can deal with such events if we merely convince ourselves that it was necessary to win the war. But if serious questions are raised...
Churchill (no less) after Dresden: "The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing. . . . I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives . . . rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.”
There are still people who will call you "unAmerican" if you merely raise such questions.... That's sad: to me, it seems deeply American *to* explore those questions.
WW2 did present combatants with perhaps unanswerable moral issues. But we need to continue to address them, and book-banning books is not the best path.

(Report Comment)
Mary Schaeffer July 26, 2011 | 10:13 p.m.


(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 26, 2011 | 10:29 p.m.

Tim: A fact of war.

No one EVER won a war worrying about collateral damage. If you worry about lose.

You can argue the ethics of that fact 'til the cows come home, but it will still remain a fact.

The moral is: If you want to worry about collateral damage, don't make war.

Even if you are attacked.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 27, 2011 | 6:42 a.m.

Tim Trayle and Michael Williams:

Without taking sides, I would like to mention that another series of incendiary bombings took place near the end of WW II. Prior to dropping the two nuclear weapons on Japan the United States fire bombed several large Japanese cities. Casualties were of the order of those for the nuclear blasts, and it's a safe bet that had the atomic weapons not been available the incendiary bombings would have continued.

Is being burned, including burned to death, more desirable than dying or sufferung from nuclear radiation?

We are nearing the time of year when we are supposed to remember Hiroshima. Who, other than the Japanese, remembers those fire bombings?

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle July 27, 2011 | 7:21 a.m.

@Michael Williams:

You raise a strawman; no sane person would argue that making war can escape civilian deaths (I'll avoid the sanitizing euphemism "collateral damage"). But we *are* morally responsible for trying to avoid unnecessary civilian deaths--that's a basic foundation of just-war principles, and it's what discomfited Churchill after Dresden.
Let's remember that Dresden was very very late in the war, and did not present a significant military target. (I am aware of the twisted arguments that try to say it was.) Moreover, incendiary bombing by its nature accepts--indeed embraces?--civilian deaths.
When you respond "sorry--civilian deaths are part of war," that simply ignores the duty to take every care to *limit* them, even as one continues to accept that yes, they are a near-inescapable aspect of military conflict.
_Slaughterhouse-5_ can offer students good material for discussing the limits of moral behavior in wartime. A shame that an adult sought to "shield" students from that discussion--*if* that was a motive, of course.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire July 27, 2011 | 8:43 a.m.

"A fact of war.
No one EVER won a war worrying about collateral damage. If you worry about lose."

So then all the acts of terror that we are said to be fighting against by occupying Iraq and Afghanistan are justified because the terrorists are at war. Right????

Oh, and I believe that history can show many examples of bloodless coups. Your assertion sounds plausible enough, so therefore you go on repeating it as if it were fact in an effort to drag the rest of us down to your mental plane, but actually, like many other things you repeat, it is not true.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 27, 2011 | 10:41 a.m.

Tim: No "strawman" argument was intended or advanced. The history of mankind simply shows that if you decide to go to all-out war, you lose if you worry about collateral damage (i.e., civilians and non-military targets).

You claim there is a "duty" to limit such outcomes. As a fellow human being, I certainly understand this very human sentiment. I'm not insensitive to such feelings; indeed, I feel them, too. I'm not the ogre my statement may make me out to be in some folks minds.

Winning any war is an issue of "will". It's a horrible game of technological and strategic advancements designed to lessen your opponents' "will". If your opponent has a weak will, then the war is won with surgical advancements and minimal collateral damage. BUT, if your opponent has a very strong will, then the war will escalate to involve civilians and non-military targets until "will" is lost on one side or the other. What happened in Japan, London, and Germany during WWII demonstrates this quite clearly, as do the past various rapes and pillages across this globes's history. Ancient and modern-day terrorists also know this, which is why collateral damage is considered a desirable thing.

It's a matter of collapsing "will".

Formal rules of war were written to avoid such escalation. Unfortunately, when one side decides there are NO rules of war (i.e., "will" is quite high), escalation to include collateral damage is a foregone conclusion.

Never, ever go to war with someone devoid of rules (or a willingness to abandon rules) unless you are willing to match that sentiment. If you do, you lose.

Every time.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle July 27, 2011 | 2:57 p.m.

@Michael Willams:

I understand your claim about traditional norms limiting warfare, and what can happen when one side abandons them. However, there is little evidence that traditional (non-nuclear) morale bombing in WW2 actually did weaken public will in Germany or Japan.
Obviously, morale bombing can have significant practical effects (if workers fear showing up at a plant, productivity goes down, and that can affect aspects of the war effort--see the Ford plant at Cologne, 1944), but the assumptions proponents of morale bombing had made about the practice were not borne out in fact. Advocates had predicted that such campaigns would result in a tidal wave of domestic sentiment against Hitler and Hirohito. In many ways, the opposite occurred; area-bombing gave popular credence to Hitler's portrayal of Germany as a "victim," and provided moral cover for German atrocities. Military historians such as Richard Overy and Adrian Lewis have written much on the subject.
I want to note that the practical effect of area-bombing was significant; it had economic effects and in some cases, that affected the war effort. But that is a separate issue from the claims of morale and public will. It does not seem to have weakened public will, and certainly did not create what its advocates had claimed.
It's a complex topic...

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 27, 2011 | 4:06 p.m.

Tim: Indeed, it is a complex topic.

Your comments about there being little evidence that bombing in WWII had little effect on morale (will) is true...early on. If anything, it increased resistance at first.

But not later. The question is "What happened over the long haul?" Surely you can agree that the sustained damage to military AND non-military targets contributed to an eventual loss of will when accompanied by loss of controlled land by Allied grunts on the ground.

England was a bit different. They suffered significant civilian and non-military target damage. It got their dander up. However, I am confident that if the US had not been on the sidelines (and eventually joined the game), England would have suffered more and more collateral damage, eventual loss of land and country, and concomitant loss of "will".

But, back to my point: If you and I got into a knock-down drag-out physical fight, what would to lose that fight? Well, there are 2 possibilities: (1) Either I'm dead or completely incapacitated, or (2) I lose my will to continue. For the first possibility, you've been able to completely overwhelm quickly that I cannot escalate and regain an advantage. It's done and over, and I am without options.

For the second, I have to decide (while I'm still awake) whether continuing is worth (a) the physical pain I'm gonna feel or (2) the possible immorality of escalation. You've already shown me that my fists are insufficient, and I have to decide how important it is to me to win in the face of continuing and additional pain. INO, how great is my "will"?

If my will is great, I may decide to break a chair over your head (collateral damage). I may pick up a ball bat, or a knife, or a gun, or even go after relatives. It may turn into a no-holds-barred-no-rules fight with no consideration of collateral damage. If I resort to that, then YOU have a decision to make: Do I quit? Or, do I escalate, also?

It is unreasonable and illogical to believe countries and/or like-minded people would behave any differently than you or I in the simulated fight.

Whoever they are, the one with the greater "will" wins. You or me. Every time.

PS: I always thought catching a big carp on a pole/line was a good example of the life/death competition that takes place in this world. Carp have attitudes. Big attitudes. When I catch a big one, I can just hear that carp say, "Ok, big guy. You fooled me with that corn niblet trick. Let's start tugging and see who can pull the other in. Loser dies. 1-2-3-GO!"

Still here, so far....but I was worried a couple of times, lol.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley July 27, 2011 | 7:06 p.m.

The statement: "No one EVER won a war worrying about collateral damage. If you worry about lose." is complete "bunk".

We ALWAYS worry about collateral damage, but it is hard to prevent.

One of the reasons we use "surgical strikes" or "precision strikes" is to limit collateral damage. One of the reasons we use precision spec. ops teams like DEVGRU is to limit collateral damage in operations involving high value targets. We could have used any Infantry Unit to take Bin Laden, but a lot of civilians would have died when an entire Infantry Unit came riding into the area where he was at to take him out; but a small unit sneaking in under the cover of darkness did actually limit the collateral damage in that particular operation. The development of unmanned drones, precision laser guided missiles, Military Red Teams, and other such technology was bought about due to the consideration and worry about collateral damage.

One of the first considerations made in planning out these types of operations is collateral damage.

Here is a FACT. If you don't worry about collateral damage, then you become the "monster" in the war. If you become the "monster" in the war, you don't "win the hearts and minds" of the very people you are trying to liberate; and if that happens then you either lose the war on the battlefield or at home; and Vietnam has shown us that one is just as bad as the other....

Ricky B. Gurley.

RMRI, Inc.
(573) 529-0808

(Report Comment)

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