The following post was created with the collaboration of Elaine Atwell, Jennifer Fitzpatrick, Jill Guccini, Lucy Hallowell, Heather Hogan, Jenna Lykes, and Dana Piccoli.
Here in America in the 21st century, we live in an infuriatingly post-everything world, where racist people know they can’t be seen as racist, where anti-women activists know they can’t be seen as anti-women, and homophobes know they can’t be seen as homophobic. So we lace our words, our actions, our laws with different, thinly veiled excuses. Laws that target black men are instead interpretations of the Second Amendment that permit us to “stand our ground.” Women’s health and safety is put at stake in order to stand by freedom of speech and religion, as long as the religion is Christianity. And to finish off the triumvirate, lesbian books for children are banned not for being about lesbians, but because they include a few curse words.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth, published in 2012, was a YA tour de force, a book that older queers wished had been written when they were kids, lauded by numerous high-brow publications for the quality of its writing. It was also nominated for the much-coveted Morris Award, given by the American Library Association each year to the best new voice in YA. This wasn’t just a book that the gays were reading. Everybody was reading it! And loving it!
Educators and librarians loved it enough to include it on many reading lists, like one this year in Delaware called The Blue Hen List, a collection of 10 contemporary novels that are given to students who are about to enter high school in honors or college prep courses as options to read over the summer. The list is compiled by public youth librarians across the state, and let me tell you, youth librarians usually know what they’re talking about. But on June 12, after concerns from parents, the school board of Cape Henlopen voted 6-1 to remove the book from the list. Lesbians were never mentioned as part of their concern, but man, they were so concerned about the use of the word “fuck.”
The school board president, Spencer Brittingham, did “some research” and concluded that the book was “not appropriate” for high school freshmen. It’s for more mature students–you know, like “sophomores or juniors.” He perused the book a little and found “four or five” F-bombs. Well, holy shit, Spencer Brittingham. He boasted that “in less than three minutes” he knew this book wasn’t suitable, giving kids a fine example of how to think deeply and critically about important issues. Board member Sandi Minard, meanwhile, also perused “sections” of the book, and concluded that there were “pages and pages” of the dread four-letter word. Which started to make me think, gosh golly, maybe they read a different book than I did, because I hardly even remember the use of the word as a standout thing. Like, I hardly remember it at all. But then I realized, “Oh, wait! They didn’t read the book!”
I also don’t believe they’ve walked around middle and high school hallways, where you can hear these words more often than you’ll ever see them in the pages of a book. Let it be made very clear: school boards are consistently the most out-of-touch-with-children group of people you can find in a community. Let it also be made clear: school boards consistently have the most power over any public school in America. It sets children up nicely for the power structures they’ll find later in the world.
Schools are also big into mission statements, goals, standards. Here are some from Cape Henlopen’s website. Their mission states that they want to prepare “each student for a healthy, creative, and rewarding life in a diverse and global society.” They also want to “promote diversity” and “improve school climate and safety.” They believe that “education builds an understanding and respect for all cultures in a global society.” Man, they really like diversity! Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like Cam Post, a loving, aching story about being different, fits in perfectly with those beliefs.
If only it didn’t have so many F-words! Because that’s the only problem the board has with this book, right?
Except here are the other nine books on the list: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Butter by Erin Jade Lange, Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, March by John Lewis, If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch, More Than This by Patrick Ness, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and Boxers by Gene Luen Yang and Lark Pien. I have read four of these books. Maybe you’ve read more. Know who else uses the word fuck? John Green. Rainbow Rowell. In fact, Rowell uses it a-fucking-lot, in a much shorter book than Cam Post. March deals with the civil rights movement and includes the N-word; Boxers details parts of the Boxer Rebellion, which includes the violent slaughter of thousands of people. There’s also lots of sexy-times throughout these books. All of which seems pretty mature. Like teens are capable of dealing with mature themes or something.
Geez. Maybe they’ll have to get rid of all these books. Like, maybe just wait until these students are sophomores, you know?
Or maybe the Cape Henlopen School Board could be called out on its blatant, not-even-really veiled homophobia. I understand the instinct of parents and educators to protect children. The things that I’ve witnessed middle and high school students say and do over the past few years has shocked even me. But telling them they shouldn’t say “fuck.” Telling them they shouldn’t have sex. Telling them they shouldn’t read books with dark endings. If you understood anything about children at all, you would know that it always ends up, as Delaware librarian Margie Cyr wisely points out in the Cape Gazette, blowing up in their faces. Teenagers will want to do all the things you don’t want them to do even more.
First of all, we want to let the Henlopen school board know how we feel, so we are sending them the following e-mail:
Feel free to write your own e-mail, or copy and paste ours. Here are the e-mail addresses of the board members:
We are also working with a local bookstore, Browseabout Books, to try an alternate method to get the word out. Anyone interested can call the store at (302) 226-2665 and order a copy of Cameron Post to be given to an interested area reader.
Kids are the people who most need to hear that what they are feeling and experiencing isn’t wrong or shameful, and this is the perfect opportunity to stand up and make sure that they can.