School board faces backlash for 'controversial' ban: 'Unbelievable idiocy'

Katie Mather

An Alaska school board voted to remove five famous books from district classrooms, citing that they had “controversial” content.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District board voted 5-2 to yank “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison out of teachers’ hands for the upcoming fall.

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School board Vice President Jim Hart told NBC News that the action was necessary because the books could potentially harm young, impressionable students.

“If I were to read these in a corporate environment, in an office environment, I would be dragged into EO,” Hart explained to NBC. “The question is why this is acceptable in one environment and not another.”

An “EO” refers to an equal opportunity complaint proceeding.

According to the Mat-Su release on the matter, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was challenged because of its “anti-white messaging.” “The Great Gatsby” was dubbed “too sexual,” while “The Invisible Man” was banned for its “language.”

The announcement came as a shock to teachers and parents in the area. Dianne K. Shibe, the president of the district’s teachers union, told NBC that she was aware that “controversial books” were going to be discussed and voted on at the meeting, but nobody took it seriously.

“Most of the community didn’t respond, because these books had been used forever,” Shibe said. “Now in retrospect, it’s like, ‘duh.’ I could have seen this coming.”

People on Twitter were outraged by the announcement too.




Hart explained that the books are only banned in schools, not in local libraries or book stores. The children are free to read the classics on their own time, but it’s not appropriate for school.

According to Hart, the teachers should not be expected to help their students understand the complicated subject matters.

“These are teachers, not counselors,” Hart said.

Another memo showcases the full list of books that were debated at the meeting.

“The Scarlet Letter” was challenged for being “pornographic” and “A Christmas Carol” was controversial because of references to ghosts and because it appears to advocate for a more socialist economy.

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