Our Voice: Prosser schools should keep controversial book on library shelves

May 10, 2013 

As proponents of free speech, we always become concerned when book bans are proposed.

Earlier this year, we applauded a review committee's decision on two books in the Prosser School District.

The committee of administrators, teachers, parents and a student recommended the books remain on the shelves. The books already had existing age restrictions and parents can determine which books their kids can check out from the school library if they wish.

Checks and balances clearly were in place for the books, which deal with the kind of challenging topics our kids must navigate as they grow.

Prosser Superintendent Ray Tolcacher endorsed the committee's decision, and the books remained available to students, with the existing restrictions.

But that did not sit well with Rich Korb, the Prosser High School social studies teacher who called for the books to be removed. He appealed to the school board.

A Child Called It is an autobiography of the author's abuse-filled childhood at the hands of an alcoholic mother. The Popularity Papers, the fourth in a series written in diary format, chronicles the quest of two girls trying to find the secret to the kind of popularity teens seem to hold so dear. One of the characters has two fathers.

Korb has offered reasons varying from political agendas to morality to poor writing as justification for removing the books. He has been intent on banning them from the schools, which seems odd for a teacher whose job is to educate students, not shield them from things with which he disagrees. Korb now has said the books should at least be moved to the high school level if they aren't entirely removed.

The board was swayed by Korb's arguments over the recommendations of the screening committee. The board struggled with what to do with the books and deadlocked on The Popularity Papers. That keeps it available at two elementary schools for fifth-graders, based on the superintendent's previous ruling.

Several on the board do not support the recommendation to keep A Child Called It, which has been on the district library shelves since the early 1990s. The board decided to meet at a later date to consider that book because members were unable to come to a consensus.

We don't understand the opposition. A Child Called It is already only available at the middle school to seventh and eighth-graders with parental permission. We're not sure what more the school board could want. Students who would like to read the book already have to provide the school with proof of parent approval.

The book's message is one of triumph and survival. It is graphic, but kids are not nearly as sheltered as many would like them to be, and they can handle it. It shows them that no matter the circumstances, it's possible to prevail. That's an important message for kids who may be dealing with dark issues at home or elsewhere.

Books are wonderful. They open our eyes and our minds to things beyond our daily existence. They teach important lessons and help children learn about the world we all share. Life isn't always pretty and tidy, and it's OK to let kids know that, too.

Prosser should leave the books on the shelves and leave the parenting to parents.

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