Books as “surplus goods”: a new angle for censorship

Novelist Dave Eggers Calls Rapid City Book Destruction ‘Unacceptable Horror’

Arguments over censorship have become all too common at school board meetings. In South Dakota, the Rapid City School District tried to avoid this public debate with a new tactic: listing targeted books at the end of a list of surplus properties.

After public outcry, the school board delayed voting on the books, originally hidden in the consent agenda as “surplus assets” recommended for destruction.

weeding“Damaged or outdated books are not unusual for libraries or schools. But the five targeted books were recent purchases, and a panel of teachers requested them as part of new 12and-Course of Study.

Books include Dave Eggers The circleAllison Bechdel’s Graphic Memoirs fun houseBernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize winner Girl, woman, other: a novelby Stephen Chbosky The perks of Being a Wallflower and Imbolo Mbue How Beautiful We Were: A Novel. In all, the district was aiming for more than 350 copies.

Novelist Eggers, founder of McSweeney’s and co-founder of the 826 National Network of Writing and Tutoring Centers for Young People, offered to purchase copies of one of the books for seniors in the Rapid City area by the through a bookseller in the region or by request by e-mail.

“The massive destruction of books by school boards is an unconscionable horror,” Eggers said in a statement posted at McSweeney’s. “And young freethinkers in South Dakota should not be subjected to it. For every copy destroyed by the school board, let’s add a new one to local circulation.

He announced his intention to go to Mitzi’s books on May 16 for a banned books event, a day before the next Rapid City board meeting.

While Eggers’ efforts helped shine the spotlight on the incident, the district’s tactics remain alarmingly in the shadows. The books – originally selected by a panel of teachers from across the district for a new English 12 class for high school students in Rapid City – appear near the end of a list that includes broken computers, extra fire extinguishers and cartridges of ink for the recycling pile. Next to each title, his fate suggested: “To Be Destroyed”.

The district’s public information officer told the Rapid City Journal that administrators recommended the district remove the books because of questionable content. “Building administrators and the Director of Teaching, Learning and Innovation have agreed to this decision, based on the content of the books,” Caitlin Pierson mentioned.

The decision to destroy the books is “disturbing and dismissive,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education at PEN America.

“While the books are banned across the country, few have tried to ‘destroy’ them in such a callous or covert way,” he said on May 6. statement. “All sorts of questions linger about why the administrators banned this set of newly adopted books and how they literally ended up on the chopping block.

“But the prospect of destruction also reflects the uncompromising extremism that now pervades many public school districts. Books, words and works of literature are considered so objectionable that they must be expunged.

About Herbert L. Leonard

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