Somewhere, Kurt Vonnegut is laughing.
Republic High School in Republic, Mo., banned two books, including one of Vonnegut’s, after a parent complained that the books advocate principles contrary to the Bible.
After a yearlong fight, the Republic district’s school board voted unanimously Monday to ban Mr. Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” and Sarah Ockler’s “Twenty Boy Summer,” based on the complaints of Republic resident Wesley Scroggins, a professor of management at Missouri State University, and the father of several home-schooled children.
Vonnegut’s work was part of an upper-level English course and will be removed from the curriculum, while Ms. Ockler’s novel will be removed from the library.
One other book under review, “Speak,” by Laurie Halsey Anderson, which includes a short, graphic description of a rape, was deemed instructional, and allowed to remain in the school.
School officials stressed that the move was not a judgment call on the merit of the books, but a decision on whether the books were appropriate for high school students.
“We very clearly stayed out of discussion about moral issues,” Republic School Superintendent Vern Minor told the Republic newspaper. “Our discussions from the get-go were age-appropriateness.”
Mr. Minor said “Twenty Boy Summer” sensationalized sexual promiscuity and included questionable language, drunkenness, lying to parents, and a lack of remorse, while “Slaughterhouse Five” contained crude language and adult themes that are more appropriate for college-age students, according to the Republic newspaper.
“We just felt that of the three books, the two we have pulled aren't age-appropriate and send the wrong message,” board member Ken Knierim told the UPI.
As it turns out, the Republic High School isn’t alone in banning the books. “Slaughterhouse Five” is a fixture on the most-banned books list of the American Library Association. One of the first to ban it, says Mike Hendricks of the Kansas City Star, was a North Dakota school district that, in 1973, gathered up its 32 copies and burned them in a coal furnace.
“Vonnegut was outraged,” writes Mr. Hendricks, “but surely appreciated the irony of burning a book whose narrative centers on the allied firebombing of Dresden during World War II."
"So were he still alive, I imagine the author would be rolling his eyes at the thought that his 1969 book about young men dying for a cause they couldn’t fathom – its subtitle is “The Children’s Crusade” – was deemed unfit for young eyes in 2011,” Hendricks added.
As Hendricks points out, there’s probably no better way to get these Republic high schoolers to read Vonnegut and Ockler than to ban them.
“Simply forbid your high schooler from reading the likes of J.D Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’ and other classics on [the most banned list],” he writes. “Next thing you know, they’ll be reading under the covers at night with a flashlight.”
As Vonnegut might have said, so it goes.
Husna Haq is a Monitor contributor.