"Slaughterhouse Five" ban is reversed – sort of – at a Missouri school

"Slaughterhouse Five" and another banned book are now back in the Republic High School library – but must stay in a restricted area.

Is it the ultimate irony? "Slaughterhouse Five," Kurt Vonnegut's novel about life in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp, will now reside in a "literary gulag" in a Missouri high school.

Kurt Vonnegut would have enjoyed this.

Two months after banning two books, including Mr. Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” the Republic, Missouri, school board has voted to allow them back into the library.

In late July after a yearlong fight, the school board voted unanimously to ban 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. School officials then said the decision was not a judgment call on the merit of the books, but a decision on whether the books were appropriate for high school students.

The move brought about weeks of heated debate in Republic, and, well, the school board changed its mind.

In fact, the Republic school board revised its book policy entirely. Under the revised policy, the board said it will allow challenged books to be kept in a secure section of all Republic school libraries. Only parents who allow their children to read a challenged book will be allowed to check the book out, according to the Houston Chronicle.

"It does keep the books there in the library, and if parents want their kids to read the book, by all means come and check it out," said Superintendent Vern Minor. "It still puts the decision in parents' hands."

Minor told the Houston Chronicle that the uproar over Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse” was the catalyst for a new books policy at the Republic High School.

"The book challenge actually created an opportunity for us as a school district, not just to look at the three books in isolation but to also develop a set of standards that we could use from this point forward," Minor said. "Those standards would do two things for us – help us resolve the public complaint ... and establish parameters to help staff make decisions in the future."

Already, the decision has many upset. The National Coalition Against Censorship, among others, called the restricted area of the library “a literary gulag” and said the decision to keep books there “undermines the intellectual freedom of students and teachers.”

In a news release the coalition said, "The literary gulag is obviously an attempt to calm anger at the outright removal of the books.”

In the release, NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin, went on, "In their ridiculous notion of a 'compromise,' a 17-year-old will have to bring in mom or dad to check out books of inarguable artistic and educational merit. The board also continues to override the judgment of dedicated and experienced teachers by banning the works from required reading lists in the classroom."

The Joplin Globe’s Editorial board concurred in an editorial. “Instead of making it harder for books to be removed from library shelves, it will make it easier.”

At the very least, we’re sure Vonnegut would appreciate the irony. The “Slaughterhouse Five” of the book's title refers to barracks at a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. Now the book itself will be imprisoned in a “secure section” of school libraries.

What do you think? Was the solution a good compromise? Or does it make it easier to remove books from library shelves?

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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