OH BROTHER!

Young Adult sci-fi novel, Little Brother, was recently booted off a Florida high school summer reading list. According to the novel’s author, Cory Doctorow, the school’s principal “cited reviews that emphasized the book’s positive view of questioning authority,” as the problem. Guess “questioning authority” is an idea that the students at Booker T. Washington High couldn’t be bothered with over their break. An affirmative view on “hacker culture” was also troubling. “In short,” Doctorow said, “…the book was being challenged because of its politics and its content.”

To protest the principal’s decision, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a letter to the Pensacola Florida school board asking that Little Brother be returned to the reading list. “School officials are bound by constitutional considerations, including a duty not to give in to pressure to suppress unpopular or controversial ideas,” said Executive Director Joan Bertin. “Cory Doctorow’s work as an author and activist engages with the realities today’s young people are confronting on a daily basis as citizens in their own right,” Charles Brownstein explained, who is another Executive Director, this time of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund—which is partners with the NCAC on The Kids’ Right to Read Project (KRRP).  “We hope the concerns expressed by all of us at the KRRP will lead school officials to honor the rights of their students by reinstating this valuable book, ” continued Brownstein.

BAD FOR YOU also adds it’s voice of support to Doctorow (and not just because of the great review he gave us at his amazing website BoingBoing.net).

School Library Journal Reviews!

Two, count two, great reviews from School Library Journal:

Gr 8 Up–A well-researched docu-comic. Covering topics such as comics, games, technology, and play, the chapters begin with a historical perspective on each subject. The authors then go on to explain how time after time, as new pastimes develop, they gain in popularity with youth until they enter the public limelight and are deemed potentially harmful to children. For example, the section on games begins with a description of the earliest archaeological discovery of dice and includes a reference to the poet Horace, who warned of the negative impact on youth who gamble with dice. The chapter explores the evolution of games and describes instances of adults trying to protect children from their negative impact, including Scientific American cautioning parents about chess in the mid-19th century and the attempts to legislate against Dungeons and Dragons and video-arcade games in the 1980s. In an examination of the current controversy about video games being responsible for violent behavior, the authors use countless scientific studies and other research as well as court cases to expose the fallacy behind the fear. Black-and-white graphic panels illustrate the text succinctly and add humor. Resources and references are included, with a more extensive list of references supplied on the book’s website. Pyle and Cunningham argue that under the guise of protecting children, adults have created a youth-phobic society, in which “fear of the new” is the overriding impulse. They attempt to expose this mind-set and encourage readers to think critically about what is supposedly bad for them. This book is funny, mind-boggling, entertaining, and completely educational. Make sure every teen gets a copy.

AND:

Who knew to what extent that some adults and the U.S. Government went to correlate comic books to crime and tried to regulate (and ban) them during the years 1948 to 1955? During this period, comic-book burning occurred across the nation. One person behind it was Dr. Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist who claimed that “…as long as the crime comic books industry exists in its present form there are no secure homes.” Pyle and Cunningham discuss the scientific method (which Wertham never used) and cite other, tangential studies on comic books that turn Wertham’s theories upside down. Societal fears about the effects of Harry Potter, games, technology, and play are considered in the same manner. A variety of black-and-white illustrations, including graphic panels, maps, and charts are utilized. Classroom uses for this title abound. Teens, particularly fans of the graphic format, will glom onto this fascinating book, which will give them one more reason not to trust the “establishment.”

The second is part of a great roundup by Daryl Grabarek of books that connect well to classroom curricula.

SF, FANTASY & FLAMES: A BANNED BOOK UPDATE

If you’re linking to us for the first time, welcome to BAD FOR YOU!

And to the hearty handful of others who have been here from the start, welcome back.

This is the website for updates on general bad-for-you stuff in kid world. Rather than define what that means, we prefer to simply show it, just as we do in the book that this site is based on (the book, by the way, is set to be released in January 2014 — and available for pre-order with a click on the book’s cover at the right of this page).

Here you’ll find candid shots of school lunches, news about zero tolerance policies, controversies over violent videogames, as well as the latest suspension for flatulence on a school bus. We try to cover all the things that someone out there thinks is bad for kids. 

bookOne of the things we think is bad for kids, and everyone else, is book banning. As it happens, Tor.com is excerpting sections of BAD FOR YOU for the next couple of weeks as part of its “celebration” of Banned Book Week. Celebrating book censorship might sound a little weird because, after all, who wants to throw a party over a bunch of books getting banned. But what Banned Book Week celebrates is “the freedom to read,” according to the American Library Association (one of the biggest sponsors for the annual event).

But you also can’t celebrate “the freedom to read” without highlighting when that freedom has been challenged by censorship. And those challenges occurred over forty times during 2012-13; challenges to books and graphic novels that were considered bad for kids. Six of which were fantasy or SF, the beloved genre of Tor.com followers (also popular among censorship-lovers).

This post is a nod to both genres, the hands-down winners for most censored this past year (a perfect segue to today’s BAD FOR YOU excerpt: “Nursery Crimes: Fear And Fantasy”). 

1) Ender’s Game

Leading off with a Tor publication (it’s up to readers to figure out why), Ender’s Game is an award-winning futuristic tale about specially bred, super-smart kids designed to fight off an alien attack. Though originally published in 1994, the book made the news in 2012 when a teacher at Schofield Middle School in Aiken, S.C. read it aloud to his class and one of his students (and more importantly, the kid’s parent), declared the book pornographic – even though a number of review websites deemed Ender’s Game as “appropriate for readers twelve and older”. The instructor was threatened with criminal charges; charges which, happily, were eventually dismissed. Perhaps in the future, specially bred super-smart kids will be used to fight off any censorship attacks.

2) Feed

Another futuristic society story, this time with folks connected to the Internet via direct implants in their brains. Called “trash” and “covered with the F-word,” the book was challenged in a Virginia high school in Green County, even though the teacher had posted on the school web page a warning about Feed‘s mature nature and a consent form was sent home with students to be signed by parents prior to the assigned reading. Among this “trash” title’s many honors: National Book Award Finalist and Junior Library Guild selection.

3) The Handmaid’s Tale

Here’s a pretty well-known title from famed author Margaret Atwood about yet another futuristic society where, due to declining birthrates, a woman’s main function has been reduced to breeding. The book was required reading for a Page High School International Baccalaureate class at Grimsley High School in Guilford County, N.C. – or, at least it was until challenged for being “sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt.”

4) Fight Club

Like the previous title, Fight Club was popular enough to be adapted into a big-budget Hollywood movie. And violent enough to be challenged by parents in Katy, Tex. Independent School District who were able to get it removed from the required reading list. Too bad it wasn’t called “Hug Club”.

5) Robopocalypse

Despite being challenged for it’s “inappropriate language,” the national bestseller managed to remain on the required reading list at the Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. It also managed to win the 2011 Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association.

6) Neonomicon

We end the 2012-13 list with, appropriately enough, a graphic novel. This Lovecraftian horror fantasy was penned by Alan Moore of Watchmen fame. It was banned from the Greenville County, S.C. Public Library in 2012 because a teenager was able to check it out, even though the comic was placed in the library’s adult section. “The head of the library system overturned an internal review committee’s decision to retain the graphic novel because the pictures gave her pause,” according to an Illinois Library Association article on challenged and banned books – which also served as the basis for this post.

As already mentioned, fantasy and SF are two of the most popular genre’s for book banning. In fact, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has the dubious honor of being named number four on the Ten Most Banned Books list of all time. Of course, the Harry Potter series (featured on today’s BAD FOR YOU excerpt at Tor.com) is trying it’s best to keep up. And like the Potter books, Slaughterhouse Five has been burned by censors. It was back in 1973 when copies of the book wound up slaughtered in a North Dakota school furnace. In fact, administrators were so determined to see the novel destroyed they assumed a scorched-earth policy, and had students’ lockers searched to make sure every last one of the copies (originally issued for a class assignment) were confiscated and burned. After being informed of the torching, Vonnegut wrote to the school board chairman, “If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.”

Of course Vonnegut isn’t the only famous figure in SF to weigh in such a burning issue. There’s also this guy:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, is all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, suddenly, it threatens to start all over again.

Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

 

 

“BEEF STICKS AND OILY CORNBREAD”: SCHOOL LUNCHES ILLUMINATED

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One of the diagrams in BAD FOR YOU charts the differences – no, make that the similarities – between school lunches and meals served to inmates. Turns out that the food a prisoner and a student receive vary very little (well, the kid’s meal does cost a whole SIX cents more).

Now, the BAD FOR YOU boys have discovered a youth nonprofit website called DoSomething.org that offers pupils an opportunity to photograph their plate of unpleasantness and upload it to a section on the site called Fed Up. Fellow students can then vote on whether they would “Eat It” or “Toss It” (“Tossing It Up” is not an option – though it should be given the looks of some of the shots).

The purpose of the project isn’t just for laughs, but also to gather data and “create a ‘heat map’ of school lunches in the U.S.,” according to The Huffington Post. “Their goal is to raise awareness of the sad state of nutrition in public schools.”

Hey teens, teachers are always telling you how important it is be share. So this is a chance to share your cruddy meal with the rest of the world.

And speaking of sharing, here are a few more facts about high school lunches that we’ll include from The Huffington Post article:

• According to the USDA a typical school lunch far exceeds the recommended 500 milligrams of sodium; some districts, in fact, serve lunches with more than 1,000 milligrams.

• The USDA also reports that less than 1/3 of schools stay below the recommended standard for fat content in their meals.

• Last year 21 million students relied on free and reduced lunch as their primary meal of the day. Up to 65 percent of their daily calorie intake comes from school provided meals.

• Unbalanced nutrition leads to decreased performance in school, obesity, diabetes, and a whole slew of other health problems.

(Photo above actual lunch shot from Fed Up)

Bad (Luck) Hair Day

 

When 7 year-old Tiana Parker was sent home from her Tulsa school for the wrong hairstyle, her father Terrance, a barber, flipped his wig.

“She’s always presentable,” he explained. “I take pride in my kids looking nice.”

But apparently he was unaware that her hairstyle, braids accented with a bright red bow, would run afoul of the school policy that states “hairstyles such as dreadlocks, afros, mohawks, and other faddish styles are unacceptable.”

When the story blew up in local media the school changed to a more “inclusive” policy but Tiana has moved on to another school.

Perhaps the library at her new school will buy a copy of Bad For You. If so, she can see that this story is nothing new when she reads about the historic hysteria around “Hair Bans”.

hair bans

 

TEXAS WATCH’EM

In Texas, a state that seems to be bucking for its own chapter in Bad For You, a school district finally dropped its plans to track students with computer chip-embedded RFID cards. Apparently, privacy and student objections weren’t the reason so much as teachers found they wasted too much time tracking down wayward kids. Luckily the school has another solution:
Unfortunately, the district had won a court battle declaring the cards didn’t violate students’ right to privacy or religion, paving the way for other schools to give it a try. But the student who brought the lawsuit, Andrea Hernandez, was overjoyed at the recent development: “I’m just really glad they discontinued it and no other student had to go through what I went through.” Click here to find out exactly what she did go through.

SUSPENSION SUSPENDED

Remember the story from the BAD FOR YOU post on June 6th? A kindergartner brought his cowboy cap gun to class and after two-hours of interrogation, he walked out of the principal’s office with a 10-day suspension (for “possession of a look-alike gun”) and peed-in pants (because he was scared).

Well, he can stop shaking: the county school chief reversed “in its entirety” the boy’s suspension after “carefully considering both the needs of the student and those of the school system.” The boy’s attorney also called for the kindergartner’s criminal record to be “wiped clean.” He argued that the boy was clueless when the conduct code was presented because he did not know how to read and could not “grasp the gravity of the rules.”

The codes were handed out to students the first week of school in the form of coloring books.

BANNED IN IRAN…AND CHICAGO

This week Chicago public school students were set free for the summer, but when they return to classes at the end of August there will be something missing that was there when the 2012-13 year began (and we’re not talking about the 50 schools that will be shut down for good after being deemed underperforming). The big difference we’re talking about is the absence of the highly-praised graphic novel Persepolis: A Story of Childhoodwhich was officially banned from all Chicago middle and high schools in March. According to an email sent out to staff by Christopher Dignam, principal of Lane Tech High School, the Chicago School Board mandated that all copies of Persepolis be removed from every library and classroom in the network. The autobiographical comic by Marjane Satrapi, which depicts her early years growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution, was first published in France in 2000, and has gone on to become an internationally acclaimed comic. In 2007, it was adapted into a successful animated film as well and even received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. All of which begs the question: what can’t Chicago kids read it in school? According to an email sent out to staff by Christopher Dignam, principal of Lane Tech High School, while he was mandated to “physically” take each copy out of the school and confirm that it was done – he was not “provided a reason for the collection of Persepolis. If I learn more I will inform all staff….”

Later, Chicago Public School’s general counsel James L. Bebley explained that the ban was based on the book’s “graphic images of torture… as well as obscene language.” CPS administrators determined it is not appropriate for use in the 7th grade curriculum and are considering whether or not 8th and 9th graders should be exposed to Persepolis. The Kids’ Right to Read Project, an initiative of the National Coalition Against Censorship, filed a second Freedom of Information Act records request with the district for internal documents on the removal. At this time, they have yet to receive those documents from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Whatever the internal documents say, it will still be hard to explain CPS’s erratic behavior, given the fact that Persepolis served “as a foundational text to discuss violence against women and equal rights in a curriculum developed and endorsed by CPS itself, the Chicago Teacher’s Union and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.” Chicago Teachers Union’s financial secretary, Kristine Mayle, commented on behalf of CTU: “We are surprised Persepolis would be banned by the…CPS system. The only place we’ve heard of this book being banned is in Iran. We understand why the district would be afraid of a book like this – at a time when they are closing schools – because it’s about questioning authority, class structures, racism and gender issues.”

BAD FOR YOU tracks the long history of comic (and book) censorship in America in its opening chapter “Flames of Fear.” Click on the “Book” section of the BFY banner to see the “Comic Burning Map,” which graphically explains the fiery issue comics became in this country in the 1940s & 50s.