When the Mat-Su School District Board decided by a 5-2 vote to remove five books and the New York Times curriculum from its resources our reporter Tim Rockey tweeted the following:
“The Mat-Su Borough School District School Board voted 5-2 to ban 5 books from MSBSD schools:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Catch — 22 by Joseph Heller
The Things They Carried By Tim O’Brien
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.”
The original story Rockey penned also contained the word ban.
Because the word ban was not used in the school board’s language or during the debate before the vote, Managing Editor Jeremiah Bartz and Rockey elected to correct the wording in the story to state remove as opposed to ban.
The school board garnered criticism for their decision both on a local and national level. But instead of certain board members and their supporters rationally defending their decision they decided to fixate on one word ‘ban’.
I woke up Saturday morning to emails and tags in Facebook posts criticizing the Frontiersman and Rockey for its perceived liberal bias. I reread the story and then read the posts I was tagged in again and could not reconcile why the frustration with the Frontiersman. The story was solid and a correction was made in the interest of accuracy. Then came emails demanding an apology. How dare the Frontiersman use the word ban in the first place. The use of the word ban according to the senders is what stirred up all of this controversy. The use of the word ban is what prompted school board member Jeff Taylor to not give Rockey a follow up interview.
He posted the following to his Facebook page.
“I received a call yesterday from Tim Rockey of the Frontiersman News. He apologized for the tweet he sent into the world which stated: “The Mat-Su Borough School District School Board voted 5-2 to ban 5 books from MSBSD schools:”. I appreciate his apology and accept it wholeheartedly. However, I informed him that I would not give an interview because I could not trust him and his reporting.”
Except according to Rockey he didn’t apologize for his reporting which was not inaccurate. He was showing Taylor empathy for the negative attention he was receiving.
School board President Tom Bergey did grant Rockey a follow up interview. That interview and subsequent story revealed the weakness of the five members’ decision to remove the books from the resource list for teachers. Bergey cited reasons from now Wasilla High School Principal Jason Marvel’s use of the books when he was a teacher which was scrutinized during his interview process for his current position to possible EEO complaints and the Professional Teaching Practices Commissions possibly imposing sanctions on teachers.
This rationale doesn’t hold water. Specifically in the article Bergey points out the book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou.
It is described in the article as sexually explicit including descriptions of sexual abuse and “anti-white” messaging.
The five men who voted to remove this book didn’t like the content. I read the book this past weekend. I couldn’t put it down.
The claim of anti-white messaging is bogus. Throughout the book Angelou grapples with her own preconceived prejudices as an African American girl raised in rural Arkansas in the 1930’s. Throughout the book she celebrates those in her life who helped shape her character. As the author grows into womanhood she acknowledges that blacks and whites alike influenced her and people of both races had positive and negative impacts on her. Her first white love she wrote was William Shakespeare.
Yes, she goes into detail that she was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s live-in boyfriend when she was 8 years old. Her confusion of that experience and the undue guilt she felt for her perceived fault for the assault permeates throughout the book.
In effect the five members of the school board that voted for the removal of this and the other four literary classics did impose a ban.
Not a ban on access of these books but a ban on these books and a teacher’s opportunity to expand the mind of young adults who will one day in some form have to deal with the topics of racism and sexual abuse. If they aren’t already facing these issues.
They banned the opportunity to inspire students through study and debate of the content of these books. Because these particular school members seeped in their own prejudices deemed them too controversial.
Removal and banned go hand in hand in this case. While some supporters of the removal of these books want to hide behind the facade of the liberal media is at it again. They fail to make a compelling argument as to why the books should have been removed in the first place.
There will be no apology from the Frontiersman for using the word ban or for correcting the original story. I stand behind our reporter Tim Rockey and Managing Editor Jeremiah Bartz 100 %.
Dennis Anderson is a group publisher for Wick Communications Alaska.