Controversial book will stay in library

By Louis Hoglund Four-letter words ricocheted off the gloss-finished hardwood floor, echoing around the high ceiling of the Perham High School commons April 10. Was it lunch time for mouthy, smart-talking Yellowjacket upper class-p...

By Louis Hoglund

Four-letter words ricocheted off the gloss-finished hardwood floor, echoing around the high ceiling of the Perham High School commons April 10.

Was it lunch time for mouthy, smart-talking Yellowjacket upper class-people?



This was an evening Perham-Dent school board meeting.

Books were the subject.

At issue: Literature that might be interpreted as pervasively vulgar, explicitly sexual, or lacking any educational or academic value.

Making such determinations is an elusive pursuit, which has been evident over the past several months of debate over library books in the middle school.

The profane words werent uttered during an angry diatribe. The meeting was orderly--long--but civil.

Two speakers, punctuating their points with obscene language selected from some of the controversial books, drew a few gasps and elevated eyebrows from the crowd of well over 100.

Reading some of this is uncomfortable for adults--but were talking about minors, youth, said Ruth Kapaun, referring to the the book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Few if any 10 to 14 year olds are mature enough or equipped to deal with this sexual abuse content.

Child molestation and delicate themes of life in a poor, black community are among the reasons the book was challenged. Profane language was another. For impact, Kapaun voiced some of the words at the meeting.


Because of the large turnout, the meeting was held at the high school commons rather than in the smaller board chambers. The meeting was also conducted with microphones and a PA system--another rarity for the Perham -Dent school board--to amplify the discussion in the large room. Book issues dominated nearly all of the three-hour meeting.

A review committee determined the book, by famed author Maya Angelou was appropriate in the middle school library. But is labeled with the green upper level reading sticker which means that parents can request that permission be obtained before their 5-8 grade children can check out books with that label.

The Angelou book is one of seven books that have been formally challenged since last fall. Another four have been informally challenged. Five titles have been moved to the high school library.

An appeal of the committee decision on Caged Bird was upheld by the school board by a 5-2 vote at the April 10 meeting.

Favoring removal of the book to the high school were board members Dave Schornack and Bridgit Pankonin, who herself initiated four of the seven formal book challenges. Voting to keep the book in the middle school library were Jim Rieber, Mike Hamann, Dan Nodsle,Arnie Thompson and Ron Berns.

Caged Bird has been in the Perham school library since about 1969, when I was in second grade...when Nixon was president the first time, said Superintendent Tamara Uselman. She contends that the book has educational value when read in the entire context--but admitted that excerpts, read alone, can be shocking.

Several parents acknowledged that Caged Bird was exceptional literature--but for high school readers, not middle school.

The vote on Caged Bird was only a segment of the evenings discussion.


During an open forum, several dozen people approached the microphone.

Most of them were parents who said they had no desire to ban books.

We represent your friends and neighbors...were not the enemy, said Don Swenson, who spoke first during open forum. This is not a teacher versus Christian issue...this isnt about book-burning...this is about age appropriate content and how tax dollars are spent.

Despite the disagreements, school board members and administrators were commended for allowing open discussion and establishing procedure for controlling and reviewing books. Under the policy, parents must submit a request asking that their approval be required before their child checks out a green labeled upper grade interest level book.

But most of them did not feel the board has gone far enough.

Among the recommendations from the concerned parents:

----Establish a restricted area, that segregates the upper level books with potentially sensitive content. Parents must give permission to access the area.

----More stringent review procedures at the front end--when books are selected and purchased.


----That the composition of the review committee be broadened. Several parents noted that school officials were the majority for the seven reviews, and that representation should include more members from the broader community.

----That library materials adhere to the same standards of decency--regarding profanity, vulgarity, sexual references, violence--that are dictated in student manuals.

Superintendent Uselman closed the meeting by assuring that the recommendations will be discussed. An internal audit of library materials will continue, said Uselman. Also, parents were urged to call attention to books when they have concerns.

As for board members, Mike Hamann read Caged Bird, and had a high regard for the book saying it was an inspirational account of a woman growing up in poverty in the Deep South. You cant judge a book unless you read it word for word.

Board member Jim Rieber has been consistent in his opposition to outright removal of books.

As for Board Chair Dan Nodsle, when asked whether he had read some of the books in question:

Yes. I read Caged Bird, responded Nodsle. Required eighth-grade reading, 1973, at Pelican Rapids High School.

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