Authors Guild Demands South Carolina Police Cease Pressure on School About Reading List

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From Publishing Perspectives:

In a strongly worded letter to the Fraternal Order of Police Tri-County Lodge #3 in South Carolina, the Authors Guild today (July 13) is demanding that the organizing stop “interfering in the reading selections of a high school in suburban Charleston.”

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with this case from our reporting earlier this month on how the police organization president, John Blackmon is calling for an English-class summer reading list to drop The Hate U Give (HarperCollins, 2017) by Angie Thomas and All American Boys (Simon & Schuster, 2015) by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Both books have stories that include police brutality and racism as themes, and both are among the most highly acclaimed bestsellers in their sector of recent years. Blackmon’s complaint about the books–two of four titles from which students of Wando High Schoo’s English 1 class in Mount Pleasant are to choose and read one.

In the guild’s open letter to the police group, executive director Mary Rasenberger writes, “Attempts at censorship by law enforcement organizations cannot be tolerated in a democracy. Educators must be free to choose books on any and all subjects for their students’ reading.”

. . . .

Rasenberger writes to Blackmon, “This interference–which is clearly based on the content of the books in question–must stop.

“It is a blatant violation of students’ first amendment rights and an improper attempt at censorship by law-enforcement officials.

“It is a fundamental principle of democracy that police have no proper role in deciding what books should or should not be read. We have already co-signed a letter to the principal of Wando High School to urge the school to abide by its own internal processes, and we ask the Fraternal Order of Police to cease its efforts to influence that process.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG has an instinctive response to oppose actions by government entities to restrict the availability or use of nearly any book, he must note here that this is an argument between two different entities comprised of government employees.

Arguably, the Fraternal Order of Police is a private membership organization (assuming police officers are not required to be members) and can say what it wants about any subject. In their private capacity, police officers are permitted to create associations to further their personal goals and exercise their first amendment rights individually and as a group to support or oppose just about anything they desire just like any other group does in the United States.

Assuming, for argument’s sake that the police department, rather than a private association is trying to forcibly limit books read by teenagers, that’s a bad idea because there’s an express or implied government backing for the limitation.

However, the summer reading list was clearly created by government employees acting in direct connection with their employment, so a clearer First Amendment infringement argument could be made by or on behalf of the students who are apparently required to read one of four books on a list provided by the school as a summer assignment. If these are suggestions by the high school and the students are free to read whatever they want, there shouldn’t be a problem, but if all the books were about police brutality and racism and included strong anti-police themes, PG thinks a student might object.

If all four books on the summer mailing list were written by white supremacist or antisemitic authors (or even – gasp – by Republicans), one might expect a lot of protests against the list, including by the Fraternal Order of Police.

PG will note that the two books mentioned in the OP are published by huge corporations – HarperCollins is owned by News Corp. was an American multinational mass media corporation headquartered in New York City and controlled by Rupert Murdoch and Simon & Schuster, Inc., is a subsidiary of CBS Corporation.

PG was also reminded of the increasing popularity of home schooling, at least in some areas of the country, which involves no government action. PG was further reminded of friends who are home schooling their children. Their two oldest children started college at age 16 and 14 after each attained a perfect score on the ACT.

31 thoughts on “Authors Guild Demands South Carolina Police Cease Pressure on School About Reading List”

  1. 23 Minutes, by Vivian Vande Velde
    Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret ability: she can travel back in time twenty-three minutes to relive events she wants to change. But Zoe has learned from experience that this is more of a curse than gift. Now she has to dig deep to find a strength she never thought she possessed. Lexile 900

    Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira
    It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was — lovely and amazing and deeply flawed — can she begin to discover her own path. Lexile 770

  2. I have not read either of the books concerned. And, like the Authors Guild (which I think should be more accurately called the Publishers Guild), my first reaction is how dare the police try to ban these books. But a little thought and a little reading soon reverses this initial attitude. Because these books have not been banned. No Censorship has taken place. Students and others remain free to read those books, and if they weren’t available in the school library they certainly would be in other local libraries and book stores. Or, heaven forbid, Amazon! But these books have been singled out by whoever developed the particular curriculum as being suitable for the purposes of that curriculum. Is an organisation purporting to represent members of Police Forces out of line in questioning whether these books involving police brutality are appropriate to be included as part of the curriculum. The response is hysterical and shows the clarity of thought and logic we have come to expect from the so-called Author’s Guild. Were I a member I would be embarrassed to belong to such an organisation.

    I’m not entirely clear from what I have read whether The Police Lodge concerned instigated the request for review or supported a parent who did. According to the School Principal:

    “A ‘Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials’ form has been submitted and the school and district will follow the procedures outlined in Policy IJKAA-R in connection with the reconsideration request”

    The consequence of the Police Lodge’s views prevailing seems to be that the books will be taken off the list, not banned or even censored. If the response to this happening is anything like other instances I would expect a Streisand effect with the books being more widely read than had they been included. Certainly if I was a young adult of this age I would have gone out of my way to read them just to see what the fuss is all about. The local police may have been better advised to arrange to attend a class and give their own views. However, the issue is not one of free speech or censorship. Irrespective of the outcome a procedure would have been followed, all parties have had their say and a decision reached. But like it or not, many students are going to read these books regardless.

    • All good points.
      Only thing I can add is that assigned reading is *endorsed* reading.

      The protest may have been about whether or not endorsing those specific thoughts is appropriate to the students in question. Books and ideas suitable for mature adults capable to weighing the content against other sources and experience might not be suitable for younger readers who might latch on to them unquestioningly. Of course, that might have been the intent behind their inclusion in the curriculum…

      “Think of the children” isn’t always hypocrisy.

      On the other hand, an NYC organization primarily concerned with commercial interests (as their long history shows) doesn’t strike me as particularly helpful in dealing with a non-commercial *local* issue in South Carolina. If nothing else, their motives are suspect: is their real concern lost sakes, perchance?

      Were I affiliated with the lodge in question I would be tempted to reply that the AG ought to go mind their own business instead of posturing and bloviating about a matter they know nothing about.

      I suspect that the South Carolina folks on both sides of the debate are not exactly thrilled by the AG’s grandstanding.

      • I find it odd that the AG tried to claim this as an attack on the students’ first amendment rights, when the students aren’t the ones who were choosing the books (and yes, they’re still free to read them on their own). If I were a student in that case, I would probably welcome such interference, since I would probably feel like the teacher was trying to push an agenda on me by making fully half of the books from which I’m forced to choose ones that condemn a profession which more than one of my family members were a part of. The rights of teachers to force their viewpoints on students =/= the students’ first amendment rights. The AG is acting as if the police are trying to stop kids from picking those books where the kids had a choice of picking from a very wide range of books or even among all books. When a kid is given the choice of one of four books, they have no freedom of choice there, especially if all four are similar in tone/outlook/worldview. Would the AG have called it an assault on the students’ first amendment rights if the students were being forced to choose one of four police-hating books? How few options can exist and it still be called freedom?

  3. Felix. Also good points. The conflict of interest is manifest as soon as you think of the Authors Guild as effectively being the Publishers Guild. And yes, the inclusion of these books is endorsing the ideas as appropriate for study by children of this age. Correct me if I’m wrong, but highschool “freshman” in the US would involve teenagers about 14 to 15, equivalent to about Year 9 in Australia. Sometimes the selection of books goes beyond this to actually endorsing some of the ideas themselves in pursuit of an agenda.

    Personally I don’t think discussion of police brutality is inappropriate for most children of this age, though I can certainly see why Police would have concerns. I looked at the particular reading list, and I must say that I wasn’t particularly impressed with the choices, which I think mostly tend to further a particular progressive agenda. Without reading the books I don’t want to comment too far, but I have no problem with the topics for children of this age provided that all sides of the story are presented and discussed. To what extent can we trust US teachers to do this I don’t know. I certainly suspect that some teachers in Australia would take the opportunity to present police brutality as endemic and encourage their students to have little respect for Police and by extension the laws that they seek to enforce, if not always perfectly.

    • The Authors Guild is far from the best “defender” of a public school curriculum one could imagine, given their track record of opposing academic fair use and the way they *offered* up authors of “orphan books” as sacrificial lambs to get Google to pretend the AG had any right to negotiate for all authors a clearly fair use of copyrighted material. Fortunately the judge recognized a rights grab at first sight and shut that ploy down right away.

      Now, if it were a librarian association there might be a bit more leeway but even then…

      This is Mount Pleasant, South Carolina:

      Population, 77,000 (est, 2014)

      Now, does anybody rationally expect their police to behave exactly like NYC cops? Or Baltimore cops? Or East St Louis cops?

      Anybody think those assigned books cover typical small town police activity? Or perhaps the books are intended to convince the young’uns to stay away from major metropolitan areas?

      Again, the US is a federated republic composed of a wide range of local cultures. It is not a monolithic ethnic state. The variety of regional accents, slang, and local lore alone argues for regional cultural variation.

      Books and attitudes justifiable in a 30M-strong metro area like NY are far from relevant in a region that runs barely over three quarters of a million.


      “Charleston-North Charleston, SC Metro Area has a population of 761,155 people with a median age of 36.8 and a median household income of $57,659. Between 2015 and 2016 the population of Charleston-North Charleston, SC Metro Area grew from 744,526 to 761,155, a 2.23% increase and its median household income grew from $56,430 to $57,659, a 2.18% increase.”

      A couple of info nuggets:
      Average travel time to work: 26 minutes.
      81% Drove, 9% carpooled, 3% walked, 6% worked at home.
      Poverty rate: 13%
      Income above US$100,000: 26%

      The Carolinas in general and South Carolina in particular are amongst the highest quality-of-life communities in the country. Hardly war zones blanketed by a Police “occupation force”.

      Does that sound like a place one would expect police brutality to be such a pressing issue that 15 year old kids need to be warned about it in summer reading lists?

      Despite all efforts to federalize everything in the country one-size-fits-all “solutions” are not welcome everywhere. Most people prefer to craft their laws, customs, and curricula based on local issues and interests and not on somebody else’s agenda.

      Culture wars are driven by these kinds of incidents.

    • US teachers, to my knowledge, do not report on political continuity in State Democratic Parties when those State Democratic Parties are at the same time historically culpable in white supremacist massacres and political patrons of the teacher’s unions. The unions work to Democratic ends, and the teachers, where they mention Segregation go to absurd lengths to imply that it was Republican.

      (From the 1870s through the 1930s, Segregationists identified as Democrats. “Tyrant Lincoln, Monster Sherman” was a major part of the legitimating narrative they told themselves. They said Segregation was justified by Republican evils during Reconstruction. Major, deeply relevant, well attested parts of the historical record regarding Segregation are simply left out of the curriculum, and out of some of the recent secondary and tertiary sources on Segregation. JFK won in 1960 because of electoral votes from states where Segregation was practiced, possibly due to a promise to disobey Catholic teachings against Segregation.)

      So it is remotely plausible that these particular choices of books also serve a political end.

      • Don’t forget the voting dead of Lousiana and Illinois.
        One heck of a “turn out the vote campaign.”

  4. I like the idea that both sides of the topic should be discussed, but I feel that this too could be a minefield.
    For example, what if someone decides that Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s books are biased , and that children who read those books must also read books from the other side of the issue ?
    If books are no longer allowed to push specific ideas, well there goes most of 19th-century American literature, as well as Shakespeare and many other things.
    Should we have kids reading the Communist manifesto to counter all the capitalist books they ’ll read in their schools?

    • Shouldn’t school curricula reflect their own community interests? Especially at the K-12 level?

      Colleges are already politicized to the hilt; how about allowing kids to learn about their own local culture before force-feeding them somebody else’s grievances? Small town cops aren’t “occupation forces”, they’re neighbors and relatives. More likely to help fix a flat than to frisk a random stroller.

      Life is different outside the megacities.

      • Actually, policy in most towns is to “hire outside” when possible. Big cities move officers to different boroughs or neighborhoods if they can. The idea is to reduce problems with favoritism, etc.

        It doesn’t always work out for the best.

        So, yes, you *do* wind up with occupation forces of police who are “not from around here”. They usually wind up banding together as an “us”, and everyone without a badge becomes a “them.” And that’s how you wind up with police departments who make press releases stating they’re “at war” with… basically, the very citizenry that employs them.

    • I think a fairer reading of the situation is to have the kids read Adam Smith, Thomas Sowell, and other non-socialist books to counter all of the indoctrination they currently receive.

      They read of the ‘peaceful’ Native Americans, and how the White Man ruined their land.
      They don’t read of stories like those of my ancestors, butchered, raped, kidnapped, and enslaved by those same Native populations.

      No balance – just one-sided teaching.

      • No mention of how the azteks built *their* empire or how a single boatload of explorers brought it down because the oppressed non-aztek majority had had enough.

        Or how the Maya ran their empire.

        Or how the Inca Empire was just ending a bloody civil war when the pandemics hit.

        Or, my own favorite: how Taino males, faced with Spanish guns and forced to pan for gold got into their canoes en masse and left the island of Boriquen behind…including their women and children. So it came to be that in the mid 1500’s or so, there were 5 women for every male on the island, prompting a rush to build convents all over.

        The past is full of…interesting…facts. Which is why the victimhood game relies on beginning “history” when *their* grievances happened.

        • I feel I must have gotten very lucky in my K-12 years. We actually did a seminar in the sixth grade about the Aztecs. Specifically, a guest speaker told us how the priests (of Xipe Totec, I think) removed their victims’ skins. You start with beheading and behanding and befooting … the speaker was so jaunty in his delivery that we were more amazed than upset. I really didn’t blame the other Indians for ganging up with Cortez to take down the Aztecs.

          That’s why the Laura Ingalls Wilder matter is so interesting to me; apparently no one is allowed to see any evidence that other people (Indians) are actually people (not saints). The past is full of interesting facts. You really can’t learn it and retain the idea that entire groups are Always Chaotic Evil and others are Always Pure as the Driven Snow.

          • It is easier to pretend there is only one side to the “story”. Or to ignore how the situation came to be.

            Like, again, Cortez and co: the product of a society at war for over half a millennium against a horde of “alien” invaders isn’t going to produce restrained soldiers. It isn’t at all surprising how the conquistadors turned out. What is surprising is that it wasn’t all that Spain produced. There was a lot more to the society and culture of Imperial Spain than the Black Legend pretends.

            Context is complicated. Too complicated for absolutist minds that only see total good or total evil and that through one narrow set of blinders.

  5. The problem I see is that the book aren’t being discussed. They are tossed out to the kids for summer reading so these kids have no outlet or adult to discuss the topic in a reasonable manner. Summers in cities are volatile enough for kids without tossing in a book that will make them angry. Summer reading should be thoughtful fluff, and books like these should be introduced in the classroom.

    • Good point about the timing of that reading. Books including controversy should be reserved for school year reading. Use the summer for other things – hey, here’s a thought – how about a book that might be FUN to read?

      • Fantastic idea, but not likely. I cringed when I read about the reading diaries they have to keep. For summer reading. I wonder how many possible avid readers are lost, either altogether of for many years afterwards.

  6. This is a link to the book lists:

    The first page is a different list of 3 from which one book must be picked. I have not read any of them which should be borne in mind, but from the descriptions, substantial themes include:

    Long Way Down – Gun violence and revenge;
    Salt to the Sea – Refugees
    The Sun is also a Star – Boy falls in love with Jamaican girl on verge of deportation.

    And the list itself on page 2? There are 5 books, not 4 as reported. Two of course are already the subject of the review. This leaves:

    23 Minutes – A fairly short Science Fiction story with a Groundhog Day type theme. No agenda apparent on its face.

    Love Letters to the Dead – Abuse

    Going Bovine – Dark comedy. No agenda apparent on its face.

    If Felix’s lament about the lack of any focus on local community interests is of any concern, so is this list. To me far too many of the choices have “social justice” type themes and seem to be pushing this agenda. And such themes have their place in school curricula. Sadly, if this list is typical there seems to be little room for any other themes.

    Fortunately the list for the Honors course for this grade seems to be a little better.

  7. According to the article it’s not “the government” or “the police” who asked; the Fraternal Order of Police is a private association. Like… oh, Author’s Guild. The North Carolina Association of Educators. The National Parent-Teacher Association. The Jewish Anti-Defamation Leage. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People…

    The FOP has no official standing. They simply asked, as a group, that books they felt maligned their members be removed. Just like if they were Jewish, black, gay, or any other group that might do the same thing.

    I’m not seeing a problem here.

    • And if the members had been black, gay or Jewish and asked for offensive books to be removed from the summer reading list, how many people on this very forum would be decrying it and calling it The first step on the road to censorship?

      • Perhaps some of the members are black, gay or Jewish? Hopefully the answer is not many, as one would hope that people who read and contribute to this very forum are a little more intellectually rigorous and logical than the so-called Authors Guild.

        • Well, it turns out that a quarter of the population of the region is black. So one would expect that the police and FOP would be representative of the community since smaller towns have a problem recruiting cops from bigger (and higher-paying) cities.

      • Well, that’s not much of a likelihood since the federalized Dept of Education isn’t a hotbed of liberarian or federalist philosophies and none of the books listed push any ideology besides the eye-raising one.

        We can only respond to what is actually happening in this universe, not in a hypothetical one or the one where Spock has a beard.

        After all, we’re the ones who’ll have to live with the consequences “If this goes on…”.

  8. After Parkland, isn’t it plausible that this is a deliberate, willful, and knowing effort to prime kids with ideas likely to get them killed? Over the summer, just in time for the mid terms?

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