How many complaints does it take to ban Neil Gaiman?

Just one, according to Leah Schnelbach at Tor.com.

The text of Neverwhere had been accepted as part of the reading list for nine years… and, as a result of a single complaint from a single individual who never even met with the teachers involved, it was removed.

Leaving aside the issue of whether the scene in question is sufficiently objectionable to justify removal:  if they were willing to remove it after a single complaint, why did they approve it in the first place?  Did they find it offensive but decided it wouldn’t matter until someone complained?  That’s disturbing in one way.  Did they not find it offensive but were willing to remove it at the slightest hint of parental discomfort?  That’s disturbing in another.

What’s truly tragic is that everyone else, even the student body, seems to have enjoyed the book.  It’s been many years since my horrific journey through the American educational system, but as I recall dimly through the mists of time, enjoying the act of reading was uncommon, and enjoying reading assignments was even rarer.  Removing something that the students liked is a serious loss, both to the kids and to the people whose responsibility it is to educate them.

And why?  A few F-bombs and some light petting.

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2 Responses to “How many complaints does it take to ban Neil Gaiman?”

  1. I have a low enough opinion of school reading lists to not really care, but a good argument can be made for being lax in approval but then removing when someone complains. If we regard the harm from an offensive book as being of low probability/impact it makes sense to take a risk rather than rely on the “precautionary principle” and screen books thoroughly beforehand. If nobody complains, it’s all good. I think that’s the same logic for relying on the tort system (or common law, if we’re setting precedent) rather than regulation. And if somebody does complain, it’s a problem for them and you can say “Tough, stick with this book you find offensive”, or try to find something that offends nobody. As long as there are a reasonable number of the latter, and we don’t expect the students who liked the previous book to have REALLY liked it sufficiently to outweigh the outlier’s dislike, it’s an improvement. Or at least less of a hassle for the schools.

  2. But if there’s valid reason for a complaint, the book in question would be removed *after* the students have been exposed to it. If we accept the premise that the school needs to be screening things out, that’s a pretty obvious failure.

    I don’t see any sets of reasonable assumptions for which this sort of response is justified. Either it’s outright harmful in itself, or it fails to fulfill the function it’s intended for.

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