Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Extraordinary Evil

Barbara Coloroso continues to receive support for her book Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide which was pulled from a Grade 11 course by the Toronto District School Board. Members of the Turkish community had challenged the book and its portrayal of the Armenian genocide. Quill and Quire's Blog published an open letter from Penguin Canada, Coloroso's publisher.
Dear Mr. Connelly,

As the publisher of Barbara Coloroso’s Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide, we regret the Toronto District School Board’s decision to drop the book from its list of resources for a Grade 11 course called Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. Board documents describe Ms. Coloroso as a “renowned educator” and the book’s inclusion in the reading list in the first place attests to its value as a legitimate contribution to the study of genocide. Dropping the book from the list is apparently based on vociferous objections by segments of the Turkish Canadian population who reject the “genocide” designation to describe the atrocities committed against Armenians in 1915, and who dispute Ms Coloroso’s credentials as an historian. In fact, Ms Coloroso has never claimed to be an historian and in the Introduction to her book, she emphasizes that she is writing “as an educator, a parent, and a former nun. All three of these influence and colour this text.”

We suggest that the Board follow the philosophy outlined in the April 29th Review Committee Report, which states “Grade 11 students can appreciate – and, more importantly, should appreciate – that history is a contested area without suggesting that everything is relative. … Genuine historical controversies do belong in a high school curriculum and can be beneficial in giving students an in-depth understanding of complex events and in teaching students critical thinking.” While we laud the Board’s decision to implement such a course, and to continue to include the Armenian genocide as part of that course, we urge you to reinstate Ms. Coloroso’s book onto the course reading list. Many voices have been recorded on the tragedies of various genocides, the voices of historians, eyewitnesses, novelists, human rights groups, social scientists, journalists and even Canadian generals. Ms Coloroso’s voice should be among them.


David Davidar
President and Publisher
Penguin Group Canada

The Writer's Union also weighed in with a letter to the Toronto District School Board.

Dear Trustees and staff of the TDSB,

The Writers' Union of Canada strongly endorses Barbara Coloroso’s appeal of your decision to remove her work, Extraordinary Evil, a Brief History of Genocide from your reading list. We are surprised that, as educators, you are somewhat slow at learning lessons. Have you already forgotten the outrage created amongst parents, educators, librarians and writers when Three Wishes was removed from the Silver Birch award list, following a complaint from the Canadian Jewish Congress? You even ignored a committee recommendation to retain Three Wishes on a limited basis.

You claim your reason for banning the book is that Ms. Coloroso is not a professional historian. This feels like a thinly disguised attempt to hide the truth that you have been pressured into banning her book by a politically motivated interest group. Ms. Coloroso is a highly respected and well-established professional writer and public speaker on social justice and child raising; her books are published around the world. Her book on genocide is meticulously researched and extremely appropriate for a course such as yours on the Holocaust.

It is completely unacceptable for those responsible for educating the citizens of tomorrow to remove valuable titles every time an interest group brings forth a complaint. If so, your library shelves would be bare indeed. As several Letters to the Editor emphasized in May 19th’s Globe and Mail, books should be judged on their contribution to the discussion of issues such as genocide.

We encourage you to restore Extraordinary Evil, a Brief History of Genocide to your reading list, and make a more concerted effort in the future to put the interests of your students ahead of the political agendas of narrow interest groups.

As Chair of the Writers' Union of Canada, I will be contacting board executive Gerry Connely this week to further discuss this issue, as we remain distressed and unsatisfied by the board's reasons for excluding a book that is a valuable contribution to the discussion of man's inhumanity to man.


Susan Swan
Chair, The Writers’ Union of Canada

Read an interview with Barbara Coloroso.

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