Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Should Schools be "a politics-free zone?"

In a story reminiscent of the challenge to Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak -- a challenge which has been covered extensively on this blog, the Vancouver Sun reports that The Shepherd's Granddaughter has "sparked outrage in the Jewish community." Some school trustees are demanding the book be removed from reading lists and libraries.

The Shepherd's Granddaughter, a children's novel about a Palestinian teen growing up outside of a Palestinian village in the West Bank in the midst of the Middle East conflict, was written by Canadian author Anne Laurel Carter. The book is told through the child Amani's voice. As with Three Wishes, the controversy came long after the publication of the book and was highlighted by its nomination by the Ontario Library Assocation for the Red Maple Award, a program intended to foster reading skills for students, in this case for grades seven and eight.

Critics feel the novel — told from the Palestinian viewpoint with characters' opinions about the conflict ranging from peaceful resistance to militancy, with Amani choosing non-violence — could result in discrimination.

The Jewish Tribune recently wrote an article entitled, "Could This Book Turn Your Child Against Israel" which cites hurtful comments made toward Jews on Brian Henry, a parent and the writer of the article believes that although "one book by itself is never going to make any child any sort of bigot. Along with other things though, yes, it could." He add that schools should be "a politics-free zone."

B'nai Brith Canada believes the book "demonizes" Israelis and portrays Palestinians as innocent.

At least one Toronto trustee wants The Shepherd's Granddaughter gone from schools. James Pasternak, a trustee with the Toronto District School Board was quoted by CanWest as saying,
The book is really inappropriate to be presented in this way, in a school setting. It doesn't present a balanced or fair reflection of that conflict zone. It's a biased book that borders on political propaganda.

Sheila Ward, also a Toronto trustee has said she expects people will accuse her of censorship but that she would "move heaven and Earth to have The Shepherd's Granddaughter taken off the school library shelves." She added, "If it means I will not support hate-provoking literature with no redeeming qualities, I am delighted to be called a censor."

The board has received a formal complaint and a vote will take place following a 60-day review.

Anne Laurel Carter, author of The Shepherd's Granddaughter believes that anyone who dismisses the book as hateful misses the point of the book.

The author states,
I appreciate that it's very a sensitive, complex situation but I'm telling a viewpoint that has a right to be told. I did a lot of research to tell the story, and went (to the Middle East) many times, and I have been sympathetic to both sides. As everybody does, I would like to see peace in the Middle East.

Groundwood Books, the publisher has sent a letter to the Toronto School Board asking members to stand up for the book. She says that the book includes "very, very sympathetic Israeli characters," as well as diverse Palestinian ones.

Read The Shepherd's Granddaughter as part of the Banned Book Challenge, or check out lists of challenged books on the right sidebar.


Brian from Toronto said...

Posting about The Shepherd’s Granddaughter under "Banned Books" gets the issue upside down.

When schools recommend a book to students, they should first make sure the book has merit.

This wasn't done with the Shepherd's Granddaughter. The Ontario Library Association put the book in its Forest of Reading program and the schools assumed the book must be good.

As a result, Ontario schools have been recommending a book that depicts Israelis as child-murderers, commanded by the Jewish God to steal and kill.

This isn't just my opinion. Every school board in the province that has independently examined The Shepherd's Granddaughter has concluded that the book is problematic.

The York Region School Board has advised its administrators and teacher-librarians that students
reading The Shepherd's Granddaughter should be supported by “facilitated discussions”
to avoid discrimination and the expression of bias.

See here:

In the Niagara District, the book has been red-flagged so that student readers are alerted that the book is unbalanced.

In Toronto, the Board has labelled the book as "controversial," which puts into effect a series of requirements, including guidance from teachers before, during and after the students read the book, and the supply of supporting material to teachers and alternate books to students so that they can identify and correct bias.
See here:

Moreover, the Toronto Board has changed its procedures in regard to The Forest of Reading program so that henceforth staff will review these books before schools start recommending them to students.

The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board has followed suit.

You headline this posting: "Should schools be a politics-free zone?"

That's not actually a question: everyone involved in education agrees that schools shouldn't be used to promote political agendas.

Only the Ontario Library Association doesn't get this. Hence, they slip a book like the Shepherd's Granddaughter into the Forest of Reading program. Then they yell "censorship" when someone points out that schools shouldn't encourage children to read a book that promotes hatred of Israelis and Jews.

When schools encourage children to read a book, they should first make sure the book is good. The issue is as simple as that.

fahrenheit451moderator said...

Please see the follow-up response.