Classic novels including The Great Gatsby and Catch-22 have been returned to the curriculum in Palmer, Alaska, after a widespread community protest against their removal.
The Matanuska-Susitna borough school board in Palmer, Alaska had voted in April to pull five titles from its curriculum for high-school English: F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and short-story collection The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. Issues with Angelou’s acclaimed memoir included its “sexually explicit material, such as the sexual abuse the author suffered as a child, and its ‘anti-white’ messaging”, while Catch-22 was criticised, among other things, for letting characters “speak with typical ‘military men’ misogyny and racist attitudes of the time”.
But locals spoke out against the decision, offering money – and even free mac’n’cheese – to students who read the books anyway. National anti-censorship groups also slammed the removal, calling on the board to reinstate the books, and now the school board has voted six to one to rescind its decision to remove the five classic works from the curriculum.
According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, “several dozen” residents had protested before the meeting, with one student saying that “to be told that we’re not mature enough to read these books or we need to be protected is kind of annoying”.
Palmer city council member Sabrena Combs told CNN that the result of the new vote was a “small victory”, but added that “we have a long road ahead of us to ensure curriculum for our students is to the standard we desire as parents and community members.”
“At this point, I feel the access to important works of literature for students and teachers is being threatened, as the majority of the school board wishes to revisit this topic within the next year,” she said.