All the while shouting and raising his fist in the air, his other fist firmly gripped around the Bible. He went on to scream, "It's not fit for a child to read, it's not fit for a heathen to read! Why let your children bring home garbage like that when they could be reading the Bible?" --Rev. Oscar Hughes
Well it looks as though another case of schoolbook censorship has reared it's ugly head. This time near my own neighborhood. Hamilton High School principal Bud Bierly decided May 5th to remove the classic "Of Mice and Men" from the required reading list after one parent, Bob Barnett, objected to the book's use of the Lord's name in vain. When Mr. Barnett's daughter brought the book home he went through and highlighted all the objectionable words in the book. He then filed a formal complaint.
When word got around by the end of the day, many students set up an impromptu protest outside the school the next two evenings. Some students carried signs that read: "Bill of Rights...What's the use?" and "What's next? The Bible?"
Although Barnett's daughter was given an alternative selection to read, he still went ahead with the banning process. Soon after, a committee was assigned to review the novel. On May 13th an open meeting of discussion was held at the high school. Your's truly from R.O.C. was there.
Among the committee members in attendance were John Vaughn, HHS principal Bud Bierly, Minority Advisory Council member Helen Carter, Jane Barnett, Hank Miller, Gale Holcomb, Richard Queen, and Ministerial Association president Gary Srurni.
The procedures for the meeting were quite similar to a courtroom trial. Three speakers from each side of the issue were allowed 5 minutes each to present their complaint or defense of the John Stienbeck classic. After both sides presented their case, a rebuttal of 2 minutes for each speaker was allowed.
The first one at the podium was, of course, Bob Barnett. He rambled on and on about how the book uses the Lord's name in vain and how the school is supposed to be neutral yet curses God. "You either serve God or Satan. There is no in-between." He went on to say, "If God wants this book to be banned...it will be banned forever." He also displayed a poster, evidently drawn by his daughter, which added up all the "God damn's" in the book.
Next up was holy roller Oscar Hughes, minister at the Highway of Holiness church and head of the "Parents Coalition" of which Barnett is Vice President. Hughes stepped up to the mic and began howling about the evils of the book. "Anyone who has a child should not want them to read this book. It should be abandoned. It should be taken off the shelf. It should be BURNED UP and thrown into a fire!" All the while shouting and raising his fist in the air. His other fist firmly gripped around the Bible. He went on to scream, "It's not fit for a child to read, it's not even fit for a heathen to read! Why let your children bring home garbage like that when they could be reading the Bible?"
A pitiful sight followed when Barnett's brainwashed daughter took her turn at the podium. Speaking in a monotone robot-like voice she had this to say, "I had to go to a Cincinnati Christian School to get away from the evil that is taught in this school and in English class."
After the complaint finished their "sermon," 3 defenders of the book had their say. The first up was Judy Jarvis who has been teaching at Hamilton High School for over 24 years. She's taught 10, 11 and 12 graders. She also has experience in instructing Theatre and Speech. She informed the committee that the book is recommended by the American Library Association and The National Council of Teachers of English. "The dialog is appropriate within the context of the novel. Students are mature enough to understand the distinction between language and references used in the book versus those in their own personal lives."
Thom Kuykendall, a senior at the school, was one of the original organizers in helping to defend the book. He gathered over 133 signatures from teachers, students and parents on petitions to have the book reinstated on the required reading list. Thom reminded the committee that Of Mice and Men provokes the reader to reflect on his or her own morals and teaches one to think on their own actions."
A parent of a few students at the school also voiced her opinion of the novel. She said, "Our children are encouraged to observe, to listen, to think, to form and express their own opinion, many times through discussion on assigned books."
When both the complaint and the defense had their say on the controversy each was allowed a 2 minute rebuttal. Bob Burnett again took the stand looking very apprehensive after the defense's articulate and meaningful presentation. "This book is referred to by the students as 'the cuss book'. The first (copy of the book) I threw in the dump. The 2nd I tore up." Then he proceeded to beat 'the cuss book' with the Bible declaring, "this book (the Bible) will beat this one to death over and over."
When Judy Jarvis was able to give her response she quoted some examples of student book reviews from her class. One student in particular wrote the following: "I would be honest in saying I didn't like them using God's name in vain but, after I started reading and finished the book I enjoyed it." The review stated how the student's cousin is a lot like Lenny, a character in the novel. She told how she never could relate to her cousin until after reading Of Mice And Men. The assignment on the book was completed 2 months before Barnett decided to file his complaint.
Once the presentations were over, the committee discussed the novel amongst themselves. They also read the written viewpoints from the audience handed in during the discussion. I handed one in myself. Committee member Helen Carter quoted almost word for word a portion of my 'letter'. "I did have a problem with the cussing in the book," she said, "but I am also a realist, I know these words were used (30 some years ago) and are still used today."
Finally the "verdict" was announced. Committee chairperson: "The consensus that I hear from the committee is that Of Mice and Men should be reinstated immediately and should be part of the curriculum." A thunderous applause followed, many people standing.
After the meeting I met with a few students at the school who attended. I passed out some of the petitions calling for the removal of the record labels and hopefully gained a few more R.O.C. members. A couple students had this to say about the whole ordeal: "If he wants to keep her (Barnett's daughter) away from this, he should keep her at home." Another remarked: "I've heard worse (language) from some teachers here at school."
Bob Barnett was completely infuriated with the committee's decision and let it show when interviewed by the local media. "I will appeal the decision and you can quote me on that. I'm the villain here. You ain't heard the last of me. I knew the set up when I came in. God's gonna tell Hamilton High 'You stink in the nostrils and you're gonna get this book outta here cause everyone around you is gonna get it out and you're gonna look stupid!!!'"
He was asked where he would strike next and said it would be within a 25 mile radius but, he had no specific school in mind. So, the classic isn't safe just yet. But, of course, no book is safe when there are loonies like Bob Barnett and Rev. Oscar Hughes' Parent's Coalition on the loose.
Editor: Any of our readers in the Cincinnati area who may want to become active with R.O.C. can call Todd at 513-874-6748. JOIN AND BUILD R.O.C.!