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Saturday, June 17, 2006

No reading allowed on the school board

Last night, I was at a dinner. The lovely Maryrose Wood (who you might know as the author of Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love) was there. She leaned over to me and said, “Guess what. I got banned.”

Well, by banned, she explained, there was a hubbub about her book in Hernando County, Florida. It seems that a school librarian was making her book order list for the year. A school board member named Sandra Nicholson had been doing an appearance on a local radio station, and somehow became inspired to scour this list, looking for things to remove. She chose ten, and Sex Kittens was one of them.



Hernando County School Board member Sandra Nicholson, looking very relaxed for the camera


Now, Sex Kittens isn’t exactly the world’s most racy book. It’s enjoyable, but it doesn’t have any sex in it. It’s been described as “squeaky clean.”

See, the trouble was, Sandra hadn’t actually read the books on her Big Bad Ten list.

This fact was embarrassingly highlighted by the fact that she also put on the list a book called Unspeakable Acts, Unnatural Practices: Flaws and Fallacies in Scientific Reading Instruction. Not only did she not read that book, it looks like she didn’t even finish reading the title.

The book is about phonics. Yes. It’s about how to teach reading. Luckily, the principal knew what it was and made sure it was kept on the list. It was there for the teachers, anyway. Because it was about teaching reading.

Ironic? Ho ho! You bet it is!

Ah, getting banned. I remember wondering if my book, The Bermudez Triangle, was going to get banned. It hasn’t yet, but ones never knows. It can only be because it hasn’t been noticed yet.

You know, I almost feel kind of neglected.

Since I know some don’t take the time to read the books they want to ban (Sandra: this one is for you), I’ll give any potential banners a tip off to help them out: it has gayness in it. Yes! And nachos with Guinness mixed into the delicious chili topping! Homosexuality and alcohol. Trust me. You guys who hate everything, you’ll hate Bermudez. You had better ban it. Quickly, now. Quickly. I’ll wait.

(elevator music plays)

Okay.

Now, it just so happens that I have some experience interacting with school boards. Admittedly, my opinion of them is pretty grim. If you aren’t already aware, I think I should tell you a bit about the people who may be controlling your school.

It really depends on where you live, but in general, school board elections are not hotbeds of controversy. Many people don’t even notice that there’s a school board election going on. They often just kind of . . . happen.

You don’t need anything special to be elected to a school board. Usually, anyone with a high school diploma who’s old enough to vote can run. Sometimes, very motivated people who really care about schools run. And other times, people who just really, really want a title run, so that they can walk around and say, “I am on the school board, therefore, I must know something.”

So, no experience in education necessary. No education in any relevant area necessary. You must simply possess the will to run. It’s sort of like student counsel, except the stakes are much higher. School boards approve budgets. And they can do things like demand that Ten Big Bad Books be taken from the shelves of your school, even if they haven’t read them.

Schools must toady to their school boards. I worked at a school while I was in college, and we had to run around and prepare like the Queen of England and her fifty best friends were coming to tea whenever the school board showed up for a meeting.

I was never too impressed watching the school board. Only two people at the meeting seemed to be paying any kind of attention. One guy would just walk out if any members of the public questioned his decisions. Another guy fell asleep on a regular basis and his snoring would get picked up on the mike and echo throughout the gym.

These were the fine minds controlling the financial resources and direction of an entire school with 1,200 students.

So does Sandra surprise me? Not at all, dear readers. I’ve seen it, done it, and gotten the t-shirt. Are there some very good, hard-working school boards out there? You bet there are. Are there school boards so full of idiots that you’d think you were at an all-you-can-vote-for idiot bar? Oh, yes.

I’m just saying.

So, what do we do about this? I mean, we always talk about how bad this book banning is. What can we do about it?

Well, for a start, let’s learn from our mistakes. Hernando County isn’t taking this sitting down. And New York County isn’t either. So, why don’t we get rid of the book banners!

I mean you, Sandra.

A little bit of research (10 minutes online while refreshing facial mask is drying) reveals that Sandra Nicholson sounds just like those lordly school board divas I used to have to dust the seats for. Here’s what the Hernando forums are saying about her.

And it also looks like she has set her sights on higher things. It seems that she is thinking about running for the Florida House of Representatives, representing district 44!

Can you just imagine all the non-reading that she could accomplish from that lofty post?

Let’s look at some of Sandra’s other fine accomplishments. In 2003, Sandra supported removing books from schools, even if the material was just under consideration. In this case, it was Judy Blume’s Deenie. In other words: she was saying it was okay to remove books until she had had time to not read them. Excellent work.

Here she is, in 2004, apologizing for illegally bulldozing a 38 acre site and uprooting protected trees. Well done, Sandra! Her reply? “We screwed up.” (It pays to read, Sandra. Why not try that phonics book?)

And here’s Sandra voting down an effort to donate five unwanted school buses to the effort to help evacuate refugees from Hurricane Katrina! Superb, Sandra! You sure showed those guys!

So, won’t you join me, gentle readers? Let’s let Sandra know that she is not the Queen of Us. Have you seen any stories about Sandra? E-mail them to me, please!

Don’t bother e-mailing her. Maybe send her a picture.

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I think you jinxed The Bermudez Triangle in this post.

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