Archived Opinion

Careless book banning is seldom a good idea

Careless book banning is seldom a good idea

Removing the book “Dear Martin” from a 10th-grade English class at Tuscola High School likely didn’t prevent students in that class from having a deep, meaningful discussion about race in America and their own attitudes about this issue. Hopefully the teacher found some other book that inspired students to have this kind of discussion, because it’s one today’s young Americans need.

More important for students, parents, faculty and taxpayers, the decision to pull the book reflected badly on the current leadership of the Haywood County school system. Banning a book is almost never a good idea, and the way this incident went down proves that point.

I will, however, stick up for the parent who lodged the complaint despite disagreeing with him about the merits of this book. If a parent has a problem with what is happening with their child’s education, they should ask for answers and go up the ladder — teacher, principal, administrator, school board member — until they are satisfied. That’s the process, that’s how public school systems work. 

The book’s author, Nic Stone, said as much. “I don’t fault the parents at all,” Stone told The Smoky Mountain News. “We’re all just trying to do our best when it comes to raising our kids. I would just hope that they would be willing to read beyond the first chapter just to see what’s actually in there.”

And that’s the problem with, essentially, banning the book from the entire classroom instead of giving that particular student a different reading assignment. Did anyone at the administrative level “read beyond the first chapter just to see what’s actually in there” before making the decision?

Instead of using this parent’s grievances against the book to open a larger, wide-ranging discussion — one that could have involved the community, the teachers who are in the classroom every day, the school system’s own media/library professionals and others — Superintendent Bill Nolte said he made the decision to ask the teacher to assign a different book. He cited the book’s profanity and sexual innuendo as the primary reasons.

Related Items

This book is on recommended reading lists across this country for high schoolers, and for good reason. I mean, no disrespect to administrators or school board members who may not read much, but the protagonist in this novel wants to discuss — in the form of letters — his concerns about race with Martin Luther King Jr., the assassinated pacifist preacher who disavowed violence as he tried to right wrongs during the Civil Rights era. OK, so there’s some vulgar words. Anyone reading this column or this book remember how many cusswords they knew by age 15? Yeah, about all of them, I’d say.

Speaking of sexual innuendo, ever read “The Scarlett Letter” or “To Kill a Mockingbird?” Aren’t these books still read in high schools? I remember discussing the Nathaniel Hawthorn classic in 11th grade and was duly impressed that my wise, elderly Black English teacher, Mrs. Jackson, was able to deftly deflect the silly questions regarding Hester’s transgressions from a class of unruly 16- and 17-year-olds while keeping the discussion focused on the book’s larger themes of sin, guilt and redemption. That’s called getting an education, exploring new ideas and discussing important questions about life, dignity, retribution, honesty, honor and other themes. This is how the best teachers prepare students to succeed in life.

The removal of the book really hit home with teachers and parents. That’s how we heard about it — and from some parents who are also teachers — who were outraged that this happened in the system where they work. Many felt it was a slap in the face to teachers, that it reflects a larger problem in this school system about how classroom professionals are treated by administrators. The backlash from education professionals was plentiful and heartfelt. Many were reluctant to offer public criticism.

School administrators, principals and teachers have tough jobs. They make dozens of decisions a day they hope will help the students they are charged with educating. I understand that there is an inclination to err on the side of caution when some potentially controversial matter must be dealt with. It’s tough balancing the need to protect students from a dangerous world with the desire to prepare them for what they will encounter as they go through life, a point the book’s author — a mother of two teen boys — also made.

I suspect none of the students will forget that school leaders banned the book they were supposed to read in 10th grade English. Neither will parents and teachers throughout Haywood County. The superintendent — and let’s not forget the elected school board — lost the trust of many by making this decision. 

Children are growing up faster than ever, and our schools have an important role to play in helping them face life’s difficult challenges. Despite the overused idiom, ignorance is not bliss. Never was.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Leave a comment

13 comments

  • Bravo! Brilliant piece. Thank you, Scott!

    posted by Lisa Whittington Stewart

    Tuesday, 02/15/2022

  • 100% agree, Scott. Nicely written.

    posted by Danya Vanhook

    Sunday, 02/13/2022

  • As a person of Jewish heritage, I would first like to say that I'm horrified at how minority groups have been the targets of this movement.
    Also, if folks think this is a grass roots movement, look again. These "grass roots" movements are funded by groups such as the Heritage Foundation to cause disruption and keep their pawns in the game. It's necessary to continue to keep their followers activated so they can shift them from one 'cause' to another. Now they have Canadian truckers doing the work, wearing MAGA hats and carrying Confederate flags ( for what??). This is all to keep the pot boiling for the next election.

    posted by Deni

    Saturday, 02/12/2022

  • The book should never have been put out there in the first place. There is so much great literature out there from classics to contemporary. This is all about building up one race at the expense of another race.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 02/11/2022

  • Horace Stoneman, your name calling and dismissive approach to people with whom you disagree exemplifies a major underlying cause of the growing rift that’s plaguing our entire country. This isn’t a “liberal” vs “conservative“ issue. The way this book ban was handled in the absence of any discussion or input from teachers, other parents, students, and community members was unfair at best, and school board policy needs to be changed in a way that prevents this from ever happening again. One parent’s unchallenged opinion should never have the power to dictate a choice that negatively affects so many students and an entire school community.

    Lucille Josephs, I’m sorry you appear to subscribe to the idea that empowering minorities by having their voices seen and heard in our schools and community somehow comes at a cost to white people, and that doing so implies hatred of them. Ultimately, everyone fighting for equal opportunity, representation, and validation is fighting for the benefit of their own race as well. We all become a happier, wiser, more productive community of citizens when we embrace, seek to understand, and learn from one another. Keeping certain groups silenced and invisible in the false belief that it’s somehow necessary for preserving the well being of those who are better represented helps no one and morally and spiritually bankrupts us all.

    posted by Carolyn Thornhill-Marth

    Friday, 02/11/2022

  • Since this incident, I have read this book. I don’t feel that the father was in the wrong. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions. HOWEVER, it was done in a totally incorrect way. The father should have spoken to the teacher first. If necessary, a meeting with the principal. In that order, there most likely would have been a resolution. There is not an educator in the country who appreciates anyone going straight to the board & superintendent. And any superintendent worth his salt would have made the recommendation to follow that route. Nic Stone did a great job of providing incidences that our African American youth experience on a daily basis. Should it be taught in a 10th grade English classroom? I can’t answer that. I can say that banning students from reading it is the very best way to get the kids to read it & to spike the sales! And just in case there’s any naysayers out there who think I don’t know what I’m talking about, I am a veteran teacher with over 50 yrs under my belt who is still in the classroom teaching teens just like those in that book!!!!!

    posted by Alice Houck

    Friday, 02/11/2022

  • Lucille Josephs: You have an opportunity to share your support of the book ban issue in person. The next meeting of the Haywood County School Board is scheduled to be held on February 15. Plan to attend in person.

    posted by Teri D

    Friday, 02/11/2022

  • Mark Melrose, why do you hate White people? Seriously. I presume you are White. What's your problem with White people.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Friday, 02/11/2022

  • Scott,

    Thanks for your insightful comments. Mr. Nolte failed to follow established procedures to address a parental complaint about reading material. The Haywood County School Board always offers blind support to Mr. Nolte. Given Mr. Nolte's at best racially insensitive Facebook posting last year, it is no surprise the banned book was at the whim of one white parent and the subject matter involves a black teenager dealing with racism in America. Many teachers and parents in Haywood County are outraged by this arbitrary removal of reading material, and rightfully so.

    posted by Mark Melrose

    Thursday, 02/10/2022

  • Liberal minded people suffer from a mental disorder.

    posted by Horace Stoneman

    Thursday, 02/10/2022

  • Perhaps when nolte learns to read
    This would be a great book for him .he belongs back in the stone age that he s currently living in .certainly not in education of my child or others.
    A replacement of him and the board is in order.

    posted by Ed hammick

    Thursday, 02/10/2022

  • Sorry Scott. It was a good decision.

    posted by Lucille Josephs

    Thursday, 02/10/2022

  • Well said!

    posted by Roy Gass

    Wednesday, 02/09/2022

Smokey Mountain News Logo
SUPPORT THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN NEWS AND
INDEPENDENT, AWARD-WINNING JOURNALISM
Go to top
Payment Information

/

At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.