These books are not banned, they’re just not required reading now in the Mat-Su



Trigger warning: The following passage of American literature that was recently part of required reading for an English class in the Mat-Su Valley District Schools (and is part of curriculum in Anchorage Public Schools) may upset some readers and may not be appropriate for minors:

“Because of a need for stability, children easily become creatures of habit. After the third time in Mother’s bed, I thought there was nothing strange about sleeping there.

“One morning she got out of bed for an early errand, and I fell asleep again. But I awoke to a pressure, a strange feeling on my left leg. It was too soft to be a hand, and it wasn’t the touch of clothes. Whatever it was, I hadn’t encountered the sensation in all the years of sleeping with Momma. It didn’t move, and I was too startled to. I turned my head a little to the left to see if Mr. Freeman was awake and gone, but his eyes were open and both hands were above the cover. I knew, as if I had always known, it was his “thing” on my leg.

“He said, “Just stay right here, Ritie, I ain’t gonna hurt you.” I wasn’t afraid, a little apprehensive, maybe, but not afraid. Of course I knew that lots of people did “it” and they used their “things” to accomplish the deed, but no one I knew had ever done it to anybody. Mr. Freeman pulled me to him, and put his hand between my legs. He didn’t hurt, but Momma had drilled into my head: “Keep your legs closed, and don’t let nobody see your pocketbook.”

“Now, I didn’t hurt you. Don’t get scared.” He threw back the blankets and his “thing” stood up like a brown ear of corn. He took my hand and said, “Feel it.” It was mushy and squirmy like the inside of a freshly killed chicken. Then he dragged me on top of his chest with his left arm, and his right hand was moving so fast and his heart was beating so hard that I was afraid that he would die. Ghost stories revealed how people who died wouldn’t let go of whatever they were holding. I wondered if Mr. Freeman died holding me how I would ever get free. Would they have to break his arms to get me loose?

Finally he was quiet, and then came the nice part. He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go. I felt at home. From the way he was holding me I knew he’d never let me go or let anything bad ever happen to me. This was probably my real father and we had found each other at last. But then he rolled over, leaving me in a wet place and stood up. “I gotta talk to you, Ritie.” He pulled off his shorts that had fallen to his ankles, and went into the bathroom. It was true the bed was wet, but I knew I hadn’t had an accident. Maybe Mr. Freeman had one while he was holding me. He came back with a glass of water and told me in a sour voice, “Get up. You peed in the bed.” He poured water on the wet spot, and it did look like my mattress on many mornings.”

– “Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou

The Mat-Su School Board made a difficult call last week, one that they knew would upset liberals, and they were not disappointed in that regard. On a vote of 5-2, five books were crossed off the high school elective English coursework:

  • “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
  • “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
  • “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
  • “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
  • “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

All of them have issues — mostly graphic depictions of a sexual nature, rape, violence, or racist stereotyping.

The response from the Left was that the books were banned and that this is typical right-wing censorship one should come to expect from the Mat-Su Valley. That’s what folks are reading in the mainstream media:

The books in question were not banned. They’re still available in the school libraries, but are not required reading in classes. Teachers will need to look for other works of literature to teach. There are hundreds of years of books to choose from that do not describe child rape.

Did the school board do teachers a favor? Quite possibly.

The passage above from Maya Angelou’s classic is the kind of prose that if read aloud in a classroom by a teacher, could draw a lawsuit.

It’s not the kind of passage that one could read aloud in the lunchroom at work.

In fact, it may not be the kind of passage that could even be read into the record at a school board meeting without the reader being called out of order.

Must Read Alaska readers, what are your thoughts? Are high school students mature enough to consume these graphic descriptions of horrific child abuse? What would you have done if you were a school board member making the decision?


  1. I commend the decision by Mat-Su. The question of education is to enhance the ability to read and critical thinking. Unfortunately we are seeing more students who do not know how to read, thus challenged in critical thinking by the influence of projection of others through various forms of media. There are volumes of books to enhance reading and promote critical thinking. Mat-Su appears to get back to basics of education. Once a student is taught the value of language and reading then the ability to do so is unlimited after public education has concluded. Unless, you are Burgess Meredith in that famous Twilight Zone episode…”Time Enough At Last”.

  2. Hold on just a second…here you go MRAK reporting without knowing all the facts and that’s just not like you! You claim the people protesting the banning of these books are all liberals. I resent that very much as I am very much a conservative…but a conservative who uses common sense and logic…nowhere near being a liberal, so please don’t generalize when you want to smear people. Also, if I recall correctly, it was implied in earlier reports that these books were banned from the schools…not simply removed from the required reading list. Telling only a portion of a truth in order to lead others to an erroneous conclusion is a typical “liberal” trick…how’s that feel, huh?

    • Everybody has a line they draw somewhere concerning which literature is appropriate for high school, or middle or elementary school, for that matter. So give it the “Muslim” test. Can you imagine what devout practicing Muslim parents would say if they learned these books were being taught to their children? They wouldn’t put up with it. A lot of Christians don’t either and choose to home school their children, because they can’t trust that all teachers have the judgment needed for what is appropriate for what ages.

    • Karen, I think she pointed out that though news headlines sensationalized the issue by saying books were “banned” in the Mat-Su, the truth is contrary. The books are not banned, pure and simple. That a headline of a major news outlet would say something is “banned”, when it is not, is a question I’d hope the misleading journals would answer. I’m not holding my breath.

      • Ban: to prohibit the use, performance, or distribution of

        The School Board has removed these books from the curriculum list for certain High School English courses. Thus, it has prohibited their use, performance, and distribution in their courses. Thus, it has banned those books in those courses.

        • Yes, Karen, all true.

          If any of the three headlines MRAK posted, had used the words “in English class” then they too would have been true. However, for some unknown reason, they chose to leave that clarifying fact out of the headline.

          I hope everybody is enjoying what we’ve been given today.

    • Maybe something to put away, and chalk up to it is good for conversation. Kind of like the Dunleavy add on the page here that says he doesn’t give abortion clinics money or something like that, all the while knowing that Suzanne is pro women’s choice.

  3. I am reminded of a rock song from the 1990’s…
    “I walk the corner to the rubble, that used to be a library
    Line up to the mind cemetery, now
    What we don’t know keeps the contracts alive and movin’
    They don’t gotta burn the books, they just remove ’em
    While arms warehouses fill as quick as the cells.”
    (Rage against the Machine)

    • We don’t need no education
      We don’t no thought control
      No dark sarcasm in the classroom
      Hey teacher, leave our kids alone.
      All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
      Pink Floyd “Another Brick in the Wall” 41 years ago

  4. Suzanne, usually you do better presenting the whole story. There was a lot more to this than you presented: A surprise amendment to an agenda item, no real chance for public comment, the inclusion of The New York Times on the list, the fact that these are all novels that have been used in literally millions of classrooms for decades with no lawsuits.

    And let’s not play with words. The books have been “banned” from use in certain classes, even if they’re still in the library. You can put in a different word if it placates you, but “banned” is perfectly appropriate here.

    And you made no mention of their removal of the New York Times curriculum from the teacher resources. Sure NYT is on the Left. But so what? How would you, Suzanne, as a journalist, like to see your work “banned” (substitute better-feeling word here if you like) from being consulted by students and teachers in any class?

    And I agree with Karen: the reaction isn’t just from the Left. Just because I don’t want the School Board being the Thought Police for my kids doesn’t mean I’m on the Left. This issue cuts across party lines.

      • Sorry, Ms. Downing is offline during the women’s comment period. Odd in that generally speaking, your two’s are the only ones worth reading. Maybe we’ll see (gasp!) another Medred essay about bad journalism.

        I much appreciate your comments as they entirely reflect my thoughts.

        Meanwhile, the usual scout troop of man-babies will continue to poke each other with their sharpened sticks. Heck, maybe even Fat Chance Art will weigh in.

  5. What you read is not appropriate reading material for High School. Even as an adult I don’t read this kind of reading material because there are so much more appropriate reading material available and I do a lot of reading. Once you graduate from High School you are free to choose anything you care to. I know these things are happening but there is no sense reading about it in my opinion. Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  6. Instead of asking why a “school board” should be doing anything except its prime, sacred mission of Getting Money, readers rag on the Editor for, let’s face it, bringing up the time-honored practice of book banning.
    Alaska’s education industry may be one of the worst-performing in covid country, but isn’t it wonderful the racket made time out of its busy schedule to tell its functionally illiterate product what not to read… and therefore, what not to think
    … as if the little darlings aren’t already self-taught experts in sex, racism, and life outside the school board bubble.
    Party lines? There’s only one party here, the education racket, and customers will comply, yes?
    Well done, Madam Editor!

  7. I’m not taking sides on this, but he content on social media and in popular music and games is a lot more disturbing than what is in any k-12 library book.

    What is most important though is educational achievement. I suspect reading the the classics is more correlated with learning than reading the NYT list.

  8. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is an anti-war commentary detailing the US Army Air Force “meaningless ” bombing campaigns in WW 2 launched from Libya and Italy. In it he describes the death and mayhem of war in surrealistic descriptions that paint US airmen in a very negative way. He describes in detail a US officers infatuation with an Italian whore which causes him to repeatedly become infected with gonnorhea or syphilis. Hardly the type of reading best suited for a young mind. But yes, Heller was actually there.

  9. Even though many of our high school students experience rape, this is not appropriate for school. I am against censorship though to a point. What is next?????Redacting “Niger Jim” in Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn? You could go down a very long list, but then you turn into a book burner.

  10. If Alaska teachers could just teach a majority of students how to read by 4th grade they will find books that will prepare them for life’s reality without being told what’s good for them by elected officials.

  11. My initial reaction was “Why are we banning books in the middle of this crisis so profoundly affecting our children’s education in so many other ways?”

    As with so much of what is going on today, the local media got the details wrong. It was not banning them from the school libraries, but it was “banning” them from the junior and senior high school literature classes, which by the way, had been read and discussed for many years in the past. Still I don’t see why this was the time to debate this issue.

    Nevertheless the reason seems that based on “moral” (more likely “politically correct”) policies from various bodies that regulate business and education today, the school boards, administrations and the teachers could get in trouble if they continued to use these books in their senior high curriculums.

    In days past a moral, mature and competent English teacher would have these young adults, soon to go out into the real world, read these classic books and see why they had such an impact on society. Today especially, it would help to counter the graphic and controversial stuff they already hear from TV, social media and their peers.

    Today any teacher trying to establish a “moral” point in their classrooms better not be talking anything about religious values and it better be “politically correct” as I said above. For instance it’s apparently not OK to discriminate against the current trend toward “Transgender” presentations in our libraries.

    This is what happens when we turn the responsibility for establishing our children’s morals over to the state and it’s regulatory bureaucracies.

    Very sad!

  12. Oh my. I just wanted to have a lazy Sunday morning, not fall down a rabbit hole of controversy! As an English major, and as a writer who has seen his writings get tossed in the trash, my first response was not; ‘no’, but ‘HECK NO’! I read Suzanne’s warning/disclaimer and thought: I’m 60, worked as a social worker and for Social Services, and know the deepest darkest secrets of an actual 100 women (NO, most of them were close friends!), so there’s no way anything she quotes is going to disturb me. I was wrong! And having a ‘trick’ memory, those images are now stuck in my mind for the rest of my life. Do I want my 15 year old son to read this passage and have to carry it around in his head for the rest of his life? No. Which leaves me torn. So let me return the favor…The Book of Enoch! A book apparently so bad that it was ‘banned’ from the Bible. The Bible makes reference to it so it was certainly part of Jewish Scripture at the time of Christ. However, in AD 325 when the Bible as you know it was made official, it was left out. Much like the current situation, you can go read it, but as a result of that “official” decision most of you have never heard of it. It has valuable prophecies about the Christ. Why was it hidden away from you? Do you know those science types who are trying to disprove the existence of God? Well Enoch, unknown to him, has the cure for their unbelief! Certain Angels took Enoch to go see GOD! He thinks he’s gone for a few years, but when he gets back to Earth he finds out 300 years has passed! This is evidence that Enoch experienced “time dilation”, that he went somewhere at near light speed. Time dilation was not even theorized until Einstein in 1913, and not proven until the “space age” ! If Enoch was Scripture we could (figuratively) bash those smug sci-ency types over the head with his Book until they admitted “Yes, God exists”! So what say you ? Should we make Enoch required reading for all good Christians kids? OH…there’s a little bit of a wrinkle. You see, Enoch goes on for the first several pages about…um…about how well endowed the Angels are! No, I mean he’s really impressed and goes on and on! The dilemma regarding the Book of Enoch is very much similar to the current situation. I don’t have an answer, to either debate, I just wanted to ruin your lazy Sunday the same way Suzanne ruined mine!

      • Dear Greg, Maybe, just maybe, you should have stuck with your earlier comment: “Can we just let them be kids for a few moments longer?” It was the most powerful comment on here. What parent hasn’t thought exactly that?!

        • Yep. We are adults on here, and were also talking about canon, and what was banned from the bible. There was a reason they did it. Who needs to know that Jesus was married and had kids? Or that some guy pulled out and spilled his seed on the ground and made God mad? My point is, kids need to be protected, even from Oprah Winfrey.

          • As you can tell this issue has caused me great personal internal conflict for reasons I laid out earlier. It’s taken me awhile to resolve that. In the ancient and the modern it comes down to one thing. I would feel very uncomfortable reading Enoch in a church, so I can see why it was excluded. It causes me a problem in my current writing project, but I do see why. I would feel even more uncomfortable reading the excerpt Suzanne posted to a bunch of high school students! Perhaps some of these parents who are so upset with the school boards’ actions should try reading aloud that excerpt to their little darlings before they try to push it into my kids’ head! Thanks for the clarifying discourse.

  13. Good job School board! You are doing the job you were elected to do and of course narrow minded and intolerant Liberals are going to find fault with you. Keep up the good work and if you have to feel free to keep moving our schools away from the Pro-death and Anti-life Left agenda.

  14. One small step back from the leftist indoctrination of the last 60 years…How about we just let the teachers And students pick the books instead of the “literacy bureau”?

    Good grief-If they are going to force Steinbeck on them, the least they could do would be to add in some Ayn Rand..both can be equally tedious but it at least balances the philosophical ledger!

  15. This is pretty garbage reporting Suzanne. Did you mention that there was no public input? You should listen to tonight’s school board meeting and the public comment..100% against the board decision (so far, but it has only gone on for a few hours, so maybe someone will be in favor before they adjourn.) Juniors and seniors are ready to have real-world discussions, there is nothing wrong with controversial conversations in high schools. Let’s not raise up snowflakes, sweeping issues under the rug instead of talking about it solves nothing…Humm, did you know Alaska has the highest incidence of child sexual abuse in the nation? Perhaps talking about it will bring it into the light.

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