Now Playing in New Rochelle, "Book, Interrupted"!

Time to read
8 minutes
Read so far

Now Playing in New Rochelle, "Book, Interrupted"!

December 08, 2008 - 14:33

New Rochelle School District Censors Pages from Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen's harrowing memoir that inspired Academy Award-Winning Film starring Winona Ryder and Angela Jolie.

UPDATE: District Relents, Vows to Replace Books
Publisher Knopf Condemns Censorship in New Rochelle

Winona Ryder Angelina Jolie Girl, Interrupted.jpg

Students at New Rochelle School High School are going to find it difficult to complete their next assignment: comparing the film adaptation of "Girl, Interrupted" to the best-selling book. In the book, Kaysen recounts her confinement at a Massachussets mental hospital in the 1960's.

Pages from the middle of the book have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. Removed is a scene where the rebellious Lisa (played by Angelina Jolie in the movie) encourages Susanna (played by Winona Ryder) to circumvent hospital rules against sexual intercourse by engaging in oral sex instead.

"The material was of a sexual nature that we deemed inappropriate for teachers to present to their students," said English Department Chariperson Leslie Altschul, "since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing."


Sources at the school says that after receiving complaints from an as yet-to-be-identified person or group, the school district ordered students to return the book to the chairperson of the English department who then personally tore out pages 64 through 70 before returning the books to students. Ironically, news of the school censorship first broke during the same week as the school district's annual Literary Festival.

"Bowdlerizing is a particularly disturbing form of censorship since it not only suppresses specific content deemed 'objectionable,' but also does violence to the work by removing material that the author thought integral," said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "It is a kind of literary fraud perpetrated on an unsuspecting audience."

cindybabcockdeutsch.jpgThe ultimate decision on whether to ban books rests with Cindy Babcock-Deutsch, the President of the School Board. Babcock-Deutsch has a well-documented history of practicing censorship in her role as chairperson of board of education meetings. She has repeatedly asserted that "privacy laws" bar criticism of senior school administrators at school board meetings. More recently she has resorted to threats, interruptions and physical intimidation to silence critics at what are public meetings in public buildings.

Ms. Babcock-Deutsch did not respond to repeated requests to explain the actions of the District in censoring the book by tearing out pages. Don Conetta, principal of the school, and Richard Organisciak, schools superintendent, did not respond to requests for comment.

Sources at the District who declined to be identified confirmed that the district does have a book selection and book challenge process but those same sources claim the district failed to follow those policies in this case.

"We should either teach a book or not teach book," said one New Rochelle teacher who disagreed with the District's decision. "What sort of message do we send our students when we vandalize books?" While agreeing the content is not be suitable for all students, the teacher pointed out that the student involved were mostly 12th graders including some who were over 18 years of age. "Does someone in the school think these kids don't know about sex?"

The book was originally added to the curriculum at the request of a teacher no longer employed by the district. It was taught without incident at least one year prior to the complaint. The chairperson has admitted she did not read the book before approving it for use and only acted after receiving a complaint.

"The most shocking part of this story," said Chris Finan, President of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, "is that an English teacher in the 21st century would consciously emulate the example of Thomas Bowdler, a 19th century man who is infamous for his expurgations of Shakespeare!"

For her performance as Lisa in the film "Girl, Interrupted", Angela Jolie won an Oscar for best supporting actress. Jolie also won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actor's Guild Award for the role.

If you would like to share your thoughts on the decision of the school district to censor Girl, Interrupted you can reach school district officials here:

Cindy Babcock Deutsch
Board of Education
City School District of New Rochelle
[email protected]

Richard Organisciak
Superintendent of Schools
City School District of New Rochelle
[email protected]

Don Conetta
New Rochelle High School
[email protected]


BoingBoing: New Rochelle school board mutilates books to protect children (very active comments)

Some of the BoingBoing comments:

- Wow, I've never heard someone in the process of actively bowdlerizing use the term directly in defense of their actions.

- I have nothing but contempt for people who spend their time censoring sexual content in literature and movies

- This is a high school. If the administration thinks that their students wouldn't be having sex were it not for the encouragement of this book, they are deluding themselves.

- Books have plenty of other lovely redeeming features aside from their text. They make good coasters, they can be used to level uneven furniture, they provide heat when burned, and if the pages are thin enough, they make excellent toilet paper.

- Someone RIPPING pages from a book needs to be horsewhipped along with the idiots out there that are burning books.

- The little litigator inside me is thinking that a case could be made by the copyright holder for infringement by the production of a derivative work. By intentionally removing a broad swath of the story they have created a derivative work; as it was a registered work that was infringed, they could be liable for hefty damages.

- If the book is so objectionable that they have to tear it apart to protect students, why do they have it in stock in the first place? Ohh dear. If you're going to ask someone to write about a book, at least let them read the book in its entirety first. If I was a teacher at that school, I would have some serious concerns with the management
Did anyone else find "the liberty of bowdlerizing" to be a particularly hilarious turn of phrase?

- "liberty of bowdlerizing." So, they have the liberty to restrict other people's liberties, Sounds about right to me

- Protecting high school students from sexual content is sort of like trying to keep the ocean floor dry.

HotAir: A case of libri interruptus (very active comments)

If New Rochelle High and the school board found this book inappropriate for its students, they could simply have found another book to use in its lesson plan. Requiring students to read the book, and then ripping pages out of it, doesn’t just justify vandalism but also sends a message of incompetence and confusion. They had to have students return the books to get the pages torn out personally by the chair of the English department only after parents complained.

Did the school actually read the book before putting it on the lesson plan? If so, why didn’t they defend it from the complaints? And if they weren’t interested in doing that, why did they not just pull the book out of their library altogether? The same language persists throughout the book, and not just on the excised pages, as a search of the F-word returns more than 70 hits in the Amazon search.

New Rochelle High went too far in this case. Bowdlerizing books is a practice that went out of fashion decades ago, and for good reasons. It’s a poor substitute for proper consideration and preparation of reading and teaching material.

Some of the HotAir comments:

- Is this the real life “The Music Man”? … minus the entertaining song and dance.

- Cutting pages out is horrible…have respect for the written word.
It gives me the chills to think some person sits there a uses scissors to make a book “right”

- Ripping out pages? Really? This is a gross insult to the writer (an artist as well as a craftsperson)…a gross insult to the students’ intelligence, and so much more.

- Destroying or physically defacing books is just so creepy. It’s shiver-inducing creepy.

Crooks and Liars: New Rochelle School District Censors Pages from "Girl, Interrupted"

Seems to me that once again some winger complained and we have censorship as a result. Hey, they didn't like a portion of the book so just rip the pages out and be done with it. This is a "War on Christmas Literature." Why didn't they just burn the book? America should be outraged.

Some of the Crooks and Liars comments:

- That's a pretty astounding response from an English chair.

The Puget News: Bowdlerizing "Girl, Interrupted"

What the hell? An official quote form the school actually mentions “bowdlerizing”? Do they know how this has gone down (pun intended) in the past?

There He Is: Book burning alive and well in West Chester, NY

Well [Bowlder's] philosophy of line-item book burning is being followed by Cindy Babcock Deutsch, President of the Thought Police Board of Education of the New Rochelle School District. What did she censor? A section of the book "Girl, Interrupted" in which a girl discusses oral sex. This being studied by a senior year english class (who have NEVER even CONCEIVED of what oral sex is). You stay progressive, Cindy. I am sure you'll embrace forever having your name equated with book burner on the internet sooner or later.

Liberty's Harbor: High School Book Censorship Silliness

One does not, any circumstances, tear pages out of books. It is just uncivilized and wrong. Period.

Biliophile Bullpen: Thomas Bowdler rides boldy into the 21st century

No offense but if i had kids in that school system, i'd riot - and vote those f---ers out of office.

Censorship is the vile business of bigots and zealots; it is always abhorred by enlightened people. These teachers should be censured publicly and summarily fired immediately. Their teaching credentials should be revoked.

under the covers: good, old-fashioned censorship

While Thomas Bowdler would surely approve, I do not. I hear these stories all the time but still can't quite believe they're real.


National Coalition Against Censorship Blog: School officials rip pages from Girl, Interrupted

Joanne Jaobs: Ripped

Bookninja: Book, interrupted

Pat Dollard: Bowdlerizing: The New “Tower Of Babel” Is Censorship

Librarian and Information Science News: Mutilating books for Censorship

Bookshelves of Doom: New Rochelle High School is teaching Girl, Interrupted... minus pages 64-70

KTM: New Rochelle Schools Censor "Girl, Interrupted" by Tearing Out Pages

OW: Worst Person in the World? Cindy Babcock Deutsch

YPulse: More book bashing

Vatul: Another Account Of School Censorship

DTMB: NY School District Authorizes HS English Dept. to"Tear Out" Inappropriate Pages

minor topics: Bowdlerizing Alive and Well in New Rochelle

Obscurant 2.0: That’s When I reach For My Revolver

Intercourse with Biscuits: Girl, Interrupted

bmw: New Rochelle school board mutilates books to protect children

Brandywine Parents: libri interruptus

Lessons from the Tortoise: Are we really talking about this again?


Facing Firestorm of Criticism, New Rochelle Schools Relent on "Girl, Interrupted" Censorship

World Reacts with Strong Condemnation to New Rochelle School's Censorship

Two Days Late, Journal News Reports on "Girl, Interrupted" Controversy

There are 55 Comments

I found that my school had cut out a section of a book that we were reading (I can't remember which book it was), was to find an unaltered copy and read the missing sections. Nothing makes a kid want to read something more than telling them that they can't. The school's action to "protect" the students was completely ineffective. Do they think that the students can't get another copy, that they can't just pull up the text online and read it?

This form of censorship is not only wrong, illegal (as mentioned in a (wholesale lingerie) previous comment)and utterly ridiculous, it is also completely unnecessary. No one was forcing the school board to use this text. If they deemed it inappropriate to teach in class, fine don't teach it

Your only basis for implicating Ms. Babcock Deutsch is that she asked you to be quiet at a board meeting.

The Bowdlerization is unfortunate, but that was neither committed nor supported by Ms. Babcock Deutsch. This could have been a decent article if:
a) you knew how to write
b) you stayed on point, rather than jamming your personal vendetta down everyone's throat.

I suggest you familiarize yourself with the "book challenge" and "book selection" process for the New Rochelle school district. You might then realize that the book challenge process concludes with the president of the school board putting the issue on the agenda at a school board meeting. She did not do that; the District failed to follow their own process.

With great power comes great responsibility - and as school board president, Cindy Babcock-Deutsch is responsible for what goes on in the district.

Members of the public who appear before the school board to speak at City Hall are told they may not mention or indirectly refer to any district personnel including public figures such as the Superintendent of Schools. Attempts to criticize school administrators are gaveled down and security is called.

that's interesting post, thanks for the writing!