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

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GirlInterrupted-Torn2.jpgIn response to our Exclusive Report on Monday, the New Rochelle Board of Education announced today that it would immediately replace all 50 copies of Susanna Kaysen's memoir Girl, Interrupted which were distributed to students at New Rochelle High School two weeks ago and undertake a review of district policy and practices regarding book selection. No mention was made of the district's "book challenge" policy which is at the heart of the Girl, Interrupted controversy.

Talk of the Sound was first to reveal that New Rochelle school officials had improperly removed pages from a book deemed "inappropriate" by the head of the English department at New Rochelle High School.

"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."

The move was widely criticized. Both the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression expressed their alarm at the actions of the school district. The story was a hot topic across the blogosphere, transcending political ideology. It was featured on the left-leaning Boing Boing, the most widely read blog in the world, as well as the top conservative site, Hot Air which is owned by Michelle Malkin of Fox News. The New Yorker magazine and The Atlantic Monthly also picked up the story as well as dozens of blog sites focused on literary and free speech issues.

New Rochelle residents weighed in on the Talk of the Sound Comment Board where one recently-arrived New Rochelle resident expressed misgivings about having moved to New Rochelle at all

"After reading about the actions of Ms. Deutsch, who in my opinion is a fascist, my wife and I are seriously thinking about relocating to Scarsdale," he said. "We love it here, but to think that she was elected to her current position by the people of this community, is quite frankly disturbing and utterly shameful."

Long-time resident Brian Donnelly wrote "For a city that prides itself as the home of Thomas Paine, to treat such basic things in this manner is simply a disgrace and a petty display of two-bit power."

In a separate statement, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak sought to minimize the significance of "minor" changes to the book and the impact of the school teaching from what he called "slightly expurgated version" of the novel.

"The original decision to excise the pages was made at the building level," said Richard Organisciak. The decision "would not have been reviewed either by the central administration or by the Board of Education."

According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, school districts typically require that book challenges must be made in a public hearing held at the board level so the purpose and agenda of the complainants can be evaluated by members of the community. Organisciak has refused repeated requests to provide a copy of the District's "book challenge" policy or explain it.

Organisciak attempted to shift the focus away from the issue at hand - the "book challenge" process or lack thereof - and instead fell back on the uncontroversial assertion that not all books are appropriate for all ages, a point disputed by precisely no one, anywhere.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Anonymous on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 08:21

Fantastic post, there are so many other distractions/issues that should be commented on. I'm sure if the books were left intact, some parent would have complained that the books should have been censored to begin with. Great post again.

Anonymous on Tue, 01/27/2009 - 19:43

Meanwhile, while everyone is arguing about ripping a page out of a piece of fiction, American students are falling way behind globally in math and science. I don't mean to minimize censorship, but why can't people have the same passion about math/science as they do literature? If America is going to remain competitive globally, it's not going to be because we have our children read great, uncensored fiction.
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Sarah K

rickmark123 on Thu, 01/22/2009 - 07:43

Great Sutff.

The shame of this incident isn't the department head who ordered the pages removed, its the English teachers who went along with the demand. One would think, with their position as gateways to the world of literature, they would have seen their actions as abominable. Dissertation Writing | Term Paper

rickmark123 on Tue, 01/20/2009 - 12:35

Wow! I imagine the whole world must now be relieved that this has been clarified and resolved and now be able to focus on other, less substantial issues like the economy, the war on terror and the environment.
Essay Help | Dissertation | Essay Writing

Anonymous on Sun, 12/21/2008 - 14:22

"After reading about the actions of Ms. Deutsch, who in my opinion is a fascist...

Don't think much about that inane opinion.

If one really is going to toss around sophomoric totalitarian epithets why not say she's a communist?

After all, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and a litany of other socialists slash commies ban books.

Of course, it would be preferable not to glibly compare a teacher to the practitioners of the most heinous crimes imaginable, in any event. Because I have this odd notion that this DIMINISHES the actual crimes of actual communists, et al.

Though I would like to point out that teachers take decisions ALL THE TIME regarding the content of their teaching.

Most of them are by omission rather than commission.

Anonymous on Sun, 12/14/2008 - 04:24

This whole story is quite amusing in how it's snowballed into this firestorm of controversy. First of all, the book itself should never have been chosen as reading material for this class. I'm sure there are plenty of books that were made into film where there is a female protagonist. Secondly, plain and simple, it's destruction of public property on a small scale. There should be a reprimand, but nothing on the scale of someone losing their job. For someone to say they are moving out of New Rochelle to Scarsdale is very laughable. Honestly, if that's all it takes to come to that decision, I feel bad for their kids. This local problem has now become a national issue. There are so many other distractions/issues that should be commented on. I'm sure if the books were left intact, some parent would have complained that the books should have been censored to begin with. Also, MrTalk....looks like you could benefit from some creative writing and spelling classes. You are using this sensitive issue to promote this useless site that provides useless information and facts. Shame on you!

Anonymous on Sun, 12/14/2008 - 13:07

As an educator, I feel perfectly comfortable ripping pages out of any written document because I find the content offensive. Next week when discuss the United States Constitution with my students, I will rip out the pages that I disagree with. I will probably start with the the silly notion contained in the 1st Amendment. The same notion that allows you to make your comments without adding anything meaningful or even attempting to get to the bottom of what kind of school culture allows this to happen.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 01:58
Title: Ashamed

I am horribly ashamed by the way this reflects New Rochelle as a whole.

I am a student of the high school and feel embarrassed by the way my teachers and administrators have behaved.Knowing the people behind this act, I am in no way surprised that it occurred. I only hope that the reputation of New Rochelle High School as a whole is not harmed by this disgusting censorship.

Anonymous on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 15:30

I thought the assignment was to compare differences between the book and the movie. How was ripping pages out of the book, supposed to "protect" these students, from the "inappropriate" passages, when they were going to see the movie anyway? What was going to stop them from going to a library to read the book, or buying a copy, for themselves and/or to pass to their friends? Tell a teenager something is inappropriate for them and the first thing they want to do is find out why.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 16:03

That is what makes this story so odd. The scene in the book that was torn out is NOT in the movie. So, one comparison a student might make about the difference between the two is that this very chapter was moved. That might beg the question why - and it is certainly not because Hollywood is afraid of a discussion about sex in a movie. Off the top of my head, the reason the scene was not in the movie is they had to cut the running time and they felt they could advance the plot and develop the characters in other ways. That would mean the students might then write about how what the author accomplished with the scene in the book was accomplished differently in the movie or how filmmakers make choices in turning a book into a movie.

Supposedly the school is getting entirely new copies of the books today. My son is in the class so we will see if that happens. Meanwhile, I told him to hang on to the defaced copy. The school has an arts museum, believe it or not, so maybe they can display the book there as a reminder of how not to make artistic choices.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 22:52

...so keep on hiding behind the anonymity afforded by this site where we have REAL free speech.

If you want to write a post about how great the school district is or criticizing me or this blog go right ahead. This is meant to be an open form as is indicated in the ABOUT page of this site.

Anonymous on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 21:20

Wow! I imagine the whole world must now be relieved that this has been clarified and resolved and now be able to focus on other, less substantial issues like the economy, the war on terror and the environment.

Anonymous on Fri, 12/12/2008 - 12:47
Title: Seriously...

unabridged censorship, at any level of government, is dangerous. Certainly one could look at the issue on a level of how important is it if we let or do not let some high school kids in New York read about one institutionalized women telling another one how to circumvent sexual conduct code by performing oral sex. Does kind of pale compared to shrinking ice caps.

On the other hand, letting one school official determine what is and is not acceptable to students vis-a-vis English books outside the established book review system is a dangerous precedent. But small precedents have a way of making themselves into larger policy. What's to stop the head of the science department from declaring there will be no more teaching of evolution because that person is a Christianist? Allow unchecked censoring to begin and its a genie that is hard to put back in the bottle.

You talk of the grander issues that need to be resolved, the war on terrorism, the economy, the environment and I wholeheartedly agree that on the scale with you of their importance. However, the solution to these problems are long term and will be developed by the whole gamut of society, including the kids who are in high school right now. Curtailing their education, even if it seems a frivolous topic, diminishes in some aspect the chance of developing solutions to the greater problems.

The shame of this incident isn't the department head who ordered the pages removed, its the English teachers who went along with the demand. One would think, with their position as gateways to the world of literature, they would have seen their actions as abominable.

Anonymous on Thu, 12/11/2008 - 04:29

Maybe we SHOULD focus on other things like the economy. I can't think of a better topic to move to in order to disprove the underlying topic this conversation is about: un-checked individuals DRUNK with power making decisions that affect the many CAN NOT be trusted to make the CORRECT decision all the time. At what point do we start holding people accountable? You dick, we have to start somewhere.

Anonymous on Mon, 01/12/2009 - 09:36

I also think that you have to be sober to make a good decision. I mean a decision that will be fully thought true, a decision, that will have the power to shape our world, a decision, that you wont be ashamed of. MY name is Mike and I have a site about elliptical fitness equipment stores

New Rochelle Co... on Wed, 12/10/2008 - 23:29

Anonymous wrote:

Wow! I imagine the whole world must now be relieved that this has been clarified and resolved and now be able to focus on other, less substantial issues like the economy, the war on terror and the environment.

Another City School District pogue attempting to distract, while failing to address pathological Anti-Aamerican behavior entrenched in the school system.

The issue as at the very core of the problems with our nation. Just in case you did not notice, the act violated the very spirit of the 1st amendment of the most important document this country has ever produced, the Constitution of the United States of America. The act perpetrated by the district is something the people of this country have spent generations fighting against.

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