Conservative blogs have claimed that Department of Education official Kevin Jennings is unfit as "Safe Schools Czar" because he supposedly promoted "child porn" by allowing an education organization he founded to recommend for students in grades 7-12 books that included sexually explicit content. The organization, however, specifically stated on its book list website that "some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes" and recommended that "adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability"; further, schools regularly teach books that contain sexually explicit material.
Conservatives smear Jennings as promoting "child porn"
In a December 4 post on his Gateway Pundit blog - headlined, "Breaking: Obama's 'Safe Schools Czar' Is Promoting Child Porn in the Classroom" - Jim Hoft wrote that "Scott Baker from Breitbart-TV.com and Co-Host of 'The B-Cast' submitted this shocking report today on Obama's deviant Safe Schools Czar Kevin Jennings." In the post, Baker wrote that the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which Jennings founded and previously served as executive director, published a reading list for students in grades 7-12 that contained books which included "X-Rated" and sexually explicit content:
We were unprepared for what we encountered. Book after book after book contained stories and anecdotes that weren't merely X-rated and pornographic, but which featured explicit descriptions of sex acts between pre-schoolers; stories that seemed to promote and recommend child-adult sexual relationships; stories of public masturbation, anal sex in restrooms, affairs between students and teachers, five-year-olds playing sex games, semen flying through the air. One memoir even praised becoming a prostitute as a way to increase one's self-esteem. Above all, the books seemed to have less to do with promoting tolerance than with an unabashed attempt to indoctrinate students into a hyper-sexualized worldview.
And this is not about censorship: It's about deciding what constitutes appropriate reading material for children. We're perfectly OK with these books existing and being read by adults; we only start to worry when these books are assigned to children. All sorts of books are excluded from school reading lists, for all sorts of reasons. Even many books once considered classics are now considered off-limits due to language or attitudes now deemed inappropriate. And yet, according to Kevin Jennings and GLSEN, books about a 13-year-old getting "my cock sucked and my ass fucked" or about a teenager enjoying the "exquisite bitter taste" of his friend's semen are not just acceptable, they're highly recommended. As GLSEN's own site says, "All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content." Really? (Note: GLSEN does advise adults to "review content for suitability.")
Although GLSEN does not address how books get added to its list, it's hard to imagine that they are chosen by low-level staffers or volunteers, with no oversight. Since the list of recommended books is one of the organization's primary tools ("The GLSEN BookLink, an online library of recommended resources, along with the Safe Space program remain cornerstones of GLSEN's education work." source), it's likely that the books were chosen carefully. Kevin Jennings stepped down as Executive Director last year after leading GLSEN since its inception, but every single book mentioned in this report was added to the list while Jennings was in charge (dates are given for each title's addition to the list). Therefore, it's reasonable to believe he was aware of the addition of these works -- especially since most were added when GLSEN was still quite small and the Executive Director had a hands-on role in daily operations.
Conservative blogs latch on to Baker's smears. In a post headlined, "Explosive: The not-safe-for-school reading list of the safe schools czar," Michelle Malkin wrote that "Scott Baker and a collaborative research team have waded through the sexually explicit reading list endorsed by safe schools czar Kevin Jennings and the group he founded -- GLSEN ... Make sure you have an empty stomach before you read." Malkin later added: "Would Barack and Michelle Obama approve of their daughters reading this in their classrooms?" In a post headlined, "Good News: Obama 'Safe Schools' Czar Recommends Child Porn to Kids," Jawa Report wrote of the list: "If Jennings was involved, not only should he be fired but he should also have his ass kicked. Either way, somebody's ass needs to be kicked." Jennings is the frequent target of smears, which often originate from conservative blogs.
GLSEN: "We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability"
As Baker acknowledged, in describing its BookLink section, GLSEN states in red type: "All BookLink items are reviewed by GLSEN staff for quality and appropriateness of content. However, some titles for adolescent readers contain mature themes. We recommend that adults selecting books for youth review content for suitability. The editorial and customer reviews listed at Amazon.com often provide information on mature content." From the section:
Schools regularly teach books that contain sexually explicit material
Regularly used books such as Catcher in the Rye, Color Purple, 1984, Of Mice and Men contain sexually explicit passages. Many classic novels include sexually explicit material. The American Library Association notes on its website that many of the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been the subject of objections over issues such as "sexual references," "sexually explicit passages," "rape," "masturbation," "bestiality," "explicit sex scenes," and "trashy sex." These titles include books regularly taught in schools, such as Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple, Beloved, Lord of the Flies, 1984, Of Mice and Men, Brave New World, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Rabbit, Run. From the ALA's list:
Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger.
Removed from the school libraries in Morris, Manitoba (1982) along with two other books because they violate the committee's guidelines covering "excess vulgar language, sexual scenes, things concerning moral issues, excessive violence, and anything dealing with the occult." ... Removed from the required reading list of a Medicine Bow, Wyo. Senior High School English class (1986) because of sexual references and profanity in the book. Banned from a required sophomore English reading list at the Napoleon, N. Dak. High School (1987) after parents and the local Knights of Columbus chapter complained about its profanity and sexual references. Challenged at the Linton Stockton, Ind. High School (1988) because the book is "blasphemous and undermines morality." Banned from the classrooms in Boron, Calif. High School (1989) because the book contains profanity. Challenged at the Grayslake, Ill. Community High School (1991). Challenged at the Jamaica High School in Sidell, Ill. (1992) because the book contained profanities and depicted premarital sex, alcohol abuse, and prostitution. Challenged in the Waterloo, Iowa schools (1992) and Duval County, Fla. public school libraries (1992) because of profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker.
Challenged as appropriate reading for Oakland, Calif. High School honors class (1984) due to the work's "sexual and social explicitness" and its "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." After nine months of haggling and delays, a divided Oakland Board of Education gave formal approval for the book's use. Rejected for purchase by the Hayward, Calif. school's trustee (1985) because of "rough language" and "explicit sex scenes." Removed from the open shelves of the Newport News, Va. school library (1986) because of its "profanity and sexual references" and placed in a special section accessible only to students over the age of 18 or who have written permission from a parent. Challenged at the public libraries of Saginaw, Mich. (1989) because of its language and "explicitness." Challenged as an optional reading assigned in Ten Sleep, Wyo. schools (1990). Challenged as a reading assignment at the New Burn, N.C. High School (1992) because the main character is raped by her stepfather. Banned in the Souderton, Pa. Area School District (1992) as appropriate reading for 10th graders because it is "smut." Challenged on the curricular reading list at Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Conn. (1995) because sexually explicit passages are appropriate high school reading. Retained as an English course reading assignment in the Junction City, Oreg. high school (1995) after a challenge to Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel caused months of controversy. Although an alternative assignment was available, the book was challenged due to "inappropriate language, graphic sexual scenes, and book's negative image of black men." Challenged at the St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine, Fla. (1995). Retained on the Round Rock, Tex. Independent High School reading list (1996) after a challenge that the book was too violent. Challenged, but retained, as part of the reading list for Advanced Placement English classes at Northwest High Schools in High Point, N.C. (1996). The book was challenged because it is "sexually graphic and violent." Removed from the Jackson County, W. Va. school libraries (1997) along with sixteen other titles. Challenged, but retained as part of a supplemental reading list at the Shawnee School in Lima, Ohio (1999). Several parents described its content as vulgar and "X-rated." Removed from the Ferguson High School library in Newport News, Va. (1999). Students may request and borrow the book with parental approval. Challenged, along with seventeen other titles in the Fairfax County, VA elementary and secondary libraries (2002), by a group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools. The group contends the books "contain profanity and descriptions of drug abuse, sexually explicit conduct, and torture.
Beloved, Toni Morrison.
The 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning novel has been required reading for the advanced placement English class for six years. Challenged in the Sarasota County, Fla. schools (1998) because of sexual material.
Lord of the Flies, William Golding.
Challenged in the Waterloo, Iowa schools (1992) because of profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women and the disabled.
1984, George Orwell.
Challenged in the Jackson County, FL (1981) because Orwell's novel is "pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter."
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck.
Challenged at the Jacksboro, Tenn. High School (1991) because the novel contains "blasphemous" language, excessive cursing, and sexual overtones. ... Challenged in the Waterloo, Iowa schools (1992) and the Duval County, Fla. public school libraries (1992) because of profanity, lurid passages about sex, and statements defamatory to minorities, God, women, and the disabled.
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.
Removed from classroom in Miller, MO (1980), because it made promiscuous sex "look like fun" and challenged frequently throughout the U.S. Challenged as required reading at the Yukon, Oklahoma High School (1988) because of "the book's language and moral content." Challenged as required reading in the Corona-Norco, California Unified School District (1993) because it is "centered around negative activity." Specifically, parents objected that the characters' sexual behavior directly opposed the health curriculum, which taught sexual abstinence until marriage. The book was retained, and teachers selected alternatives if students object to Huxley's novel.
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner.
Banned in the Graves County School District in Mayfield, KY (1986) because it contained "offensive and obscene passages referring to abortion and used God's name in vain." The decision was reversed a week later after intense pressure from the ACLU and considerable negative publicity. Challenged as a required reading assignment in an advanced English class of Pulaski County High School in Somerset, KY (1987) because the book contains "profanity and a segment about masturbation."
Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston.
Challenged for sexual explicitness, but retained on the Stonewall Jackson High School's academically advanced reading list in Brentsville, VA (1997). A parent objected to the novel's language and sexual explicitness.
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
Challenged, but retained, in the Columbus, Ohio schools (1993). The complainant believed that the book contains language degrading to blacks, and is sexually explicit. Removed from required reading lists and library shelves in the Richmond County, GA. School District (1994) after a parent complained that passages from the book were "filthy and inappropriate."
Native Son, Richard Wright
Challenged in Goffstown, N.H. (1978); Elmwood Park, N.J. (1978) due to "objectionable" language; and North Adams, Mass. (1981) due to the book's "violence, sex, and profanity." Challenged at the Berrian Springs, Mich. High School in classrooms and libraries (1988) because the novel is "vulgar, profane, and sexually explicit." Retained in the Yakima, Wash. schools (1994) after a five-month dispute over what advanced high school students should read in the classroom. Two parents raised concerns about profanity and images of violence and sexuality in the book and requested that it be removed from the reading list. Challenged as part of the reading list for Advanced Placement English classes at Northwest High School in High Point, N.C. (1996). The book was challenged because it is "sexually graphic and violent." Removed from Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif. (1998) after a few parents complained the book was unnecessarily violence and sexually explicit. Challenged in the Hamilton High School curriculum in Fort Wayne, Ind. (1998) because of the novel's graphic language and sexual content.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey.
In 1974, five residents of Strongsville, Ohio, sued the board of education to remove the novel. Labeling it "pornographic," they charged the novel "glofiries criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination."
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut.
Challenged as an eleventh grade summer reading option in Prince William County, Va (1998) because the book "was rife with profanity and explicit sex:" Removed as require dreading for sophomores at the Converty, R. I. High School (2000) after a parent complained that it contained vulgar language, violent imagery, and sexual content.
Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin.
Challenged as required reading in the Hudson Falls, N.Y. schools (1994) because the book has recurring themes of rape, masturbation, violence, and degrading treatment of women. Challenged as a ninth-grade summer reading option in Prince William County, Va. (1988) because the book was "rife with profanity and explicit sex."
A Separate Peace, John Knowles.
Challenged in Vernon-Verona-Sherill, NY School District (1980) as a "filthy, trashy sex novel." Challenged at the Fannett-Metal High School in Shippensburg, Pa. (1985) because of its allegedly offensive language. Challenged as appropriate for high school reading lists in the Shelby County, Tenn. school system (1989) because the novel contained "offensive language." Challenged at the McDowell County, N.C. schools (1996) because of "graphic language."
Rabbit, Run, John Updike.
Restricted to high school students with parental permission in the six Aroostock County, Maine community high school libraries (1976) because of passages in the book dealing with sex and an extramarital affair. Removed from the required reading list for English class at the Medicine Bow, Wyo. Junior High School (1986) because of sexual references and profanity in the book.