Schools remove book from classes

January 28, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

Schools remove book from classes

A John Irving book has been removed from high school English classes because of a concern over vulgarity and references to sex, a Washington County Board of Education official said.

Frank Finan, director of curriculum, said he removed "A Prayer for Owen Meany" from high school English classes about a month ago after he received an objection about its use.

Finan said another reason for his action was related to the way the book deals with religion.

Finan would not say who filed an objection to the book.

Nor would he identify schools where it was being used, saying that could lead to the identity of the student or the parent who filed the objection.


Irving, a popular American author, has written about eight novels since 1968. His 1978 book, "The World According to Garp," was made into a film.

"A Prayer for Owen Meany," written in 1989, deals with Christianity and destiny, according to Finan.

The story revolves around Owen Meany, a misfit kid who accidentally kills his best friend's mother by hitting her with a foul ball during a Little League baseball game.

"Much of the controversy surrounding Irving's work centers on his graphic depiction of violence," according to Contemporary Literary Criticism, a book of excerpts from criticisms of works by contemporary authors.

Materials such as the Irving book are supposed to be approved by the school board, but the book was not approved, school officials said.

"It will be corrected with the new administration," said Board Vice President B. Marie Byers.

The book likely will be reviewed this summer by a committee that will examine novels and plays teachers want to use in class, Finan said.

"This is not an uncommon thing to do in making curriculum decisions," said Finan, who came to the school system last summer from Calvert County, Md., schools.

An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union said the organization typically opposes the removal of books based on complaints by parents.

Teachers are trained to identify which works are appropriate for classroom study, said Marjorie Heins, an attorney and director of Arts Censorship Project for National ACLU headquarters in New York City.

Additionally, parents usually have an "ideological ax" to grind when they want books removed from a classroom, and that has no place in education, said Heins.

"It's just amazing that one person can generate that much change," said Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association.

Chirgott said teachers might have included the book in their lesson plans for the year.

"It has a lot of ramifications as far as planning," Chirgott said.

Several North Hagerstown High School students were not aware of the book or of its removal Wednesday.

Jason Buhrman said it does not make sense to remove "A Prayer for Owen Meany" when "Huckleberry Finn" is still read in classrooms.

"I read Huckleberry Finn and I about puked," said Buhrman, who said he was offended by the book's depiction of African-Americans.

"A Prayer for Owen Meany" was used in about three of the county's eight high schools last semester. The book was being used in the classroom and for after-school reading as part of the 11th grade American Literature class, Finan said.

"A Prayer for Owen Meany" is on the high schools' "protected list," which means it cannot be used at other grade levels, said Finan. He said the book was put on the protected list by central office supervisors even though the school board had not given approval.

"A Prayer for Owen Meany" can still be read in school libraries, said Finan. It is still available in libraries because the issue was whether it was appropriate for use as required reading in class, Finan said.

Finan said he is not sure whether the book is in the school libraries, although he has "no reason to believe it's not."

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