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April 24, 2014

“Two Boys Kissing” remains in Fauquier High library

Click here for reviews and more information about the book by David Levithan.
“A stern test”
From school board policy 6-5.2 comes this section about “sex and profanity” in materials considered for library collections:

“Materials with accents on sex shall be subjected to a stern test of literary merit and reality by the media specialist who shall take into consideration the community, the laws, and the accepted public moral standards. While libraries would not in any case include the sensational, overdramatic, or pornographic, the appearance of sexual incidents or profanity shall not automatically disqualify a book.

“Rather the decision shall be made on the basis of whether the book presents life in its true proportions, whether circumstances are realistically dealt with, and whether the book is of literary value. Factual material of an educational nature on the level of the reader shall be included in the literary collections.”

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
They gathered Wednesday afternoon — on William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday — to debate whether “Two Boys Kissing” should remain in the Fauquier High School library.

The novel’s supporters drew comparisons to “Romeo & Juliet.”

Opponents called it pornography.

After almost three hours of testimony and deliberations, a six-member panel voted unanimously to recommend retaining the book.

>>> Poll: Should the book remain in FHS library?

FHS parent Jessica Wilson, who filed a complaint about “Two Boys Kissing,” said her objection “is in no way regarding the homosexual nature of the book, but the teenage sexual nature of the book . . . .

“We would be having this conversation if we were talking about a boy and a girl or a girl going online for sex with older men,” Mrs. Wilson added. “To me, that runs very contrary to what we’re trying to teach our children.”

Chaired by Fauquier County Public Library Director Maria Del Rosso, the committee questioned Mrs. Wilson and three other “relevant individuals” to open the hearing in the Falcon Room at FHS.

“To whom do you think the book would appeal?” Mrs. Del Rosso asked.

“I think it would appeal to gay teenagers struggling with sexual roles,” Mrs. Wilson responded. “But, I don’t think that’s the role of public schools.”

FHS librarian Rebecca Isaac said she based the book’s purchase on the school system “selection policy and reviews in professional journals,” which have been positive.

Despite sexual situations and profanity — including 10 uses of the f-word, the book meets the policy’s “stern test” for such situations, Ms. Isaac and other supporters said.

“I do feel it’s age-appropriate for high school students,” she said. “It has a powerful message of love, hope and faith . . . . The author has a message for those who are feeling lost or a sense of rejection.”

“Two Boys Kissing” also “illustrates society members working together to fight prejudice,” Ms. Isaac said. “It is important that our students have more than one viewpoint available.

“It’s all about freedom of speech and freedom to read . . . . A parent may tell his child not to read this book, but he may not stop others from reading it.”

A witness Mrs. Wilson chose to support her case, Lynne Richman Bell said the school system must allow “parents to retain the right to have these discussions (about sex) with their children and know what their children are reading.”

A former youth counselor and Midland Christian School administrator, Ms. Bell added: “Unless I am appointed guardian for a child, I have only so much authority to deliver information to that child.”

She said school library book selections “have to match the morals of the community,” which Ms. Bell described as “conservative, but open-minded.”

Review committee member Kim Ritter, a librarian at Kettle Run High School, asked: “Are you aware that our entire catalog is on the Internet? Every holding is accessible.”

The system provides excerpts and a synopsis of each book, Ms. Ritter explained.

“I was not aware of that,” Ms. Bell said.

Twenty-one speakers testified during at a public hearing later Wednesday afternoon.

Eleven supported the book’s removal. Ten supported its retention.

With obvious discomfort, middle-aged and elderly citizens stood at the lectern and read graphic, profanity-laced passages from the award-winning book.

My children “will find it for themselves, but I don’t need the school to hand it to them and say, ‘Here, read it’,” Center District resident JoEllen Murphy told the panel.

“I feel, as a strong member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community, that you shouldn’t push children away,” Joshua Moore, 21, testified.

Mr. Moore said he read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” a few years ago as a high school student.

“That book helped me through so many issues I had,” he said. “I am stronger today.”

On Shakespeare’s birthday, FHS English and journalism teacher Marie Miller drew a comparison between “Romeo & Juliet” and “Two Boys Kissing.”

Both explore teenage love and angst, Ms. Miller said.

But, the classic story ends with suicide, while the modern book stresses that things will get better and life remains worth living, she noted.

“If this book is removed from the library, where will censorship stop?” Ms. Miller concluded. “Romeo & Juliet? Oedipus Rex?”

Appointed by Superintendent David Jeck, the committee — composed of three school system employees and three community members — agreed with the book’s supporters:

• Liberty High School Assistant Principal Lauren Millburn suggested the book’s value transcends provocative excerpts.

“After reading this book, I don’t believe it’s about kissing and sex,” Ms. Millburn said. “It’s about things I seen in my job every day: parental relations, bullying, love . . . . I feel as if this book meets the criteria and will vote to retain it.”

• The Rev. Joie Clee Weiher, an Episcopal priest and a Fauquier resident, said: “Critical reading of ‘Two Boys Kissing’ is important to understand the author does not condone risky behavior.”

• FHS English and drama teacher Emmett Bales, the father of three, said: “I don’t want to be responsible for denying a student or anyone from coming to his or her own conclusions about what to read.”

• Ms. Ritter said, “As a librarian in a school, I recognize that my 1,250 students at Kettle Run also have ‘backpacks’ and I don’t know what’s in them. But, I do know they are diverse . . . . I know I have gay students, students who’ve been abused, students for whom English is a second language . . . . We have to make decisions that serve our community and meet policy. What you might not know is librarians ourselves are sometimes the biggest censors . . . .

“We no longer have a bookstore. Some students don’t have access to a car. The school library is what they have . . . . Not every book is for every reader.

“Given that we are a place of choice, I believe Ms. Isaac made the right choice.”

Ms. Ritter added that she tells students if they check out a book and find it upsetting, they should close and return it. Library staff members will help those students find more appropriate choices, she said.

• School Support Council President Judy Olsen of Marshall said, “I read this book and took something different away than may of the speakers today. It’s not about sex. It’s about issues teens face every day . . . .

“We, as parents, have the choice and the opportunity to talk with our children.”

• Ms. Del Rosso said, “I would like to thank Mrs. Wilson. I think you did a real service to this community to bring this out and give people a chance to express their opinions . . . .

“Somebody spoke about civility, and this was all about civility.”

She added: “Because this book is in a library . . . it’s a choice, not required reading. I would recommend this book be kept in the library. I believe school board policy was followed.”

The committee upheld an FHS review panel’s decision to keep the book.

Mrs. Wilson can appeal Wednesday’s decision to the school board, which has final authority.

A similar debate over a book in Fauquier public schools last took place about 14 years ago. In that case, the school board retained the book.

Fauquier school board policy on library materials selection. by Fauquier Now

Member comments
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lhfry · April 27, 2014 at 1:59 pm
Like the book "Everybody Poops" for 2 year olds who must learn a new skill, "Two Boys Kissing" is special purpose material. It is propaganda, not literature and no one should mistake it for such. Normalizing outré sexual behavior is its aim and my guess is that it is written at an elementary level so that even the poorest readers will get the message. As a taxpayer, I have to wonder what serious literature was not purchased in order to provide the resources for purchasing this book.

I'm sure that those who defend books like this consider themselves enlightened and the rest of us ignorant and shallow. Before you get too smug, take a look at Terry Teachout's editorial on "banned books" in Friday's Wall Street Journal. In it he addresses the "less than stellar quality" of many books your children might find in the school library and particularly those that regularly make the list of "frequently challenged."
Lippy · April 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm
I agree Anton Afterwit, high school students are minor children. I also believe the public school system is not the place for social experimentation and activist-minded librarians, administrators, or teachers. The wasted resources over a book aimed at the sexual preferences of a marginal group of people is telling. People get bogged down in such pursuits and lose site of the reason they are taxpayer paid public servants which is to teach children the fundamentals of education not to indoctrinate.
Anton Afterwit · April 26, 2014 at 6:54 pm
AmyBP - Your first sentence tells the whole story of what is wrong. High School students ARE NOT young adults. I am shocked that you claim to be a librarian but do not know the scientific or legal definition of the term "young adult".

Just Google the term and you get back, "young adult - A young adult, according to Erik Erikson's stages of human development, is generally a person in the age range of 20 to 40, whereas an adolescent is a person aging from 13 to 19, although definitions and opinions vary. The young adult stage in human development precedes middle adulthood." That appears to be taken from Your confusion probably emanates from YALSA and ALA trying to redefine the terms based on their political and business goals.

Until these children graduate High School and turn 18, they are considered minors under the eyes of the law. Their parents are responsible for them and their parents have the authority to control them. High School librarians DO NOT have the legal or moral authority to determine whether they are children or young adults; nor do they have the legal or moral authority to determine what is appropriate for them to read.
AmyBP · April 26, 2014 at 9:20 am
High school students ARE young adults. The only people shocked by this book's contents are some adults who don't want these issues openly discussed. I do agree that this book shouldn't be required reading, but one on a list of books, a certain number of which students should be required to read. My opinion on this particular issue is that of a librarian, as well as the parent of a gay child.
peonygal · April 26, 2014 at 8:10 am
Nicely covered. Note: the title of the book the young man refers to is THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, by Chbosky
Anton Afterwit · April 25, 2014 at 8:06 am
This is unfortunate that the supposed educators in Fauquier have continued to focus on shocking and dividing rather than educating and fostering society.

This book is not the only book with controversial material in it, just review the library listing for further examples. Unfortunately, this book like the others focuses on topics that are more appropriate for young adults or adults. What our educators have failed to appreciate is that they are teaching adolescents, not young adults or adults. They want to liberate the minors from their parents control and liberate the minors from the confines of a society with standards and values.

Instead of focusing on preparing our youth to join a society of adults, they have continued to focus on dividing students using identity based on race, language, religion, sexual orientation or whatever else is in vogue in a society divided by political correctness. Instead of focusing on the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, carpentry and more, they are focused on ethnic, racial or sexual identity, which teaches students to think of themselves rather than our society.

They allow the fostering of obscene language with these books and others by allowing the glorification of the f-word, and epithets such as nigger, bitch, ho, cholo, redneck, among many others. They dismiss correcting this behavior by simply saying the individuals are trying to express themselves. Maybe the focus should be to help them to express themselves by using language of the elevated and holy rather than the degraded and obscene.

They have continued to foster a belief that self-esteem is the most important aspect of education and devote too much effort to convince students they are victims because they are not white, not male, not heterosexual, and not Christian. There is entirely too much effort put into trying to make each student feel special by giving them trophies for participating, and finding a label to put on them to make them unique. There is entirely too much time trying to teach our children they are special because they are a particular race, color, sex, sexual orientation rather than focusing on their academic achievement.

This has led to a nation of leaders focused on themselves, focused on labeling people, focused on furthering this notion of individual over country, and focused on convincing people they are victims. This is antithetical to our great leaders who led us to victory in World War Two with a philosophy that "individuality is a bunch of crap". This has resulted in such a sad state of affairs for our nation with high unemployment, high crime, high drug use, and a lack of prestige on the international stage where Russia feels free to march into the Ukraine, despots feel free to use chemical weapons on their citizens, and the Chinese are starting to flex their muscles to claim more territory.

The unfortunate side of the whole picture is the short-sighted nature of the supposed educators thinking that they are doing the right thing. The reality is their attempts to create diversity through labeling and shocking material only serves to drive out the best and brightest to private or home schools. This reduces the population in the public schools which results in lower wages and lower prestige. The private school and home school is a booming industry as a direct result of their failure to focus on teaching students to be part of a society because they are too busy trying to teach students to be different.

Keep it up and Fauquier will become the hotbed of the private school and home school industry and you will see a further decline in the support for public education. A decline in public support will result in a decline of public funds. And while your liberal friends may tell you not to worry that they will simply tax more to get you more money, you see how that has worked out for you during the past 4 years. Hopefully the School Board has a little more insight than our supposed educators and will refocus our schools and library materials in the proper direction.
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