The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) is offering students a chance to speak out about a controversial book following a recent decision to eliminate the entire Blue Hen reading list for freshmen entering Delaware’s Cape Henlopen High School.
Following the removal of The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth (HarperCollins) from the list because of controversy surrounding its content, the board decided in July to do away with the entire recommended reading list, which is generated through the referrals of librarians throughout the state of Delaware.
The National Coalition Against Censorship, along with supporting organizations, including the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE), is sponsoring an essay contest this summer, in which high school students in Delaware are invited to write 250-500 words detailing what they think the school board should know before deciding whether Cameron Post should be included on their school reading list. Prizes range from $100 to $250, and the winning essays will be published on the NCAC website.
“We see value in students having a chance to take time to read the book and think about how they feel about it. When decision makers are discussing these issues that display one perspective, they are overlooking the perspectives of a multitude of very different students. Students have no vote in this discussion,” said NCAC Communications Director Michael O’Neil. “Materials are being removed for the sake of young people, without asking young people what they want to get out of their educational experience.”
The Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, community has come together to support Browseabout Books, which is giving away free copies of The Miseducation of Cameron Post to all Delaware high school students interested in participating in the essay contest. Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, is donating copies to be given away, and the bookstore will be advertising the contest through fliers.
“We’re thankful to Browseabout Books for playing a community role and supporting kids’ rights to read,” said O’Neil.
In June, the Cape Henlopen school board cited the book’s use of profanities in its decision to remove The Miseducation of Cameron Post from its list of titles recommended for incoming freshmen, but pop culture website AfterEllen noted that plenty of titles on the same list include profanities, and Cameron Post is the only one featuring a lesbian relationship. In the face of backlash over the removal of Cameron Post, including requests by several organizations to have the book reinstated to the list, in July the board voted to withdraw the entire Blue Hen list.
“Eliminating the reading list entirely also eliminates the potential benefits of having students reading and discussing books together,” said NCAC Executive Director Joan Bertin. “In addition to calling attention to book banning in schools, this [essay] contest encourages students to read a book as a community, and to think critically about that experience.”
The essay contest is co-sponsored by ABFFE; American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware; Association of American Publishers; Comic Book Legal Defense Fund; Delaware Library Association; PEN American Center; and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, in collaboration with Browseabout Books.
The first prize winner of the essay contest will receive $250, second prize $150, and third prize $100. The prize money was generously donated to the contest by the father of a gay Cape Henlopen High School graduate. Students are invited to submit their essays to email@example.com. The deadline for the contest is September 1, 2014.