Saturday, June 09, 2007

Update: Bartlesville & Maureen Johnson

From author Maureen Johnson's blog (please be sure to click through and read the entire post)
...The second is that Ninja Librarian Susan Hunt was called in for a meeting. It was fairly clear that this was not going to be the best meeting, and that there would not be hugs and sloppy kisses all around. She decided that rather than back down, she would resign her position. And I quote:

“I have taught for 33 years and have now gone out doing what I know was right. I continue to stand by my original statement to you, Maureen. The committee headed by Vernon voted to remove your book without having read it. I did not lack patience in the process in revealing this. I have no doubt that had we not made this information public that the book would have been immediately removed.”

So there you have it. One book advocate punished, another leaves because she refuses to go along with this insane situation.

This afternoon, I called Janet Vernon yet again, but got no answer. So let me put my message here....


Beth said...

Susan Hunt resigned, she wasn't fired--that's an important point to remember. Was it necessary for her to resign over this? Obviously she felt it was, but I'm not so sure. What was she asked to do about this situation that she felt the need to resign instead? Isn't she in a teacher's union? Wouldn't her union have defended her? Certainly if she was fired for defending a book, that's something that any court would easily overturn, right? Government employees on every level have a lot of rights, and once probationary periods are completed successfully, it's very difficult to fire anyone unless their offense was ongoing and egregious.

The other librarian was not "punished" by being withdrawn from a library committee (she was the head of secondary library services), another qualified librarian applied for the job. Maybe it was just time for a change, or maybe it was necessary to give a new person a chance. There is no evidence that she was removed for her support of the book.

What is beginning to frustrate me about this situation is that this is an issue about local control. It is local people we have to convince that the book should stay in the library. Therefore, letters to the local newspaper, to the school board, and to the superintendant are in order. I don't know that those things are happening to the extent that they need to, and I believe those activities are a lot more productive than being upset because a librarian chose to resign of her own free will.

Janet Vernon is a perfectly nice person who is doing the best she can. It's my understanding that her committee's recommendation has gone to the superintendant, therefore her committee's job is over, and she ought to be left alone. I don't know that she does owe the author any explanation for her actions.

I am very invested in keeping The Bermudez Triangle on the shelf at the Mid-High. I hope that the superintendant and the school board can be persuaded to do that.

In any case, we have two copies available at the Bartlesville Public Library, so anybody who wants to read it can, whether or not it is pulled at the Mid-High.

Adri said...

Beth -- you bring up a couple of very good points -- Susan did retire and the decision was her's (be it based on professional ethics or just tired of the politics/drama/etc).

And yes being withdrawn from a committee isn't necessarily a punishment (in fact in some cases it's a blessing). ;-)

And I agree that Janet Vernon and those on the committee/school board/etc owe no one except the people in Bartlesville an explanation as to the status of the book or why the process has gotten has strange as it has...

I understand the frustration of the author and the fans as to the treatment of the situation -- but ultimately the only people directly involved with Bartlesville Public Schools have a say in that process. You are correct it is a local issue I wonder is it the challenge of the book or the nonacceptance of homosexuality which has the camp in support of the book so upset? If it's the latter then -- forcing people to keep something they dislike will never change their minds socially. They have to see the need for change from within their own community.

I do hope the public library is able to keep the book on the shelf -- and I would assume the public library is much more skilled and prepared to handle any challenges should they emerge.

I think it's very unfortunate that the school system was so unprepared for a challenge and obviously needed help of some sort in either developing a written policy or organization a good public response. I just hope they don't now resort to a policy of extremes in the future.

Jen said...

Clearly Susan Hunt resigned, but do we know for a fact that she is in a teacher's union? If she is, then certainly her union would defend her. But Susan Hunt would not have to be fired to be made uncomfortable enough to not wish to continue-- even in a legally uncomfortable fashion. Surely that is clear enough as well. No one who wasn't in that room really knows what happened there.

While not an avid reader of Maureen Johnson, I am very interested in intellectual freedom. I don't believe Johnson is trying to strongarm her book onto high school bookshelves just because it's hers. She and others truly believe that the book was originally removed by someone who neither read nor understood the book, and was further recommended for removal by a committee of people who didn't read it either. There is perhaps further evidence that the entire process was supposed to slip by unnoticed by the community at large.

Obviously this is a local issue, but it's a slippery slope at best, and probably patently misguided to believe that what happens in a Bartlesville high school library doesn't affect other school libraries and students across the country. I'm sure Bermudez has already been added, unread, to numerous lists across our nation.

How "perfectly nice" Janet Vernon is has nothing to do with this case. How well does she conduct materials challenges, and how does she deal with the people who are in its wake? If errors have indeed come to light in her committee's methodology regarding transparency with the community and she's been called to task for it, then this is just the watchdog reporting for which blogging has been hailed.

Adri said...

Thanks for stopping by and reading LibraryStories Jen!

Please note these words and thoughts are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone living or dead.

As far as Susan Hunt’s union activity – I don’t know. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet her at any of the Oklahoma library events and discuss such matters. I'm not sure -- but I've always been under the impression that teacher unions aren’t as active in Oklahoma as other states – but I don't know that for sure.

Also, I agree that the author isn’t trying to push her book on anyone. I believe she truly wants answers as to why her piece of art (writing is an art) was so misconstrued by the offended parent and also why the mid-high school didn’t show proper respect to the author, librarian, students, parents, Bartlesville community by conducting the challenge process in a more professional manner.

The one thing Oklahoma has become very familiar with over the past several years is the impact a local challenge has nationally and even internationally. (Tin Drum, King & King, and now Bermudez) As seen in the case of Tin Drum and King & King the material remained accessible because there was a local community push to keep the subject matter there. And yes that’s probably due to a large traditional media push in both cases but traditional media is how a large number of people (at least in Oklahoma) still get their news. The difference with this particular book is that a large push to keep the book on the shelf appears (my observation and I could be wrong) to be coming primarily from a non-Oklahoma non-Bartlesville community. In my opinion if you truly want to impact social change (in this case to ease the fears regarding homosexuality) you have to have action by locals. (For instance -- the actions of a certain Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductee regarding civil rights)

Regarding Janet Vernon – I only know of her what I was able to Google – and she seems a woman dedicated to education. Unfortunately she was involved (perhaps headed?) in the botched handling of a book challenge. Which will now follow her via Google search the rest of her career. You know the funny part about all of this – is had the committee gone to their local public library and asked for help – they probably would have been given a list of wonderful resources on Roberts Rules of Order, How to Handle Book Challenges, State Administrative Code and everything else they needed to not have had this situation turn so ugly.

And I guess we are all still waiting to see if cooler heads prevail – and the book is finally returned to the shelf.

Thanks again for reading and I do appreciate the discussion!

Jen said...

Thanks for the dialogue, Adri. Watching the entire thing unfold has been professionally interesting, if distressing. I wholeheartedly agree that ultimately it is for each Oklahoman to decide exactly how they feel about homosexuality, and that if social change is needed, local action is necessary.

And if pulling The Bermudez Triangle off the shelves in Bartlesville, Oklahoma only affected students in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, it would still be sad from an intellectual freedom standpoint if no other, if you ask me. But the moment that book gets pulled, it stops being solely about social change in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In fact, this firestorm of internet traffic alone is probably enough to put it on a number of “taboo” lists without the final edict from the superintendent, which is why more people get involved when they find out in time. Enter the internet.

This time, the blogosphere lit up when a committee was perhaps caught red-handed. Technology and media may be altering the way we look at these types of occurences, and who follows them, and why. Despite the understandable desire for local control, I can’t help thinking that’s positive. I’m sure there are several agendas motivating various people involved in this maelstrom, and together their viewpoints form a rich tangle of public opinion.

Hindsight being 20:20, I’m certain that a number of things would be done differently if it were only possible to backtrack. Ultimately, many people who are currently quite vocal about the debacle retain no control of it. But because we’re talking about vital issues such as censorship, the first amendment, and possible banning in Oklahoma and elsewhere—not to mention homosexuality and the acceptance or rejection of it—I believe the discussion is vital to readers around the globe.