Originally created 09/10/04

Complaint takes book off of list



A descriptive book about a boy's struggle to grow up under apartheid in South Africa will be pulled from the reading list of a senior literature class at Hephzibah High School after complaints from a parent, according to Richmond County school trustee Kenneth Echols.

The book, Kaffir Boy, chronicles Mark Mathabane's childhood and the crushing poverty and hardships faced by his family. The book includes a short passage about men who promised food to starving boys in exchange for sex and has descriptions of genitalia.

The book upset a 12th-grader who was assigned to read and review it. He told his mother, and she showed the book to Mr. Echols.

"It's filth, and it's sickening to me, and it's unacceptable to have something like this in the school system," Mr. Echols said.

He said he brought the issue to Superintendent Charles Larke's attention Thursday and was told the book would be pulled. Dr. Larke said he would check with other schools in the system to see if the book is being used.

The book will be reviewed by a committee of parents, teachers and students to decide whether it is appropriate for the class, Hephzibah Principal Veta New said.

Mr. Mathabane said Thursday night that he was disappointed with the school's decision.

"I strongly feel a student should have a right to read works that inspire and challenge them," he said from his Portland, Ore., home. "Parents object to the book not for educational reasons but because of religious or moral reasons."

The student's mother, who did not want her name used, said she complained to Ms. New and was told the book could not be removed because there was a board policy.

Mr. Echols said he would like a more thorough review of assigned reading material.

"I think if we are going to require students to do book reviews, literature reviews, we better know what we are getting them to do," he said. "Do I have to start worrying now what else is out there?"

The book made No. 31 on a list of the 100 most-challenged books of the past decade, according to the American Library Association.

Mr. Mathabane said he is glad that students will be included on the review committee because response from young people to the work has been overwhelming.

"I've had so many students tell me this inspired them to really take education seriously," he said. Much of the book talks about his fight to get an education and rise above his circumstances.

"Those are the kind of stories our children should be getting," he said.

Since its release in the United States in 1986, the book has been challenged by parents in school districts in a dozen states, Mr. Mathabane said.

At a Flint, Mich., high school, teachers taped over several sentences in the books because parents objected to graphic descriptions. But Mr. Mathabane said he strongly opposes censorship of a book that deals with issues such as hunger, child abuse, poverty, violence, the oppression of women and racism.

"They have no right to decide the issue for other students," he wrote in a 1999 column in The Washington Post. "Should those students be deprived of what I believe is a key scene in order to make a few parents comfortable? I don't think so."

Staff writer Amy Allyn Swann contributed to this report.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.

Challenged Books

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz
2. Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling
8. Forever by Judy Blume
9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

Source: American Library Association