Date: Sat, 7 Dec 1996 13:09:36 -0500 (EST)
From: Ted Nellen <>
Subject: Robert Walls, a folk hero

Hip Hip Hooray for Mr Walls!!!
If anyone on these lists to which I have posted this message is Mr Walls or knows Mr Walls please provide me via private mail his email or postal address. I would like to shake his hand, slap him on the back, give him a hug, give him a high five and invite him to my class to introduce him to my kids and then treat him to a great dinner in NYC.

This is a brave man. I would like to convey this to him and hope someone on these lists can put me and others in touch with him.

Enjoy this absolutely great story and model for the rest of us. Bravo Mr Walls.

Ted 8-)

In the December 7, 1996 issue of _The New York Times_ there appears an op-ed titled "Censorship Follies, Town by Town" By Peggy Orenstein who speaks of a courageous high school teacher who took on the school board:
"I had to go to the library to find a map detailed enough to show Cortland, Ohio, which, it turned out, is a small town in the northeastern corner of the state. There's not much there by big-city standards: 6,000 people and no movie theaters. But there is one courageous high school teacher who went to battle to keep his school board from banning my book."

It is the story of an untenured teacher:
"At the beginning of the school year, with the approval of his principal, Robert Walls assigned his 11th and 12th grade students my book, "Schoolgirls," which discusses the self-image of young women."

The article continues to discuss how parents were the first to raise an alarm:
"Then the parents of one student asked Mr. Walls to pull the book. They said they objected to its "rotten, filthy language" (this consists of a few quotations that include profanity) and a section on sexual harassment. The real concern, I suspect, was that the book advocates teaching girls about their sexuality."

The courageous teacher fought the fight:
"Mr. Walls refused to drop the book (although he did offer the parents a black marker with which to delete any offending passages from their daughter's copy). Suddenly, he found himself the object of a campaign by the student's parents as well as their church and a couple of school board members. They wanted the book banned."

Mr Walls didn't seem to have a leg to stand on since he was a first year teacher:
"As a first-year untenured teacher, Mr. Walls had absolutely no job security. Nevertheless, he insisted on arguing his case before the board. He was confident that, whatever the decision, his job would be safe, but he says his colleagues weren't so sure. "People have told me to wait until I have tenure, then assign the book," he said when the controversy first broke. "But I can't put aside something I believe in for another two years."

Apparently Mr Walls isn't alone:
"I'd like to say this was an isolated confrontation, but it wasn't. According to People for the American Way, a First Amendment watchdog group, there were 300 attempts to censor school materials in the 1995-1996 school year, 120 of which were successful. The books challenged included "Canterbury Tales," "A Wrinkle in Time," a science-fiction classic, and "Ordinary People." "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou is No. 1 on the censors' hit parade, because it depicts the rape of an 8-year-old girl. In one Louisiana town, a high school principal banned any book that mentioned sex from the school library; more than 200 such books were removed. "Even in communities where such attempts at censorship were defeated, teachers might think twice before assigning their students anything controversial or even material that depicts real-life events."

The lesson to be learned is one of ethics:
"The obvious lesson is that one can never be too complacent about the right to the freedom of ideas. But there is another message here as well. While the big (and certainly important) cultural wars, like the fight against financing cutbacks in the arts, get national attention, there are countless small, local battles that depend on people who fight alone, unnoticed and often unsupported."

And how did Mr Walls fare?:
"Because of Mr. Walls, my story had a happy ending. After his two-hour presentation in mid-November, the school board relented and voted to let him retain the book. "A lot of people said this was a crazy thing to do," he said afterward. I only hope that the rest of us could be brave enough to be that crazy."

The author of the op-ed is also the author of the book in question:
"Peggy Orenstein is the author of "Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap."

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