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The Children’s Crusade: of book bans, high schools and “Slaughterhouse-Five”

A couple of weeks ago, word got out that Republic High School in Missouri had banned Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five from all classrooms and the shelves of its library. This decision was made following a complaint by one Dr. Wesley Scroggins, challenging its suitability for students.

It would be a questionable move were Scroggins a literature professor concerned by what his own kids were being exposed to, but it seems even more dubious in light of Scroggins’ being an associate professor of management at a business college whose children do not attend the school in question.

Scroggins’ objections were outlined in an opinion piece in a local newspaper almost a year ago, wherein he decried the novel for containing:

‘so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The “f word” is plastered on almost every other page.’

Maybe he has a different version than I do, or a varying definition of the phrase ‘every other page’, or at least a looser grasp of mathematics (a worrying prospect for a professor at a business college, I’m sure you’ll agree, although one that explains a lot) because in my copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, “the f word” doesn’t appear until page 27, and then upon nine of its 177 pages, which as far as I can tell is little more than one in twenty. Maybe Scroggins wrote ‘every other, other, other, other, other, other, other, other, other, other page’ and got done in by an over-zealous sub-editor.

He also takes issue with ‘God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ’ which, no. That doesn’t happen in the book. What does happen is that a novel read by characters within the novel describes an alternate version of the Gospels wherein God adopts Jesus as his son on the cross to make the point that ‘He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!’, which to these ears sounds like a different way of saying ‘do unto others…’, but whatever.

Anyway, you’re intelligent folk who can read, I’ll leave you to sort through the various holes in Scroggins’ arguments for yourselves, but the point is, this man has, in his fervent mania, now deprived a bunch of 15 to 18 year olds of the opportunity to read Slaughterhouse-Five free of charge, regardless of whether or not their views or those of their parents fall in line with his own.

Rather wonderfully, however, the Vonnegut Memorial Library has offered to send a free copy of the novel to the first 150 students from the Republic school district who request one via e-mail. ‘We’re not telling you to like the book,’ says the Library. ‘We just want you to read it and decide for yourself’. They’re looking for donations of $5 from anyone who supports them in this action to cover postage expenses. Donate via their website and help put paid to the credibility of sanctimonious self-appointed censors like the Scrogginses of the world. So it goes.

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Chris Ward

Chris Ward

Chris Ward writes and says things about books and music and films and what have you, even when no one is reading or listening.
He was chief hack and music editor of webzine Brazen from 2006 to 2010, and hosted Left of the Dial on Subcity Radio from 2008 to 2011.
He can be heard semi-regularly on the podcast of Scottish cultural blog Scots Whay Hae ('20th best website in Scotland!' - The List), and in 2011 founded Seen Your Video, a film and music podcast and blog based in Glasgow. He has a Masters degree in Scottish Literature from the University of Glasgow that will never have any practical application. You are on a hiding to nothing if you follow him on Twitter expecting any kind of hot publishing scoop.

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