An Open Letter to the Plaquemines Parish School Board

Plaquemines Parish School Board
Instructional Office
1484 Woodland Hwy
Belle Chasse, LA 70037

To the Plaquemines Parish School Board:

I was recently made aware of your decision to re-inforce your ban on Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  I want to tell you that I admire your fortitude!

This “novel”, if you can call it that, is full of racial slurs, and our children cannot be exposed to them, or they will start saying them.  We hope that our children will go through high school without knowing the word “rape” or what it means, and that will not be possible if this book is read to our students.  The “novel” also depicts the American South as a place where racists people exist, a very outdated and inaccurate picture indeed!   Most of all, we certainly can’t afford for our children to see a role model who relies on rhetoric rather than live rounds to demonstrate bravery!

But the real reason I am writing is to encourage you to extend your ban.  Why stop with Miss Lee’s “novel”?  Let us first start with your mission statement:
“It is the mission of the Plaquemines Parish Public School System to provide the highest quality instruction for every student so that we produce the best authentic readers, writers, thinkers and listeners.”

A school system that bans books in high schools because characters  are depicted as prejudiced cannot at the same time commit to providing high quality instruction.  Readers who are forbidden to read about and discuss a world full of disturbing people, ideas, and actions cannot be authentic readers, writers, thinkers and listeners.  In order to be consistent, it is time you ban your mission statement.

But we must not stop there!  We must also ban your vision, before whatever vision you have left corrupts your children.

  • According to your website, your vision is that “all students will achieve at high levels in the presence of powerful teaching.”  Teaching only novels that are uncontroversial and uncritical, novels devoid of the context of a complex world full of moral issues and political debates, can only amount to non-powerful teaching.  Therefore, you must ban this vision.
  • According to your website, your vision is that “decisions about teaching and learning will be evidence-based and address the brutal reality.”  If we are going to ban novels that address a brutal reality, and if we are going to ban them based on ignorance rather than quantitative data, we cannot adequately prepare students to face the brutal reality.  Therefore, you must ban this vision.
  • According to your website, your vision is that “taking on actions to provide ‘whatever it takes’ will ensure every student’s success.”  The ambiguity of “whatever it takes”, however-much it implies, certainly does not imply the inclusion of a timeless classic that teaches students about how good can succeed against evil in the world.  For the sake of both caution and clarity, we must aim low in doing “whatever it takes”.  Therefore, you must ban this vision.

Finally, it is imperative that you ban your superintendent’s recent plea to “Spring Forward!”  We can’t have any of that nonsense.  In its place, I implore you to please readopt the motto “Fall Backward!”  We must fall back and retreat from teaching controversy.  We can’t have students being taught a novel that will help them to know what real courage is, to differentiate between societal and individual conscience, and to deal with the inevitable loss of innocence that occurs as they complete their years of public schooling.   Rather, we must regress backward.

I trust you to do right.  It’s that simple.

Regards,
Caleb Coy Guard
A Public School English Teacher

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
-Atticus Finch

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