Calif. administrator bars classes from reading South African memoir
An award-winning memoir about growing up poor and black in apartheid-era South Africa was banned from a California intermediate school after a parent complained about a two-paragraph scene of men paying hungry boys for sex.
Sonny Da Marto, superintendent of Burlingame schools, ordered an 8th grade teacher to stop using Kaffir Boy in her English classes even though a literature review committee composed of parents, teachers, a librarian, a student and a school board member approved the book.
“The kids were angry,” said Ramos, whose four classes were about halfway through the memoir when the superintendent stopped them from reading it. “They were frustrated. They were appalled.”
Da Marto told the Burlingame school board he would allow an abridged version of Kaffir Boy to be taught, but that the paragraphs depicting child prostitution were inappropriate for 13- and 14-year-olds. The school board refused to reverse his decision.
“I’m very concerned about the morals of our society and that children who don’t have support are not prepared emotionally to read it,” the superintendent told board members on April 10. “They’re already exposed to violence and sex. As a public agency, are we going to contribute to it?”
In Kaffir Boy, published in 1986, Mark Mathabane tells a personal story about his upbringing in South Africa as one of nine children during the 1960s and 1970s. Mathabane recalls being offered all the food he could eat if he went to a hostel to play games with the migrant workers who lived there.
He describes seeing other boys, some as young as 5 years old, stripped naked for sex before he fled.
The American Library Association included the Kaffir Boy on its list of “Outstanding Books for the College Bound.” The child-rape scene also gave the memoir the No. 31 spot on the association’s list of the 100 most frequently banned or challenged books.
Ramos taught the book to her students last year after the literature committee approved it. School board member Liz Gindraux, who participated in the screening process, said it was inappropriate to pull the book without any discussion.
“I feel we jumped the gun a little,” she said.
Meanwhile, school officials in Newton, Iowa, will review the status of the 1937 novel Of Mice and Men to determine whether it should continue to be read in a literature class.
The review comes after a man and his son expressed concerns about profanity and the portrayal of Jesus in the book.
Terry Mapes and his son, Troy, 17, a high school junior, raised their concerns this week to the Newton school board.
The book is about two migrant farmworkers, George and Lennie, in California during the Great Depression. In the book, George kills Lennie, who is mentally retarded.
Some school libraries around the country have banned the book saying it promotes euthanasia. It is also listed as the sixth-most challenged book by the ALA.
Mapes said his son is uncomfortable with the way Jesus’ name is used in the book.
“It’s more about my son’s beliefs,” Mapes said. “He has aspirations of going into the ministry. Clearly, the book offends his sense of decency. In his view, it is blasphemous.
“We simply had asked for alternative reading,” Mapes said.
The Mapes’ concerns will be addressed by the district’s nine-person reconsideration committee, said Tom Hoover, the district’s director of educational services.
The committee will make a recommendation to the school board, which will make the final decision.
School board President Don Poynter, a former English teacher, said it’s the first time he’s had anyone complain of reading material in the school.
“I’ve read it. That would be something by (John) Steinbeck every American should have read,” he said.