'Looking for Alaska' will remain in Waukesha School District's libraries

A Waukesha School District committee denied a Waukesha South parent's request to have the 2005 young adult novel "Looking for Alaska" banned from library shelves in the school district.
Published on: 7/28/2014

"Looking for Alaska," a young adult novel that has drawn harsh criticism from some parents for being on library shelves in the Waukesha School District, appears to be safe from the chopping block.

At a meeting last week, the Waukesha School District's Consideration Committee unanimously denied a request to have the 2005 John Green award-winning book banned from Waukesha schools.

Not all in the audience during the meeting on Friday, July 25, accepted the argument favoring censorship.

Dale Ritterbusch, a Waukesha resident and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor, said he's finding that students don't have the ability to deal with real world issues due to "many censorship practices." He added that censorship blocks exploratory thinking and that the book has many "positive virtues."

Unwelcome lessons?

However, during the passionate public hearing, opponents spoke out against the novel, which they say promotes sex, drugs, alcohol and foul language.

Ellen Cox, a parent who filed the complaint with the district last month, said she believes reading the book encourages such behavior.

"I don't want my 15-year-old to have to read about having sex," said Cox, whose daughter will be a junior at Waukesha South in the fall. "They don't need to hear about oral sex other than from their parents."

Cox said at the meeting that she wanted the district to flag the book with an adult-parent permission notification. The book is currently housed in middle and high school libraries.

"It is nothing short of pornography and filth," Cox wrote in her complaint.

While members of the committee said the book teaches about life lessons and can enhance discussion among parents and students, Karen Tessman, a parent of a Waukesha West student, said these topics can be taught in other ways.

"You are exposing them to concepts that they might not be ready for," Tessman said, referring to the language, drinking, smoking and sex. "Not all of them are ready for those discussions. We didn't give the committee permission to teach our middle school students how to give blow jobs. That's something they should be exposed to as adults or when the parents feel the children are ready."

Critical of decision

Cox said after the meeting that she will appeal the consideration committee's decision. That would result in the issue coming before the Waukesha School Board.

"I've come this far, I'm not going to turn back," Cox said. "We don't have a problem with the book being in the school. I just believe it needs to be behind a counter where children cannot have access unless they have a parent's permission. That's all we ever wanted."

Cox said she believed the committee, which consists of school staff throughout the district, didn't listen to parents' concerns.

"They had their minds made up," Cox said. "They were not going to do a thing about this. They loved the book. I felt like I was sitting at an Oprah Winfrey book club (when the committee discussed the book at an earlier meeting). They enjoyed all these points about the book.

"I felt they were reading it and commenting on their intellect and where they are (mentally) as adults. Not as children."

Fair consideration

Waukesha West Principal David LaBorde, the chairman of the consideration committee, disagreed with that assessment. He also said students always have the option to choose an alternative book for class.

"I know it's difficult when we have differing opinions, but I feel the most important thing was there was no bias involved here, whatsoever," LaBorde said. "We worked very hard to keep bias out of it."

In addition to some parents' efforts regarding "Looking for Alaska," Tessman is also looking at having "Chinese Handcuffs" removed from library bookshelves. She said in her complaint, filed earlier this month, that she objects "to gang rape, extreme brutality, violence" in the book.

The consideration committee will meet Aug. 20 to discuss Tessman's request on the 1989-Chris Crutcher young-adult novel.

She also put in a request to the consideration committee to have "The Kite Runner" banned. She said in her complaint that she objected to the extreme violence in the book.

However, LaBorde said the book has already been approved by the Board of Education in 2006.