The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
Wednesday, February 05, 1997
page B6

Parents may get more say on books

Nobel Prize nominee's novel sparks controversy in Ontario education system

Ontario's education minister says he sympathizes with parents and a Conservative politician who believe an acclaimed novel is pornography that should be banned from a Milton School.

John Snobelen said he hasn't read Foxfire, by Nobel Prize nominee Joyce Oates, and can't say whether it's appropriate for Grade 12 students.

But the Conservative minister said parents could get more say over which books students are asked to read under a new policy he has been considering.

Freedom of expression in schools is important but must be "reasonable controlled", said Snobelen. "I think you have to listen very carefully when a parent objects to some material."

Snobelen said he'd also like to develop ways to control information that comes into classrooms off the Internet.

The group Parents Against Corrupt Teachers has been lobbying the Halton board of education to remove Foxfire from Milton District High School.

Published in 1993, Foxfire depicts working class girls who drift into gang violence. It won rave reviews for Oates, a past winner of the U.S. National Book Award.

Tory Terrence Young, Snobelen's parliamentary assistant and the local MPP, admitted he hasn't read Foxfire either, but has seen excerpts of the novel.

"It's a pornographic book", said Young. "They deal with a lot of sexual activity. They dwell on drug use among gangs. There's one scene, apparently, where one woman is raped by 50 men. It's really degrading stuff."

He said he hoped new legislation that would give parent councils the right to advise boards would provide ammunition to groups like the one in Milton.

But such councils could easily become dominated by censorship-minded groups, warned University of Manitoba education professor David Jenkinson, who has studied book banning.

Even now, schools across the country choose not to include some titles for fear of creating controversy, he said.

"We already have a safe, tame English curriculum", he said.

Jenkinson has documented the Ontario banning of work by esteemed Canadian writer Margaret Laurence.

This idea that they (opponents) have the right moral answer and that it extends to the whole school, is an attitude that I as a parent find particularly offensive", he said.

Jenkinson said teachers could offer an alternative without banning anything.

Copyright © 1997 by Canadian Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.