Protests after school bans 'obscene' books

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The Independent Online
FIVE books on a list of suggested titles for teenagers studying Higher English - including Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning work, The Color Purple, and books by an acclaimed contemporary Scottish writer - have been banned at a school in Scotland after complaints that they are obscene and disgusting.

The move has raised protests about censorship by Strathclyde Regional Council, the largest education authority in Europe.

The books were withdrawn from the library of Johnstone High School in Renfrewshire after complaints from Robert Bonnar, a member of the school board, to the head teacher, George Steele, and Frank Pignatelli, the region's director of education.

The books were put in the 'safekeeping' of the school's principal teacher of English.

As well as The Color Purple, the banned books include two by the contemporary Scottish writer James Kelman, The Chancer and A Greyhound for Breakfast; a collection of short stories, Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, and The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

Although Mr Bonnar, a former teacher who now runs a picture- framing business, managed to get the five books removed from a reading list of 200, he is still concerned that some of the remaining books on the list contain - on a cursory examination, he says - descriptions of rape, incest, masturbation, violence and casual drug taking.

But Mr Bonnar denies that the removal of the books was censorship.

'It is not a question of censorship. It is just a question of selecting what is appropriate for children,' he said.

Schools in Scotland are allowed wide discretion in the books they choose to study for Higher English, the examination taken at the age of 17, so the list is unlikely to be duplicated exactly elsewhere. James Kelman, one of the authors on the 'banned' list, has written to Mr Pignatelli demanding an explanation and asking if these books are to be banned from study at all other secondary schools in Strathclyde, which includes approximately half the Scottish school population.

He wants to know if the books were objected to on religious or literary grounds.

The letter adds: 'I request that you give an outline of the official position of Strathclyde Region's Department of Education in regard to the function and/or validity of contemporary literary criticism in Higher English studies.'

However, Mr Kelman's letter is not, it must be said, in the style of his books, which are characterised by bleak settings and morose characters who think in and speak with plenty of expletives.

Mr Steele refused to comment and Mr Pignatelli was unavailable.