Well, now. That’s quite a claim for a book that Publishers Weekly calls “intelligent, amiable, and carefully researched,” and that the School Library Journal refers to as a “wonderful guide for young adolescents setting sail on the stormy seas of puberty.”

Much to Karkos’s consternation, the Lewiston and Auburn libraries somehow managed to avoid being charged with violating the anti-obscenity laws by carrying the books, thus prompting her literary vigilantism. Karkos now stands accused of a civil offense — two counts of failure to return library property — even though she sent each library a check for $20.95 to cover the cost of the books. Her trial is scheduled for August 27.

Amusing as all this may be, there’s a serious principle at stake. Karkos believes it is acceptable to advance her ideas by denying other people access to competing ideas. By acting on that anti-democratic impulse, she becomes, in effect, a one-woman Fahrenheit 451. It’s a book she ought to read — as long as she returns it to the library when she’s done.

WILFREDO LaBOY
Lawrence school official ordered student’s art removed

Fifteen-year-old Thuan Tran thought he was doing everything right. He put hours into painting an inspirational mural of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X at Lawrence High School. He had the permission of his principal, Michael Fiato. Yet, incredibly, the city’s superintendent of schools, Wilfredo Laboy, ordered that it be painted over.

“In my humble opinion, it looked like urban art, ghetto art,” Laboy said, adding that he objected in particular to Malcolm’s being included because he advocated violence. “I did what I had to do.”

Tran’s reaction: “I worked so hard on it; I didn’t get to finish it. What kind of leadership is that? Crushing a kid’s dreams?”

As is the case every year, freedom of expression in public schools was more myth than reality in 2007–’08.

In Amherst, the middle-school student newspaper was censored because it included a survey that claimed three-quarters of students believed administrators ignored their concerns.

In Brockton, a 13-year-old girl was handcuffed and arrested after she refused to remove a T-shirt depicting her 14-year-old former boyfriend, who had been murdered. (School officials said the shirt could contribute to gang-related violence.)

Yet Lawrence superintendent Laboy’s gratuitous act of censorship stands out for its narrow-mindedness and vindictiveness.

Laboy must have had second thoughts, because he later invited Tran to submit ideas for a substitute mural. Showing a generosity of spirit far greater than Laboy’s, Tran actually took him up on his offer, suggesting a mural depicting King but not Malcolm X.

But it was too late to undo the damage Laboy had done to a talented young artist who had given up two months’ worth of Saturdays.

“His actions give Lawrence public schools another black eye,” said school-committee member James Vittorioso of Laboy. “There’s supposed to be freedom of expression here. It’s not right.”

Dan Kennedy teaches journalism at Northeastern University and writes the weblog Media Nation. He can be reached at dkennedy@phx.com.

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