Book bans move from sex to war, as west Michigan school removes ‘Jarhead’
- In a 4-3 vote, the Hudsonville Public Schools board voted to remove the book ‘Jarhead’ from the high school library
- In a tense meeting Monday, some speakers said the book is derogatory to the military and too explicit
- Others say this is a slippery slope where one group of parents is able to decide for other parents what is acceptable
Michigan’s culture war over library books has moved to a book about actual war, as a west Michigan district has removed “Jarhead” from its high school library.
In what the author of the memoir calls an unprecedented action, the Board of Education for Hudsonville Public Schools in Ottawa County this week voted 4-3 to remove the book that chronicles a Marine’s experience in the Gulf War.
Some parents told the board the book is too violent and disrespects the military. The book also includes references to drugs, profanity and graphic descriptions of sex.
“It's a book about war,” author Anthony Swofford told Bridge Michigan this week. “And war is not pretty, war is not neat. War is a morally dubious landscape for any young person sent out with a weapon in his or her country's name.”
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A parent first complained about the book in November, District Public Relations Manager Stephanie Fast told Bridge in an email. The board overruled an academic committee that reviewed the book and unanimously recommended it remain on the shelves.
The fight at the district is the latest in a series of divisions in a traditionally conservative county.
“This community has already been divided for a while,” Hudsonville parent Genna Brong told Bridge Wednesday.
She said her ex-husband previously served in the Army and her brother is a current member of the Michigan National Guard. Students deserve to read about their experiences, Brong said.
“We are allowing recruiters into schools where kids can sign on the dotted line, but they can’t read about actual service members’ and soldiers’ experiences?,” she said at the meeting.
At the meeting, Board President Barb Hooper read a passage where the author describes his lack of “courage” to kill himself.
“This is troubling. A student who is struggling mentally and maybe considering suicide, in my opinion, probably should not be reading that comment that suicide is a courageous act.”
She also objected to its use of vulgarities. Another speaker called the book “extremely violent, vulgar, pornographic diatribe.”
Parents across the state and country have waged pressure on schools to remove books from their libraries they contend is inappropriate. Many involve frank descriptions of sex or LGBTQ issues.
Swofford said he believes Hudsonville is the first district nationwide to target his book, which was adapted into a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The book received high praise, winning the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for memoirs in 2004.
“Jarhead” does not appear on a list of banned books from the 2021-2022 school year compiled by PEN America, a nonprofit that tracks book bans, or a separate list compiled by The EveryLibrary Institute and EveryLibrary.
The Hudsonville board overruled a unanimous recommendation by a seven-person committee composed of two teachers, three parents, one building administrator and one curriculum department member. The superintendent of curriculum and instruction was a facilitator who didn’t vote and the librarian was a consultant who didn’t vote, Fast said.
The book is not a part of any school curriculum, Fast said, and she is unaware of any classroom libraries that include the book.
Brong said giving board members more say on these books rather than relying on expertise from teachers and administrators with what is age-appropriate is “very scary.”
“This is the start of something that could be detrimental for our district.”
The decision comes a few weeks after Cheboygan Area Schools in northern Michigan removed “All American Boys” from a high school classroom and removed it from required reading in English. The Cheboygan Daily Tribune reported the decision was made after a parent who is married to a police officer said the book made her and her son uncomfortable because it references police brutality and underage drinking.
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