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SLO High keeps controversial book

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A San Luis Obispo High School review committee tasked with responding to an anonymous complaint over a widely read but controversial book—Kaffir Boy, by South African author Mark Mathabane—decided not to ban the book from its curriculum.

About 60 students, parents, and teachers packed into a small history classroom on the SLO High campus to decide on one of three possible solutions: remove the book from the library, keep the book, or offer an abridged version that removes three sentences and one clause from the page in question.

After nearly two hours of public comment, the mixed student-teacher committee voted 7-0 to keep the full version at the school library. The committee’s decision is to go to the principal for the official stamp of approval. Should the vote have gone the other way, the decision would have only affected SLO High, not other campuses in the school district.

Kaffir Boy is Mathabane’s autobiographical account of growing up during apartheid. It’s one of the 100 most challenged books in the country, according to the American Library Association, because of a description of sexual abuse contained on a single page of the 354-page book.

“Honors students want to be challenged,” teacher Carrie Zinn said at the meeting. Zinn assigned the book to her Honors World History class. “If a parent has a problem with the curriculum and wants another assignment in lieu of the current project, we could have done that without singling out the student. But that never happened, so here we all are.”

Nobody responded when asked if the offended parent was in the audience, to which librarian Vicki Carroll said the anonymity of the complainant made it hard to address their concerns.

“I find it difficult to have a dialogue with someone who chooses to remain anonymous,” Carroll said. “Instead of having this big brouhaha, we could have just had a private conversation and avoided all this.”

Not one person expressed support for banning the book.

“I think high school students are able to deal with the reality of life and should be exposed to the history of the world,” said parent Lisa Simon. “This is a sad, but very real part of life.”

If anything good has come about from this review process, Zinn told New Times, it’s that Mathabane will now be coming to Cal Poly to speak about censorship. The free lecture will be held on Oct. 21 at the Spanos Theatre at 7 p.m., and is open to the public.

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