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A teacher's opinions on YA literature and the state of public education in America.

Censorship at its Finest: Remembering

Please do not contact my former employer or colleagues. Thanks!

My kids are away for the weekend, and here I sit—drinking Dr. Pepper from a wineglass (no wine on hand)—remembering.

Remembering how excited I was to start teaching. Remembering the Master’s course in which I created a classroom group work matrix that included literature circles. Remembering the first semester I tried it, and how it failed horribly because I didn’t have literature kids would read. Remembering the combination of excitement and nervousness in my stomach when I raided Joseph-Beth Booksellers for discount YA literature, hoping that if it didn’t overdraw my bank account, that I would still have enough left to buy groceries. Remembering the way my face hurt from smiling when literature circles finally worked, when I had to ask kids to put their books away so I could teach, and when I saw kids bumping into lockers as they walked down the halls reading their YA novels.

Remembering how the same kids begged me to start a book club so they could keep reading good books, and how amazed I was when membership rose from 15 to 130 students from January of 2007 to August of 2008. Remembering the way I poured my soul into the Student Achievement grant to the National Education Association, citing our poor community and equally poor test scores, requesting money to buy books that students would read. And remembering the day NEA posted me as the recipient on their website. And after that, remembering the sheer joy of listening to students intelligently discuss, negotiate, and decide on which YA title to order each month, and then watching them tear through the Barnes and Noble boxes, unbelievably excited to hold their books.

Remembering how students in my classes suddenly liked English, and reading, when I was able to circulate retired club books into literature circle options, when I was able to design grammar and vocabulary lessons to build their skills using the books they had chosen to read. Remembering tracking their reading data (ThinkLinkLearn predictive assessments) when I applied for National Board Certification, and nearly falling out of my seat at Applebees—Excel documents strewn across my bar top—when I saw the gains in the reading sub-domains after just one month of literature circles.

Remembering when the Moo Moo Book Club kids taped posters of their favorite books all over the school—totally taking ownership of their books by taping “recommended by” plaques beneath each poster—and how after that, non-club kids would stop by my room and ask to borrow a book. Remembering Teen Read Week of 2008 when the 130 book club kids marched through the school, boom box blaring, tossing bookmarks through the Ag. department, the Science and Math wing, the Freshman hall, and the Board of Education building, dancing, chanting “Moo Moo Book Club,” proudly sporting their recommended book posters on strings around their necks. Remembering the way it felt to post the newspaper articles about the club on my walls: the one about taking my club to Virginia Tech, where Nikki Giovanni gave the book club a private writing workshop after reading her book Blues for all the Changes; the one article in the state newspaper that discussed my having gotten the prestigious grant; and the one about the club’s “Jewish Culture Project,” where club members signed up to take Hebrew classes, decorate doors in facets of Jewish Culture, and attend service at a local synagogue, and then when Jewish, Holocaust-surviving author of Bondi’s Brother, Irving Roth, flew to our school for a book talk and assembly. And then, remembering the way I beamed when the Literacy Committee chair asked me to take her place because I had changed the notion of literacy at Montgomery County High.

Remembering the email that stopped it all. Two years ago this week. A parent whose child had chosen to read Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles, and how that parent sent an email to the superintendent, the board members, the principals, and me saying that I taught “soft pornography.” Remembering the way my stomach hurt when I read the email, how I cried and stayed up all night drafting a nine-page rebuttal that began with, “Literature is my life, and I take my career very seriously. I have worked extremely hard to get students to read, and the school is just beginning to see the impact of that.” Remembering getting called to my principal’s office the next day and berated for sending the rebuttal to everyone the parent had sent to (I did not send it to the parent). Remembering how my curriculum coach said she had thought I’d be fired before she even made it to school that morning. Remembering how stupid—how naïve—I was to send my rebuttal to the entire English department, thinking they needed to know that literature—our livelihood!—was under attack, thinking that we were a team and that we were supposed to support each other. Remembering the anger, the shock, that surged through me when two teachers in my department replied to that email to belittle me with how I had misrepresented “the classics” (which I had not done). Remembering what it felt like when I was asked to resign as the Literacy Committee chair—after only a month in the position—because “it just didn’t look good for the committee right now.”

After that email, my curriculum coach told me—in the principal’s office, with him present—that she had to beg the superintendent not to shut down the Moo Moo Book Club, and that she quoted him when she said, “one more problem with books and the club is gone.” I remember asking if he could do that. And I remember her laughing. Then on October 10, 2008, I received the edict—on signed letterhead: “After investigating the situation and discussing it with Ms. X, I have decided that all books in question in your classroom library and on the Moo Moo Club reading list will be pulled and reviewed…” Every book. Class and club. And yet not a single official challenge had been filed, as board policy required for a book to be suspended.

I remember asking students to turn their books back in, and their indignant, confused faces: An English teacher is taking a book from me? their eyebrows asked. I tried to go on with my group work matrix, using only classics, but students couldn’t read them without help. And that put them back into the precarious situation most of them were in before: being forced to read what they couldn’t and learning to hate reading because of it. So I stopped literature circles. I stopped the group matrix completely. And I taught the old-fashioned way I’d been taught. We all hated it.

Meanwhile, I began to get phone calls from fellow teachers saying they had heard from “extremely reliable sources” that I would be pink-slipped at the end of the year. I started to collect evidence then to protect myself. I kept a daily log. I printed emails. I watched my back. And I made a vow to follow every silly order I was given. Every. Last. One.

The principal took me off the Literacy Committee and had me write an extensive policy for the new Book Approval Committee. He approved the policy. Teachers and parents volunteered to serve. From November 2008 to May 2009, the committee read a book a week and held meetings to decide grade levels for each work. After six weeks or so, I had enough literature to start circles again. I’ve never seen kids so happy. By the fiscal end of the ’08-’09 school year, my classroom infrastructure was booming. And I was happy…even though it got back to me that two kids in my classes had been pulled in and privately interrogated about my class (the principal admitted to me that it was the curriculum coach’s idea to do this). Even this didn’t dampen my spirits, because the committee was winning!

But then, in May of 2009, Fields of Faith happened (sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, held on school property). The Monday after the event, two students came to my room crying, saying that the parent leader of their breakout session had preached against my books, specifically, Thick by Colin Neenan. Those two students said they felt ashamed that they hadn’t defended me and said they were sorry. I hugged them back, and told them it was okay. “The books are approved,” I told them as they soaked my shirt with tears. I reminded them of the implications from our Holocaust literature: resistance isn’t always armed. We keep going. We prove them wrong with test scores.

I have the video of that event, but as it was filmed outside, the wind blew my proof away. I do have an email from the parent who had allegedly preached against Thick (because of its implied language). This parent had asked the principal when the committee would discuss Thick. Instead of the principal telling this parent that the committee had already met and approved it, instead of offering for this parent to see the committee minutes tucked safely in a binder in his office, he must have told the parent to contact me. Meanwhile, the principal told me that the committee was to pull Thick and review it again. I told the committee, but they refused, and the principal backed down. But I should have seen the rest coming at that point. I really should have.

As instructed by my leaders, on my 2009-2010 syllabi I listed the books approved for optional reading at each grade level. It was my deciding year. I told myself if I could just hold on for one more year, I could get tenured and then really go after the problem, which was the arbitrary, ambiguous language of our policies. And because it was my deciding year, I went against my own morality and locked up the most controversial texts from ’08-’09: Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles and Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds.I promised them I would get them out again in August of 2010.

But on August 17, 2009, I got an email from a different parent (an FCA parent) who was concerned about my books within a week of school starting. A parent conference was scheduled. I went to that meeting with two bags loaded with classic and YA literature available as optional reading. With state and national standards supporting my work. With highlighted, detailed Excel documents showing student gains in reading from the previous school year. With at least five ALAN reviews on the books in question. With at least ten other articles that discussed choice in reading, literature circles, and young adult literature in the classroom. But as soon as the parents requested it, my principal disbanded the committee he had structured. He dissolved their rulings and promised these parents he’d start a new one—one that matched the board policy perfectly—to review the books again. I remained courteous and professional throughout the rest of the meeting…until I got to my car. I punched the steering wheel. I threw my purse into the floor, not even caring that everything spilled out. Then I cried. And I cried the whole way home.

Shortly after, on August 20, 2009, the principal emailed the entire high school faculty, as well as the district administrators, naming the new committee: the parent who made the newest string of complaints was on it. Four days later, I received an email saying two parents had “challenged these books to be read”: The Rapture of Canaan, Lessons from a Dead Girl, Twisted, Deadline by Chris Crutcher, What My Mother Doesn’t Know and What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones. (Unwind by Neal Schusterman was added one week later). That very day, a reliable teacher friend came to my door. This person claimed to be in the office when two principals allegedly discussed the superintendent’s fresh command to remove me from the classroom. According to this source, he told my principal to honor my contract until the end of the year but to put me in as the In-School Suspension teacher. My principal allegedly refused because of my test scores. The teacher who told me this had to watch my class while I went to the bathroom to cry. (I realize as I write this how much I actually cried throughout this situation.)

As you can tell, these parents had gone down my syllabus and challenged every book they felt like challenging, whether those books had even been offered as options yet or not. The books were suspended from me (again) that day, August 20, before a single official challenge was filed. And so the main parents didn’t do all the challenging, they recruited other parents, whose children had never been in my classes, some of whose children were in elementary school, to either talk to the superintendent or file challenges against my books. Shortly after the establishment of the new committee, Lessons from a Dead Girl was filed against. It was approved. Then, on August 28, 2009, Unwind was filed against. It was approved. On September 15, 2009, Twisted was filed against. It was approved. Finally, on October 15, 2009, Deadline was filed against. It was approved. But I never got to use those books again. I was told that I couldn’t use them because the parents had indicated their plans to file appeals to the superintendent (who, during this, allegedly spoke to church youth groups in the county about how he was getting these books out of schools for them; several of my students claimed to be in attendance for these special visits). As far as I know (I have copies of the other challenges) official challenges were never filed for the remaining three books. I was instructed not to use them, though, so we “wouldn’t get caught with our pants down.”

That’s when the letters to the editor started. The entire community suddenly had opinions of me and my books. As a result, the faculty got heated. Students came to me several times saying what this teacher and that had said about me and the “godless” books I forced students to read to “advance the ALA’s gay propaganda.” Yes, a student said that to me. Several district administrators, teachers, and lunch ladies stopped speaking to me after the letters in the paper. And one Sunday, while working in my room after church, I heard mumbling in the hallway. Parents were praying in the hallway outside my door. Defeated, I retreated to my room where I proceeded to work with Jimmy Buffett blaring in the background.

On September 24, 2009, I was pulled out of my classroom and taken to the library, where I had two hours to create a detailed list of all books available to students both in my classroom as well as in the English department library. But that wasn’t all; in that two-hour slot, I was also instructed to defend my literature circle strategy (which I had already done in my nine-page rebuttal). This one had to be more detailed, linking every literature circle role (as defined by Harvey Daniels and then adapted for AP classes)to state and national standards. It was at that point that Jo Knowles had had enough. I had made contact with her and David Gill in 2008, and though they were both ready to rally support then, I begged them to stay quiet so I wouldn’t lose my job. I gave Jo my permission to contact David Gill again. He responded instantly, while I typed madly on my report, inviting me to speak with him at the ALAN Workshop of 2009. Jo also contacted Laurie Anderson, who then contacted me to request my presence at her table for the ALAN breakfast, for which she was the keynote. Then, on September 29, 2009, just before Banned Books Week, my principal emailed to tell the faculty that we were not to promote, discuss, or celebrate Banned Books Week in any manner, including by wearing the To Kill a Mockingbird shirts many teachers had purchased from the librarian. When the email wound up in the community newspaper, the principal retracted his edict regarding “Book Banning Week.” He said that events could go on as planned but we needed to make sure to “respect all of our students values” because our focus at “M.C.H.S is student achievement.”

When I returned from a three-day trip to Washington D.C. with the Moo Moo Book Club kids (to the Holocaust Memorial Museum), my classroom was a mess. That weekend, I had no babysitter, so I had to take my toddler to school with me to plan for the upcoming week. My then two-year-old destroyed my room even further, decorating the floor with crayons, colored pencils, and dry-erase markers. The stress on me already insurmountable, I just couldn’t take it. I gathered him up and left my room insanely messy. That was Saturday evening. I came to school early the following work day. I cleaned my room and finished planning. But during my planning period, my principal came to me with three pages of printed pictures of my room with crayons, colored pencils, and markers everywhere. When I asked why someone was in my room taking pictures over the weekend, pointing out when those photos had to have been taken, he admitted that he’d been sent by someone higher up to warn me. He confided in me then that there was a faction after me and they were gonna “get my ass one way or another” and that I had to “walk on eggshells.” I was not written up, but I think the intention was to bully me.

After that, Jo Knowles, David Macinnis Gill, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Chris Crutcher fought extra hard. They brought my story to light in national communities. Laurie had me stand up at the ALAN breakfast as she referenced my story. And afterward, she introduced me to several people who have continued to support me (including Jim Blasingame who flew to Kentucky to present with me in Febrary 2010). Laurie even had me tag along for the Penguin Young Readers Group dinner that night, which was amazing. Following ALAN 2009, these authors asked their online supporters to write my superintendent, pleading for the return of my twice-approved books. The authors themselves, and even one Candlewick editor, wrote to my superintendent. Chris Crutcher wrote to the editor of the local paper and came to Mt. Sterling, Kentucky to hold a community discussion (that only one of the nine English teachers and one of the other faculty attended). Also during this time, Ellen Hopkins and Neal Shusterman commented on blogs and the online newspaper sites, the National Coalition Against Censorship drafted a letter to the superintendent, and several parents and students sent letters and emails.

And as people learned of my story, they began to blog. Some of these blogs, however, did not help me. A post, which I perceived to be patronizing, on the Safe Libraries blog (which now follows my blog) heralded my superintendent as a hero while seemingly characterizing me as one with good intentions who just needed to work within the curriculum, which I had been.

Several authors engaged the superintendent in argument in the comments section of this blog, and as I read them from home back then, I felt like two women fought inside me. Comment. Don’t comment. Comment. Don’t Comment. I chose not to comment. And I was so thankful for the supporters who commented when I couldn’t. But the night I found the fallacious entry about me on a blog called, “Vital Remnants,” I was not so strong. After bawling because of the uninformed, propagandized, and hurtful statements about me personally, I stayed up until around two a.m. drafting an anonymous comment. As I could never find it after that night, I have always assumed my comment to have been deleted by the blog host.

I spent the next months in a blur. I did the best I could in the classroom, but the atmosphere of literature circles had changed. The students were angry, and I was, too. Our innocent and organic reading circles had turned into jaded therapy sessions. When I realized that, I put an end to my group matrix, collected what titles were still circulating, and resigned from my job.

Though I worked until the end of the school year, my husband took a job in North Dakota with plans for the kids and me to follow. I flew out there, toured the wonderful school district, and met the principal. The principal was so excited to show me around and introduced me to everyone as “Risha Mullins-the-National-Board-Certified-English-Teacher!” I began paperwork for a North Dakota license. An English position miraculously opened there. I put my house up for sale. I figured out where my sons would go to school. I began to research North Dakota state standards. I scheduled for a phone interview. But when that day came, I was asked a question about the censorship mess; I realized that I had most likely been googled, and I knew before I hung up the phone that I hadn’t gotten the job.

I remained unemployed until July of this year. I finally got a job back in my hometown—two hours from my house that never sold, and 24 hours from my husband who is still on contract and can’t come back to Kentucky. My sons and I have moved into my mother’s basement for the time being.

So here I sit, my Dr. Pepper long gone, remembering, with a sick mixture of anger, resentment, relief, and sympathy for the both pitiful people who ran me away, and the students who lost so much.

Last month, Montgomery County’s test scores came out. Reading went down six points. As I sit here right now, still remembering, I think of how my students’ predictive assessment scores had been amazing all year before the test. According to the data, my classes had surpassed the Honors-track sophomores’ reading scores. I’m remembering the discussions I had with my classes about peaceful resistance, about trying on the tests because it was our only way of showing the district that reading YA worked. And I’m remembering how just last week I cried again, selfishly, when I allowed myself to consider all the horrible things people were probably saying about me and my “pornographic” literature and what it did to their precious test scores and how YA is nothing but fluff and has no place in a college-bound curriculum. I allowed myself to wonder if they were thinking of the variables that went into those reading scores? If they were considering the gaping irony of accountability in reading when so much had been done to prevent it? If they were considering the impact my resignation may have had on the sophomores taking the test, that my decision to leave may have personified that they had lost? And if they were thinking of me with compassion, with any consideration for what all I may have lost?

As I’m remembering the hell I’ve been through in this profession, I take responsibility for letting my students down. I showed them what it looks like to run from trouble instead of face it, especially after all our talk on resistance. The one woman inside me is ashamed of my decision to leave, even though I may have been fired if I hadn’t made that decision. But the other woman says that, selfish or not, I did the right thing for me, for my family, and, ultimately, for all my students to come. And I think in ten years, when I remember the witch hunt that nearly ruined me, I’ll be glad I listened to the latter and made the decisions I did.


  1. I don’t even have words to express how bleak your experience makes me feel. I had some similar, although not nearly as horrific, experiences and reading this brings it all back. I am so sorry for the missed opportunities for you & your students at the hands of others. So very, very sad.

  2. Lessons from a Dead Girl and some of those other titles are among my favorites, and I can’t imagine what kind of person I’d be had I not read them. Go YOU for teaching those books–the ones kids actually enjoy and take things from.

  3. Thank you for having the courage to share your story. I do not think you showed your students what it looks like to run from trouble, because you did everything you could to keep that curriculum. Your students couldn’t have been blind to the controversy surrounding you, and I’m sure they will forever be grateful to have a teacher who was willing to step outside of the expected curriculum in order to teach in a way that is effective and engaging. You truly are a role model for aspiring (and current!) teachers.

  4. Oh. My. Lord. I honestly don’t have the words to express how sick this makes me feel. I can say that those kids whose lives you touched are richer for the experience. They will not forget you and what you did and what you stood for. Shame on those parents, shame on those administrators & teachers who did not back you up. Shame on anyone and everyone who thinks that banning books and condoning censorship is moral or right. You deserve(d) so much better. Karma will definitely bite those nitwits in the butt. Although right now that is probably small comfort. I send you armfuls of cyber hugs and salute you for being a consummate professional – a teacher I would have loved to have had. Bless you.

  5. Risha, you gave those students more than any of us can imagine. I am so sorry things turned out this way, but you did everything right. Every student you gave a book to is changed for the better. With every book they read and will read, they become more compassionate people. We know this. Someday, everyone else will too.

    Lots of love,

  6. I am so upset after reading the full details of the hell you were put through.

    And I am thankful for your honesty because so much of goes on with book banning (and control, and fear, and bullying) happens in private which is why it can happen.

    Why, it’s been asked, is the SPEAK/ WESLEY SCROGGINS situation different than past book bannings? One answer is in using the “soft porn” attack, meant to injure those who promote the “soft porn,” he went after a target that used that that label against him: “you think rape is porn?”. The second answer is he went public with his letter to the editor. I had wondered why the paper gave him a soapbox. Now I suspect the reason was to show everyone what was going on in the school, rather than keeping it in the shadows.

    Thank you, again, for your courage and honesty.

  7. Thank you for doing what you did, for taking a stand, for making a difference in the lives of students, for being an amazing teacher, & for sharing your story. I’m in awe of your dedication and your courage. I hope that things work out for your and your family.

  8. Katie Davis says:

    Please, please, please send this article in to the NY Times, the LA Times, and all the papers and online journals inbetween. This story is sick. I sat at my computer reading this with my mouth hanging open in shock. I’m glad you kept documentation, but in the face of unreasonableness does it even matter?

    I WISH my kids had an English teacher like you. You sound fabulous.

  9. Thank you Risha for your courage. You are the kind of teacher every student needs and deserves. You made a difference in your students’ lives and they will remember and appreciate you the rest of their lives. Be proud of what you’ve done and let the shame be on the administrators, parents and others in the community that allowed the narrow-minded, fear based rhetoric to temporarily win out. You have spoken loudly and it will change the world.

  10. This post touched me so much. Books and reading were what helped me as a child get through some very hard situations, and the books which mirrored the turbulent emotions I was experiencing myself and the difficult choices we sometimes face are the most precious to me.
    You are the kind of teacher we hope to have as children and teens. I was fortunate to have wonderful English teachers in grades 5 and 9 and 11. They helped open my eyes and give me a voice.
    Thank you.
    I can only imagine how hard it was to be forced out of a job which have you so much joy, inspiration and satisfaction.

  11. This is devastating on so many levels, that I don’t know where to start. I thought education was supposed to be about the freedom of ideas, teaching students how to think for themselves, and to foster a love a learning.

    Instead, in this example, they’ve learned how crushingly injurious a bureaucracy can be. An object lesson in and of itself.

  12. Sorry, did not proof very well.
    That last line should have read: gave you so much…

  13. Thanks for sharing your story, Risha. Folks should know that you are even braver and stronger than your entry shows and that you were kind in describing the actions of the upper administration, whose behavior was outrageous, in my opinion.

    There will be teachers who read this, and their blood will run cold. No one wants to face a censorship challenge because it quickly becomes about the teacher, not about the books. Censorship is about power, not about content. No one profits from bannings.

    If you are a teacher who is facing a challenge, I would ask you three questions: 1. Are you tenured? 2. Are you represented by a union or association? 3. Is that union/association worth a damn? If the answers are no, then you may want to let someone else take up the fight for you. There are people who will.

  14. As an educator I am especially so sorry to read that you mostly stood alone, without the support of your colleagues. I hope all of us who read this will remember that if we are not the one facing the challenge directly, we must support those who are so they are not alone. Thank you for standing up for your students and for reading.

  15. Wow. I almost cried multiple times reading your post. It hurts me knowing that people still ban books because of ignorant reasons, or at least they attempt to. I remember being in HS and trying to read the so called classics and stopping after a few pages because I didn’t understand them. There comes a point when books become too old and we must move on to new classics that we can read and understand. I applaud you for your courage. That school truly made a mistake in letting you go.

  16. Call the National Council of Teachers of English whenever something like this happens! They have legal assistance!

  17. Please, please don’t let the misguidance of a few parents and administrators ruin your love for teaching and reading. We need strong and passionate teachers who fight for their beliefs in education. I am so sorry for all that you’ve been through and I hope your story can help others find the courage to fight for the sake of the kids – no matter the outcome. Stand tall. We are proud of you!!!

  18. The parents and the school administrators let those kids down, not you. I hope you continue to inspire and encourage your students, and that they know how lucky they are to have you as a teacher. Thank you for sharing your story.

  19. Wow. Thank you for sharing your story. I had a small censorship issue come up for me in my classroom this year. Nothing at all close to what you had to deal with, but when my issue came up, I was shocked. I live in Southern California, which is pretty liberal. Then, when I read your story, my mouth was hanging open while I read. I cannot believe that in this country, something like this would happen. Insane.

    I put the book that was in question in my classroom back in my library. I also have many of the books you listed in my classroom library.

    You did make a huge difference in your students’ lives. You gave them books they wanted to read. They will carry that love of reading with them forever.

  20. Risha, you should not for one second think you let your kids down. Your students know how hard you worked, and they know you care. I can say with confidence that most of them are still reading- BECAUSE OF YOU! Students don’t forget, and once they find great YA, they aren’t going to stop reading.

    I haven’t faced any censorship battles as a teacher, but honestly, I don’t know how long that will last. I’m the only one in my department that reads young adult lit. A fellow English teacher (and one with less experience) had the nerve to tell me- IN MY CLASSROOM AS I SAT SURROUNDED BY MY HUNDREDS OF YA BOOKS- that he doesn’t read them because there really isn’t any literary merit to them. There are too many worthwhile books in the canon to read. Because he is someone that doesn’t listen (and doesn’t know what he doesn’t know) I just sat there and changed the subject so he would leave.

    I wish you were in Michigan teaching in my district with me. I work with teachers that only want to drill and kill grammar. They don’t want to use any form of creative assessment; they want to test and write essays. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to write curriculum for a Young Adult Lit class and it passed. I taught my first two classes last year; I found out just how hungry the students are for quality, new literature. But because of the powers above (admin and dept. head) I had to fight to be the only teacher instructing the class. Last year my dept head wouldn’t work with me to get the third section switched to me, despite students pleading with the principal to make the change. Thankfully, this year I have both sections, but I don’t know about next year. The principal seems to like the class, but my dept head (who has more power than she should) has said, along with other teachers, that my class is pointless and since I don’t test, how do I know they’re reading the books?

    So I don’t know the deep pain you feel, but I understand how frustrating and exhausting it is to go to work fighting for YA. I’m still seething about your principal. Administrators should go to bat for their teachers. I don’t know why so many try to please the parents first. If you teach again, a great resource for books for your classroom (or any materials) is donorschoose.org In one month I raised the money needed (through their site) to purchase 42 YA novels for my classroom.

    If you ever need support, I’d be proud to help you. I wrote a letter to your administration when your books were banned. I heard about it through Laurie’s website. You are an amazing teacher, never forget that!

  21. I am a writer and I have no words. Madness. But know that you did make a difference. The kids whose lives you touched will be readers for the rest of their lives. You have done them an invaluable service.

  22. I’m so sorry this happened to you. Not every community has members who are as misguided as the ones in your former community.

    What can we do to help you?

  23. I wish I could edit my comment- You did get a job, in July. Sorry I messed that part up. So you should use donorschoose.org A friend of mine works in KY right now, and he’s funded at least six DonorsChoose projects so far. He’s earned a laptop, a document camera, countless YA novels, classroom sets of Crank/Class, and more! Good luck, again, and let me know if I can help you in any way.

  24. Even though I would say that I already “knew” your story, reading it in your poetic words made me really understand more of your story. (It also confirms just how lucky I am to comfortably teach the texts and in the styles I see best for my students, their achievement, and their responsibility in this world.)

    I agree with your final statements regarding your decision to leave. You didn’t run, and you didn’t teach your students that running is acceptable. You carefully weighed your life and your possible choices, and then you took the power back – you made that choice. It can be compared to those gaunt figures in the camps who held onto any power they could have over their perpetrators – they held on to the power of faith, of prayer, of silent resistance. You held on to the power of these you – you did not allow narrow-mindedness and ignorance to overcome your spirit.

    I am blessed to be your friend and you can’t even begin to know how much you have taught me!

    Love you always,

  25. Your story is wonderful, infuriating, and poignant. You have touched my little heart.

    We can’t win every battle, nor every skirmish. You need to take care of yourself, too. I am certain we will be hearing about you again, and that you will continue to touch the lives of your students.

  26. As a parent your story broke my heart. It’s wrong for groups (or individuals) to try to censor books for everyone else. Getting reluctant readers to read anything is a challenge in itself. You showed kids that reading can be something to look forward to and help them to solve problems they may be facing in their own lives. Books like Speak show kids they are not alone in their struggles. In discussing this book with a student during Banned Books Week she said, “it happened to me.” I could barely contain the tears threatening to escape. I told her that is why supporting Banned Books Week is so important.

  27. As a former engish teacher who used YA extensively to reach teens in my class and in my school chills went up my spine as I read your post.

    I think you did everything right. I know what it’s like to receive just a little pressure from a parent challenging a book and having to defend it. That itself takes a huge amount of energy to deal with in a way that supports your choice. You couldn’t have done anything more and although you were being hit from all directions, you had the amazing support of National educators at ALAN and authors who have been educators, and have a huge track record of their books reaching teens.

    My hope is that someday your story is taught in classrooms, either in high school or in college education courses.

    Thanks for reaching all the kids you have reached. You know what it’s like to see a kid fall in love with reading and you know how that happens, and you were providing the right tools in the right environment and in the right way.

  28. I went to school in Kentucky for one year. My freshman year of high school.

    I failed English that year. Not because my English scores weren’t up to speed (I’ve read at a college level since I was 11.) but because my teacher didn’t like me.

    It’s rude to correct your teacher’s grammar and spelling in front of the whole class. Even more rude to snap and pick up the chalk yourself.

    So he stated that I talked during the final, which was considered cheating, which was an instant F.

    I can honestly say I neither noticed nor cared what books we were or were not allowed to read. I read what I wanted to. Always. I’ve been writing since that time.

    Kentucky in general, though…needs an overhaul to the entire school system. Owen County High School. Where the principal got fired for having sex with someone on her desk.

    I’m so glad my parents got me out of there. I’m just across the river, so if you ever need a random person to talk with, I’m around. 🙂

  29. There are not words to express my sadness over what you have gone through. While I do not know you personally, your professionalism and love of teaching shines through your words. I am saddened what people do to others at times and your post is an excellent example of that. Censorship disgusts me. Stand strong and continue to inspire.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I know this may be of little comfort to you right now but your actions are heroic. As a parent of a 12 year old boy, I applaud you and thank you for speaking truth to power. You are a true educator and a true American.

  31. Risha, I am in awe of your strength, both in the face of these challenges and the infantile behavior of your colleagues and administrators. Your students were lucky to have you, and I am sure they were forever changed by the experience.

    My heart breaks for what you endured, but it swells with pride in your fortitude and your passion. Thank you for sharing all of this.


  32. As a new High School Librarian, stories of horrific censorship like this scare me. However, I thank you so much for sharing your story so that other fans of YA literature may learn.

  33. Anonymous says:

    A lot of people have commented as teachers, former teachers, parents, etc. I don’t have that, in the scheme of things I am no one. I am just a college student, a part of the masses, but your story is moving. It is a shame that more of your colleagues didn’t find some courage and stand beside you. The things that you experienced had the potential to ignite substantial change in the way schools approach literature.

    My first thought is to apologize to you for the cruelty of humanity, for the ignorance and fears that caused you to endure so much…but that doesn’t seem right. It seems like a good thing that you withstood as much as you did. I know it had to have been awful, but your bravery has hopefully been another step in the direction of acceptance of unique and new voices in classrooms. The people who follow the rules, who don’t stand up to adversity often fall into the background. You were provided an opportunity to stand in the forefront, to stand up for “voice.”

    In using your voice here, speaking freely, you have the potential to start a movement. There are so many other teachers, authors, etc who have experienced things similar to you and who need to realize that the best way for progressive change is to stand together. Don’t back down! It is human nature to fight against change, to run from things we don’t understand, especially in regards to education and children. They are our future, but we are our today…we have the power to invoke great change on a huge level.

    I am glad to have read your story, because it has sparked something within me and hopefully many others. You should be proud of yourself, as I know I am and many others are as well.

  34. Nicole Boone says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a champion of YA reading! I literally teared up while reading about what you went through. I am in awe of your strength and perseverance. You are a hero and I plan to share your story with anyone who will listen. I hope to meet you in person one day so that I can shake your hand. The affect that your struggle will not only have on those children, but on thousands of others who will hear about or read about your struggle, will continue inspire and motivate others to be as brave as yourself.

  35. I am so sorry you had to go through all this and am so grateful for your courage then, and now, in writing this blog.

    Censorship is a betrayal of American freedom, and a misguided attempt to trap emerging adults in a world that doesn’t exist.

    But the students you taught will remember, too. They will remember that reading can widen their world, strengthen their resolve, deepen their thinking and awaken their empathy. Good teachers are heroes, and you are a very good teacher.

  36. Thank you Risha. You have put a very human face on the results of censorship–and also given us an example of what it really means to be a teacher. I have to believe that some of your students will somehow find the books they need to read (not the ones that they can’t) and that all of them will remember you, a courageous teacher who wanted them to be readers.

  37. I just want to say thank you. That is all. Thank you for sharing this, for being courageous and for fighting for our children.

  38. What Blythe said. Despite all the nonsense these people have put you through, your students have already profited greatly from the good teaching you did, and from your obvious enthusiasm in teaching, and the joy of reading you have inspired in them. It is such a shame that you had to go through all of this when there are plenty of mediocre, uninspired teachers who play it safe and keep their jobs, but your good efforts have not been wasted.

  39. It sounds to me like you didn’t run away. You did the best you could in your situation and you created and gave so much. In the end, your school and the parents weren’t on your side but it’s apparent that you gave your students so much and even if there are people who slander your name, you know that there are many of your students – the ones who matter and who understood – who will remember you fondly. I look at you as brave and a hero, so I don’t think you should feel ashamed in the slightest. =)

  40. I have been both a student and a teacher in a state close to yours with the same predisposition to censorship as yours. Know this–your students’ lives were affected for the better by knowing and learning from you. You gave them a very special gift, and they will remember and use it when they are old enough to do as they wish. I was once the student who hid books as well as myself due to fear. Had I had an English teacher like you, I would have been given the gift of hope and the knowledge that I was not alone. Thank you for being that special teacher for your students.

  41. This is an incredible story, thank you for sharing it with everyone. It makes me so incredibly sad that this is the direction that education is going these days. We kowtow to parents and higher ups who don’t really know or care about the positive things we’re doing in the classroom. Your passion for literature is inspiring and I wholeheartedly hope that it never goes away! I need more inspirational educators like you to remind me why, after 7 years, I still do this.

  42. Risha. HUGE HUGS. My goosebumps have not gone away since starting to read this. Literally. One of the reasons I homeschool my son is so he has the freedom so often not extended to teachers and students in schools. My husband and I don’t shield him- we talk with him. And we listen. And he knows we are there for him. You have a beautiful heart. I don’t see you as running away, either. In my mind, people who “run away” are those who never face the situation head-on at all. You stayed- somehow, amazingly- anchored through the hurricane for a very long time. You were a shield for those kids, a protector in a way that others could not be or would not be. No matter that they believed they were standing for the right ideals; they stood for themselves, for their beliefs, and you stood for the kids. They can’t wipe away their kids’ memories- YOU live there, and the books live there, and always will. The kids will find a way. And you will find your way. THANK YOU.

  43. What I did not hear in your words, is where are you now? Do you have the freedom as well as stamina to keep working with YA currently? Do you have colleagues and adminstrators on “your side” of this controversy in your new job? In the face of the news of this poor freshman student from Rutgers and the cyber bullying he endured and for all the students who reach college having never been challenged to seriously think AND discuss hard topics, I encourage you to keep teaching what you know to be right about the power of YA. Your literary circles are not just a way to engage and grow literacy, but on the more real life/ practical level, they allow such literature to work in the lives of students, to grow them in areas of tolerance and acceptance, to give a solace and voice for students wrestling with difficult issues in their young lives. This is sorely needed. Fight the good fight, Risha. You were wise to leave and not let it overtake you there in your previous position, but don’t give up on what you believe and know to be right. Thank you for sharing this painful journey and reminding all of us who read this, to be both thankful for the freedoms we do enjoy and watchful.

  44. Thank You.

  45. Wow, this made feel so sad, and so moved. Risha, God bless you for fighting so hard for your students. It is amazing that you put so much effort, time, and money into helping students love to read, and find books that really speak to them. I’ve had several amazing teachers throughout my school years and I have never, ever forgotten them – their voices and encouragement are still in my head all these years. I had a turbulent time as a teenager, and even in the years before; and these teachers were a comfort to me, because they really CARED. Like you, they made such efforts to reach me, to encourage me, to let me use books and painting and writing to feel okay. Please know that the students you taught will forever be affected by your inspirational teaching.

    I wish I had gotten to be in that book club. Or that when I have children, they will have a teacher as passionate and dedicated as you were. Hope you get to change lives through the classroom once again. You’ve made an admirer in this 21 year old reader!

    (As a side-note: there is a wonderful, wonderful book by Esme’ Raji Codell about her first year of teaching, and her fight against the narrow mindedness of the people around her and the system. “Educating Esme” is both a testament to how much a single person can do to change a life and how incredibly hard it is for those same teachers who are making that fight.. a constant, day-to-day battle. I think you’ll enjoy reading it.)

    What kind of world are we living in, in one of the more prosperous and developed countries in the world, where you have to fight tooth-and-nail just to let a child learn, read and be a better person for it?

  46. Your post just broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I hope you realize that you are one of those precious few who have the courage to stand up for what you believe in. What happened to you was ugly and demeaning and so unfair. You have my prayers and best wishes.

  47. Your story is incredible. I’m not american, never been to america so my perspective is pretty ignorant but I just can’t get my head around that this is the same place that talks about freedom of speech but then has this type of censorship!?!?
    I just don’t understand. But I’m really sorry – I’m sure those kids will never forget what you’ve done for them!

  48. I am disheartened by the outcome of your story but you have nothing to be ashamed of. I am a YA librarian in NYC and I am allowed so much freedom in the books I give kids that I don’t think that other librarians don’t have the same freedom. It is ridiculousness in it’s highest form that the mild books you mentioned were the ones targeted. If they want to see real “soft porn” a quick trip to the local bookstore will show it to them. It’s bizarre that they chose award winning literature to target instead. You chose only books that widen a teen’s perspective on the world. Even without the books, your fight taught your students the danger of small minds, prejudice and not looking at the bigger world they live in. This week I convened a “dangerous books” reading group. We looked at many of the books that had been challenged or banned in past few years and then had each kid pick one or two books to read and see what they thought of the books. Perhaps for all craziness in one place it can even out in another. I wish you all the best and a job in a school that will defend you instead of persecute you.

  49. Risha, you taught those kids that some things are bigger than jobs and money. You taught them to stand up strong for what they believe in. You taught them that authority isn’t always RIGHT. You did all this on top of teaching them to love powerful stories. You did good. A lot of people are proud of you.

    Kelly Milner Halls

  50. As a fellow educator who was accused of pushing “soft porn” onto her students, I applaud you and wish you the absolute best. I also hope you find a worthy school, department and students to engage. Chris Crutcher and Jodi Picoult added me in my fight. Thankfully, I had the school and board behind me but there is nothing that can take away the memory of my pastor telling the school board that the school had lost its moral compass and staring at me while he said it. As time has healed some wounds, I have also carried some pain and I offer to take on some of yours. I’ll gladly buy you a bottle of wine anytime!!

  51. Reading Countess says:

    As I read paragraph after paragraph, I felt my heart beat faster and faster. To say that I am shocked and disillusioned would be a lie. This kind of bullying, censorship and closed mindedness happens every day in Anyplace, America. Some can be flagrant, as in your case, while others are done quietly and in code. I am proud to work in your profession and view you, too, as a hero. Standing up and speaking truthfully can often herald miserable results in our schools, and it is time that we stand united against ignorance. Knowledge is power. Unfortunately, 90 percent of people are controlled by 10 percent of the people. Too often, these supposed leaders are mindless drones. Thank God you spoke up for what is right, but what a terrible, terrible price has been paid for everyone concerned.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Good for them for questioning you and policing the books in your library. YOU DO NOT GET TO CHOOSE what parents find acceptable for their children. If a parent didn’t want her child to read a certain book, you should have dropped the matter immediately. It is NOT YOUR PLACE to fight parents about books. You choose what your child reads, not mine.

    I’m a high school English teacher. I know what I’m talking about. Your self-importance and smug attitude about this is shocking.

  53. I’m stunned by all you went through. I knew some of this via Jo Knowles, but not all these gruesome details. Please know you are a hero to some many, to your students, to writers, to people unafraid of literature. You fought the good fight and did what you could. You are my hero, and I wish you and your family the very best.

  54. Just noticed the Anonymous comment above mine. Isn’t it interesting how people are so “courageous” with their convictions as long as they can do so anonymously?

  55. I cried all the way through your post. You’re awesome. And I’m very angry right now.

  56. You know what’s weird. We’re supposed to be Americans – the land where we’re supposed to be free to speak our minds, even write about it. No questions asked. I thought the days of book burning were behind us, but apparently not. It’s all history repeating. Maybe the Salem “witches” were really writers. I am so sorry you became a victim to such STUPIDITY. “Those” who point their fingers usually have the sickest skeletons hiding on their closets. So I say we all raise our middle ones and point them back. In fact, it’s what we’re doing now. A big hug to you and thank you for YOUR courage. Risha, you didn’t run. It just took some time to gather your thoughts. I’m sure everybody in your life, including your students, are very proud of you.

  57. Oh, God, I’m crying right now. Thank you so much for sharing this, and I’m so, so sorry the deck was so stacked against you.

  58. Hey Anonymous,

    I disagree, it IS up to her as the teacher to develop her lesson plan and teach it. It IS up to her to challenge our students with literature. I would love to know what school system you work for. I hope it’s not mine. I want my children to learn through lit.

  59. I’m sixteen. I would have killed to be in a literature class like yours. I have read all the books you mentioned and they were AWESOME and WONDERFUL. I read every banned book I can find. I’ve never been drunk, high, or committed a crime. I have better grammar, structure and spelling than most people my age. And it’s because I’ve had teachers like you. Thank you so much. You’re incredibly wonderful and awesome, and that school makes me very, very angry. The anonymous comment above me is aggravating as well. I can just say that I would really, really rather to be in your English class.

  60. I’m sorry (okay I’m not REALLY sorry), but Anonymous:

    If you don’t have the guts to use your name in a comment, then we don’t have to pay any attention to you.

    I always thought it should be spelled AnonymousE since those who hide behind an anon title clearly don’t have the courage of their convictions.

  61. Dear Anonymous:

    I’m sorry you’re angry. But your anger isn’t justifiable. One would have to understand the infrastructure of my classroom to truly understand the choice students have in reading. They have one literature circle every two or three weeks. And they have roughly 12 choices per literature circle cycle. Those choices are thematically arranged, so that if students or parents are offended by a title, or if students are simply uninterested in a book he/she has chosen to read, that student can choose a different book and still contribute significantly to the conversation, as all text choices satisfy the current theme.

    And, you’re also wrong about what I should have done when the parents challenged the books their children chose to read. There were so many other options from which to choose, and students–for many reasons–chose to read different books than their group members.

    I will continue to teach other teachers through the National Writing Project, the Holocaust Educator’s Network, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Kentucky Council for Teachers of English, and the Pennsylvania Council for Teachers of English. I will continue to teach this way because, as I cannot decide definitively what each student should read (as you accused me of doing), teachers need to understand the importance of providing options.

    I am not smug. I have simply learned. I am stronger than I was. And I am a good teacher.

    Thank you,
    Risha Mullins

  62. Anonymous-
    You’re correct when you say a parent does have the right to make choices for his/her child. However, this wasn’t about one parent deciding what his/her should child read. This was about that parent preventing everyone from having the opportunity to read it. There is a big difference.

  63. The anonymous “teacher” who doesn’t want students to think for themselves by reading and discussing engaging YA literature is symptomatic of why public education is failing our children and therefore our society. There is nothing smug in your account about your own actions or your students.

    Instead, the smugness is in the upholding of the “know nothing” attitude that is powering the “education reform” movement these days.

    What are the enemies of YA literature and reading in general frightened of? That they are frightened is obvious. They are harming our children.

  64. Anonymous-

    Yes, it is true that no one has a right to decide what your child does or does not read. But neither do the superintendents of these schools have the right to decide what everyone in a certain class cannot read. I’m eighteen, and honestly, I would rather be given the chance to read something I may never have been exposed to otherwise. If anything, being able to discuss with my parents the books that I read in class would be awesome. But, like commenters have said above me, it’s not the school superintendents’ place, or any other parents’ place to decide what my parents think I should read.

    I support Risha Mullins.


  65. I read your story and my heart goes out to you. It’s a shame that we live in a world where people nitpick at things and then in turn that nitpicking winds up costing someone their livelihood at the time.

    I’m glad that you didn’t give up, even though you think you did. To me, you fought for as long as you could fight. If the parents actually took the time to read the books they might just realize how good they are. You know I hate that this happened to you so much because now I’m also reminded that we live in a world where people are afraid of standing up for what they believe in because they are so used to doing what they are told.

    So, apparently it’s easier for a multitude of people to stand up against one person than it is for them to actually stand up for what is right. This saddens me. But I’m more saddened by the fact that they stood up for the wrong thing and bullied you in the process. Let’s hope that these individuals learn what really matters in their lives and stop the nitpicking.

    I am really glad that you never gave up and I sincerely hope that you are able to move with your husband. You did the right thing! Never forget that!

  66. I hope that this principal, curriculum coach, superintendent, fellow faculty, and parents all feel proud of the fact that they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people like Hitler and Stalin in doing their best to make sure children grow up narrow-minded, afraid, and unable to use their own brains.

    You are a hero, Risha.

  67. This makes me want to cry along with you–out of sorrow for what they put you through, out of anger that they have the power to do what they did to you and to the students, and out of frustration and disbelief that this is happening, now, today, in 2010. It makes me sick.

  68. Oh Risha. Your story makes me cry. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that, and I hope things get better for you.

  69. As i read this i felt sad, sad that some people treated you this way. I’m a college student and was blessed with a high school that allowed books like “Impulse” by Ellen Hopkins and others, because i helped order them! Reading is a Love of mine and I am ashamed of those who destroyed your way of teaching, it is truly inspiring, i loved my english classes, but I know i would have loved yours. Be Proud of what you did and don’t stop believing in it!
    You are a light in the darkness that which is book censorship! Keep shining Bright! Thank You Risha
    And Anonymous: I wouldn’t want you as my English Teacher!
    God Bless you Risha!
    <3 Jennifer

  70. Risha, you sound like an amazing educator. Thank you for sharing your painful story. I’m sorry you had to endure that. Please know that your love for teaching literature shines through, even to those of us who have never met you.

    Anonymous, it seemed obvious to me that Risha was offering her students a number of books from which they could choose; with an “optional” list, of course parents could help their teen choose an alternate title. It sounds as though this issue strikes you on some personal level. If that’s the case, may I suggest that you find a way to comment that addresses the issue, and not Ms. Mullins directly.

  71. This breaks my heart. I’m currently finishing up a degree to be a social studies teacher, and then will go on to get my MLIS. I know I will face censorship challenges, which totally sucks. I can only hope I face them with as much diginity as you have.

    Please, please don’t give up hope. I am sure it is only a matter of time until you are employed again. Not all states are as CRAZY as that. Come to NY, we stock our libraries with YA. We teach YA. We LOVE it when kids read. Plus we aren’t right in the middle of the Bible belt.

  72. Dear Risha,

    I started crying halfway through your post, and haven’t stopped yet.

    Thank you for your courage … you fought hard for a long time. It’s okay that you got tired. You didn’t give up … you had your spirit crushed. But it’s still a bright light shining for the rest of us, who will continue to speak out.

    Lisa Madigan

  73. I have to confess I’ve never had respect for any of my teachers growing up. I loved reading, I loved education. My teachers were mediocre at best. They were enablers of harassment and little more. They promoted the jocks and the social elite while leaving those that were bored with the trivial nature of their teachings to their own devices and then punished them for it. I remember a great many times being escorted out of the classroom for reading a book instead of paying attention to a lecture that’s finer points I’d read from our text earlier that school year.

    That being said, the amount of effort you recall, the fact you involved your students, and were more than a teacher to them (as evidenced by them coming to you directly) makes me wish that I had been one of your students. Even if you spot flaws in your choice of actions, I would have been proud to have had you as a teacher, and as a friend.

  74. I only wish I’d had a teacher like you when I was in High School. I wonder how differently my life would have been had I been given the chance to be so inspired by the books that you gave your students the opportunity to read. Thank you for your dedication.

  75. Terry DeBarger says:

    My heart and thoughts go out to you, Risha. As a teacher of middle and high school English for fourteen years, I am stunned by the venality of your opponents who willing scoff at the learning of children.

    As for Anonymous, who name-calls while claiming to ‘know what I’m talking about,’ this is yet another example of the sloppy logic and unsupported claims we in the field of English Teaching must struggle against. As far as I can tell from your post, you used book clubs, which always involve choice. Kid or parent finds book A offensive, they are free to select book B, C, or D. Indeed, that is a skill students must learn to exercise. Rather than approach you with a reasonable request for an alternative assignment – something we all encounter as English teachers at some point – you faced sweeping attacks seeking to eliminate certain titles as potential selections for ALL kids. That isn’t choice, that is censorship. And the personal attacks? Simply beyond the Pale.

    And if Anonymous hasn’t encountered censorship in his/her career, I submit that he/she DOESN’T “know what I’m talking about.” When a single parent or two can undermine a teacher’s ability to practice, when administration don’t follow procedure and reverse policy, when personal attacks dictate curricular decisions, it is memorable, uncomfortable, sickening, and you NEVER forget it. It is a quiet little secret in English departments is that many of us have faced such situations – often more privately, usually not to the degree described in this post. But if you’ve been at the teaching game for a while, you know about the closed door meetings and not-so-subtle warnings. Anonymous is wrong: it IS our place to fight about books, which Risha has done eloquently, when books are part of informed, professional practice.

    I would encourage Anonymous to re-post, name attached, so we engage in open debate. Perhaps she/he has something constructive to add about valuing different ideas and respecting families. Perhaps he/she would like to offer effective strategies that are guaranteed to offend none.

  76. I can’t really find anything to say that hasn’t already been said in the comments above. But I will say that you are an inspiration, a brave woman who has done a very, very good thing. I would have loved to have been your student, and if I had had a child in your class, I would have stood beside you and fought to keep those books.

    Bravo for being a thinker.

  77. Reading your story invoked feelings of anger towards the ignorant, warm feelings of empathy for you and fondest hopes that the truth of the situation will eventually shine through and provide ample acquittal.

  78. I am appalled at what you went through as a new teacher. Having been in the profession for 13 years now, I am disgusted at the vast number of new and innovative teachers we lose every year and your story is just incredible.

    It saddens me that the profession lost such a dedicated teacher. My only hope is that you find some way to continue to work in the field of education! We need teachers like you!

  79. I don’t have the words to effectively convey how much respect and admiration I have for you, Risha. It saddens and enrages me that your school community has worked so fiendishly hard to crush the spirit and benefits of reading, and that they care so little about the gifts you worked so hard to give your students. It nearly brings me to tears to know that people of your commitment and character are out there working on behalf of our kids, and I would be proud beyond measure to have you teach my own children.

  80. I have just sat here and cried reading this. You are a hero and I feel so horrible that all this happened to you. I am so incredibly proud of teachers like you who are so devoted to stir a genuine passion and love for reading in children. I didn’t always have teachers like that and found myself in a minority when it came to loving to read. I thank you for standing up against these people and for being true to your convictions!

  81. Dear Risha,

    THANK YOU for sharing your story. I can’t imagine the pain and turmoil you went through during all of that. You fought and you fought hard. Oh how I wish there were more teachers like YOU!!!

    I have a 13 YO who is a reluctant reader. He started middle school *not* meeting standards in writing. His school has a 30-minute literacy class every other day where kids spend time reading books they want to read. I have made it my mission these past few years to put books in his hands that will make him excited about reading.

    His reading scores have improved and his writing scores have drastically improved.

    But YOU know all of this. You tried to show others how important it is to get kids excited about reading. They say we are in the golden age of YA literature – what an opportunity teachers have in today’s world, and yet, in some ways, it feels like we’re back in the dark ages.

    It’s a huge problem. I don’t know what the solution is. But I appreciate people like YOU who work hard for our kids!!!

  82. That is a horrific story and I appreciate the teachers that I had even more. We pretty much stuck to the classics but we read some that had been banned at one time or another and discussed why.

    I am sorry that your co-workers were not more supportive; presumably some were afraid of placing their jobs in danger. I agree that your students learned a lot from you and I bet most will remember you.

    I hope the future will be smoother for you and your family. Thank you for your contributions to teaching and to fighting censorship.

  83. Reading this story makes me want to cry. And I don’t blame you in the least for doing what you did. I can’t believe you stuck it out as long as you did. And I will be checking out all those titles to have in my reading box for my high school students. I would also love more information on your matrix!

  84. I too am an English teacher. I have taught both high school and college level. AND, I am a mother. To anonymous who feels you were out of line, I say thank goodness you were!

    Absolutely parents have the right to say no to a reading selection. FOR THEIR OWN CHILD. Do not decide that for the rest of the students, including my own daughters.

    By the way, anonymous, I allowed my children to read works “too sophisticated” for them, “not at their AR level,” and replete with “inappropriate language.” And you know what? The two of them grew into incredible, highly educated women who are deeply committed to causes both local and global.

    Risha, keep talking.

  85. Risha, Thank you for trying to be a good teacher. I sincerely hope that things start to go better for you & some sensible school snaps you up. It’s a crime that this has happened to you, but a worse one that this is allowed to happen anywhere.

  86. I make a motion to have them unwound. lol

  87. Know this: You did not show those kids what it is to run – There is only so much bullying one person can take.

    It makes me so sad that more parents didn’t rally in your defense. If you were my child’s teacher I would have defended you every step of the way. Those parents who fought you are nothing more than closed minded snobs who apparently don’t read.

    I myself love reading YA novels. Kids can learn so much from them. Not to mention all they take away when they enjoy the reading.

    I wish the best for you in the future and hope things turn around for the best. You are a strong woman.

  88. Sophie Alice says:

    I’m 17 and honestly would have given anything to have someone like you teach me, i’m sure you made such a difference to all those students lives and YOU’LL be the teacher they think of whenever they pick up a book of any genre.
    I find it appalling that you were treated that way for having a passion for something, it’s awful but don’t give up because the next school will be lucky to have someone as amazing as you.

  89. Risha, you’re an amazing teacher. It makes me furious that you had to go through this. Thank you for believing in the power of books and fighting the good fight, at such personal cost, against censorship. When I have kids, I hope they are lucky enough to have a teacher as passionate and courageous as you.

  90. I wish that I had had a teacher like you when I was young. I love to read and I always have but English was always a nightmare for me because I always read “weird” books. The books you’ve listed are just the type I loved to read back then and still do now.

    I hope things truly get better for you, and I hope more children have a chance to experience what you were offering.

  91. I am physically ill after having read this. I, too, am a sophomore English teacher. I live in the south. I am a Christian. I taught Unwind last year. I teach Huck Finn. I celebrated Banned books week this week by having my students read those books challenged in other districts. I sponsor a book club that reads what they want, mostly YA. I recommend books to my students, books by Chris Crutcher and Laurie Halse Anderson. Your story could be my story. I only hope I am as brave as you if ever put in that situation.

  92. I can’t even express the anger and despair I felt while reading this. I don’t understand what it is that drives people to ban books.

    I don’t know if you would be interested or not, but I am an author on a book blog. We’re a bunch of college students that review books, we did special reviews for Banned Books week, you might enjoy it.


  93. I’m a parent of a girl who used to be a reluctant reader. When she was in grade school, I would literally buy her any book or magazine in which she showed interest. I didn’t care about the content, because I knew she and I could talk about whatever she read. She had this wonderful 4th grade teacher that read The Hobbit out loud to the class and then Harry Potter came out and I read ALL of those books out loud to her at home (while the controversy raged over whether it was okay to let kids read Potter.) Her imagination was FINALLY sparked and now she reads. I still buy her any book or magazine she wants. She is a successful college student as I write this.

    I have always loved the unconventional and challenging teacher. I’m sure (had you been my daughter’s teacher) that I would have loved and defended you.

  94. @Denise

    You are one thousand percent right. I do believe that parents can and should have input in what their own children read (though for many people the “Inappropriate” sensor rings far more often than I personally feel it should) but the issue of an individual parent should not affect what is taught in the classroom.


    There isn’t much else to say… but my most sincere thanks and appreciation for all you do here.

  95. Oh, Risha. Your story made me cry and gave me shivers all over. I’m also a high school English teacher, and I’m one who uses YA as much as possible in the classroom. I have an 800 book classroom library that is mostly YA, I do YA book clubs in class, and I just recently started doing a YA read aloud every day.

    I’m also TERRIFIED that what happened to you will happen to me. I don’t have tenure, and I am just so scared. But I’m not going to stop when I have kid after kid after kid come to me and say they always hated reading before I introduced them to these books. I can’t stop.

    You sound like such a fantastic teacher. I’m glad you have a new job, and I hope that you keep doing what you’re doing.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  96. You are very brave, and I admire you a great deal. It can’t mitigate all you’ve been through to hear one more person who wasn’t in your shoes say that, but you did the right thing. I do not think your students will forget.

  97. This is a devastating story. Too often, people do not realize the full human cost of book banning. My heart is broken to think of your enthusiasm, knowledge and passion, trampled on and thrown away by a small-minded community. I really hope things turn around for you. I hope some school sees what a valuable asset you truly are to the profession.

  98. This is just horrible, I even cried when I read this post. If you were one of my teachers, I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy your class a lot.

    This is a very moving post because I’m furious at to what you went through. I appreciate what you did because what you did was amazing and I applaud you for getting people to read and wish for the best for your future. Because banning books is awful.

  99. Risha, I am glad to hear that you did what you needed to for you at the end. That isn’t running. You deserve contentment. You can only fight ignorance for so long as it isn’t a fair fight. Continue to educate other educators through your state, HEN, the USHMM. Continue to be strong.

  100. Thank you.

    I would have loved to have had you for a teacher. The kids you taught are beyond lucky to be learning from you, and the ones you touched will always remember what you did for them.

  101. Bravo! I stand and applaud you for the fight that you gave for children and literature. I give you credit for your bravery in this bleak situation. I am saddened whenever I hear of the banning of wonderful works of literature be it adult or young adult. I don’t know what it will take to open the minds of people to the wonders of these terrific books, but in the meantime, I will continue to purchase these books and keep them on my bookshelf and have them available any time my children want to read them. I’m a 46 year old mom and believe that information and education is more powerful and safer than keeping small minds in a closet. Keep your passion and stay strong. I send a great big hug and a thank you. 🙂

  102. Risha,
    My heart breaks for you. This brought back so many memories for me. Many years ago I taught at a school I have since affectionately named “the school from hell.” My first mistake was to read Nancie Atwell’s book IN THE MIDDLE: READING, WRITING AND LEARNING WITH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS, and set up a writing workshop model in my classroom. It was not Warriner’s English Grammar and I had parents who were suspicious of me from Day 1. I was young and idealistic and I tried so hard to make them all happy. It was one of the worst years of my life.

    I stuck it out until the end of the year, and the following fall I sold my first story. I started writing for a living and told myself I’d never teach again. But I love teenagers–writing with them, discussing ideas with them, reading with them. I ended up starting a writing group at my house and now I teach teens in many venues and in the style in which I am most effective. And I continue to write and publish.

    Reading your story was painful. You are a much more accomplished teacher than I ever was, but I know what it is to put your whole soul into the love of learning and the love of your students and then be vilified. I don’t talk much about that passage of my life, but I want to encourage you right now that you will continue to impact teenagers and your championship and love for them will spread into even wider circles.

    You did NOT RUN. You showed those kids that you sometimes have to say no to abuse. Sometimes you have to go where you can find some healing. If you take abuse long enough, and don’t have huge amounts of support, you will begin to believe your abusers. I’m so glad you posted the whole story here. I know it was cathartic, but, more importantly, you give courage to other teachers, and you allow us to encourage you as our sister.

    My husband is an Orthodox priest and we have a chapel in our home. There is a candle lit there for you right now, and you will continue to be in my prayers and you heal and move forward. I’m especially praying for your family to find a living situation that will reunite you. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be apart during such a difficult time.

    YA books allow kids to think about and discuss issues that are in their immediate world, and to encounter and ponder issues they may have never thought about. This is so important. Are there YA books that make me uncomfortable? Sure! Did I allow my own kids to read them anyway? Yes, I did. Even when having certain books on their shelves made me cringe. There’s no opportunity for an exchange of ideas on controversial topics if a kid is discouraged from reading anything the parent disagrees with. And how do we teach our values to our children, if they’re never exposed to an opposing viewpoint? And yes, there’s a danger in this. Welcome to parenting!

    I’ll sign off with a Bible verse, since you were tortured by Christian groups (including right after you’d come from your own church!)

    “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jer. 29:11)


  103. It breaks my heart that you had to go through this. You are the teacher that I wish my children had.

  104. Elizabeth Weiden-Philipbar says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m incredibly awed by your strength and ”grace under pressure,” I’m ashamed that so few of your colleagues would stand by you, feeling that they were far safer in silence, and I’m posting my name freely as a tenured ELA teacher who would be proud to teach in any school with you. Best of luck in your future, take care of your boys, and most importantly, yourself.

  105. I’m from Austria, so I never realized how bad the censorship problem is in the USA, sure you hear about it, but I just now, after reading your blog, started to be able to understand it.

    I have the utmost respect for you and every other teacher who is trying to get their students to enjoy reading and challenge them with controversial books. Because I was a student not long ago and I remember how much I loved reading thought-provoking books, be it in German, English or Italian lessons.
    And I can only now appreciate the fact that when we watched a play about a girl whose father abuses her, nobody thought of it as pornographic and tried to ban it.

    I wish you all the best and I respect you greatly for what you’ve done.

  106. PS
    Writing heals (both the writer and the reader). I’m praying for your writing career to be successful as well.

  107. It’s a shame when ignorant people seem to get all the rights in this world. I only wish you were a $5 says their students can’t stand them. It doesn’t help if you censor everything a child sees, hears or reads. Keep up the good fight and never stop inspiring.

  108. I think it’s great that you stood up for the literature you believe in, in spite of ignorant people around. Keep fighting for what you believe in. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  109. Anonymous says:

    Your story makes me extremely angry. That people still ban books disgusts me. I have nothing against a parent saying “I do not want my daughter/son to read X book because I do not approve of it,” but saying “No one can read X book because I do not approve of it” is vile anti-intellectualism, and no one with any morals and convictions should stand for it.

    I always found the majority of my English classes terribly boring – dry books made even worse by dryer lectures and stupid tests. I read a lot on my own, mostly adult books (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Clive Barker, Tolkien, Douglas Adams in high school – anything that engaged my imagination). But I’m one of the lucky ones, I’m from a family that prizes and encourages reading. I would have loved to have a literature club when I was in high school, taught by a young, energetic, inspiring teacher like you.

    It wasn’t until 11th grade that I had a teacher that I found interesting and inspiring, and she gave us freedom in what to read. 12th grade I took a college level class in which we read a lot of “controversial” works and discussed them, as one should do with books. Books are a vehicle for ideas, and ideas are discussed, not taught on the blackboard in a dry monologue. And that, the spread of ideas that go beyond and are greater than their own little world, is probably what frightens those parents.

    Thank you for doing what you did. I think you are a very strong person for going through as much as you did. I’m happy that you’re teaching again, and I truly believe that you have made, and will continue to make, a very big difference in your students’ lives.

    And to the Anonymous curmudgeon up above, I probably would have hated your English class.

  110. As a parent I am always horrified and appalled by censorship, especially when that censorship affects MY child in a classroom.

    One of my favorite teachers in high school had the then current banned books list printed out and on the walls of his classroom, along with copies of every book on that list with the chance that we could read if we wished.

    My parents were not readers, but they never censored anything I read, instead trusting that if I had questions I would come to them with them. A greater gift they could not have given me.

  111. Anonymous says:

    It’s Kentucky. What did you expect?

  112. Even if you don’t win the fight, it’s important that you fought it.

  113. This makes me so incredibly sad and enraged. I can’t believe how many people are out there in the world who think the way to educate children is to keep them in the dark.

  114. Thank you so much for your heart and your courage, Risha. From where I’m standing, you are a hero, and you make me proud of my field.

  115. Elizabeth L says:

    I think I will have to buy those very controversial books for myself. Thank you for the amazing account of your experience.

  116. Since I live outside of the US now, I wasn’t aware of any of this. Having read your story, I find this post now makes up my immediate ‘must read’ list.

    And I have no doubt I’ll be passing them on to my nieces.

    Let me reassure you, not every Christian believes it’s right to keep teens away from the truths about life and the world. I hope you find many more loving people in your life – on both sides of that fence – from now on.

  117. Anonymous says:

    I read Moby Dick when I was 12 because my teacher at the time told me in a patronizing tone of voice that I wouldn’t be able to understand it. Since that time, no book was safe from me. I read anywhere between 3-5 novels a week, with 75% of them being what I like to call now, brain candy. I learned in my junior year that not all teachers want their students to learn, as my history teacher kicked me out of the classroom during a discussion on WWII when I brought up the Allied attack on the city of Dresden thanks to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.
    I learned to read at the age of 5, and I never needed encouragement from any teacher to keep me reading. But I would have given anything to have had just one teacher who actually cared about reading as much as you obviously do.

  118. I think you are brave. As a teacher myself, I am horrified that your colleagues did not stand behind you in this fight. What are we teaching our children when we abandon our beliefs out of fear? If we want to teach kids to have integrity, I would argue that we need to show some. I’m sure your example has positively influenced more kids than you imagine.

  119. “Good for them for questioning you and policing the books in your library. YOU DO NOT GET TO CHOOSE what parents find acceptable for their children. If a parent didn’t want her child to read a certain book, you should have dropped the matter immediately. It is NOT YOUR PLACE to fight parents about books.”
    No, it IS her job to decide what your child reads. That’s why she was hired, to make instructional decision. As much as I advocate for parental involvement in schools, the line is drawn at choosing curriculum. Do you also expect to decide which wars are studied in history? Which equations are learned in math

    “I’m a high school English teacher. I know what I’m talking about.”
    No, you really don’t. If you so readily give away your professional responsibility to parents, then you need to find another job for the sake of the students you were hired to educate.”

  120. Risha Mullins said, “A patronizing post on Safe Libraries blog (which now follows my blog) heralded my superintendent as a hero while characterizing me as a misguided teacher with good intentions who didn’t know how to follow the rules: http://safelibraries.blogspot.com/2009/11/kentucky-school-superintendent-exposes.html

    Ms. Mullins, thank you for linking to me and recognizing the blog post and particularly the comments are particularly interesting.

    Based on what you said, I reread my own post to be sure I did not say what you said I said. Yes, the superintendent is a hero in a time where people are expected to bow down low and immediately to the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the ACLU, and other external pressure groups.

    But I did not see anything negative about you. I did not say or even imply you were “misguided.” I did not say or even imply you don’t know how to follow rules, rather I said you could easily follow new rules and should not be fired.

    So I said quite the opposite, and at a time when people who supported the superintendent were opposing you. Instead, I supported both of you. As far as I know, I was the only one doing so. Indeed, that’s likely why so many interesting people directly involved in the issue responded to my post. Specifically, I said:

    “By the way, teacher Risha Mullins should not be fired. Neither should she be dropped simply due to this issue. She sounds like an excellent teacher, based on the various sources I have read. She could easily follow the new rules while continuing to encourage reading, even with the books removed from the curriculum—no one’s censoring or banning anything. Common sense, no?

    “I hereby encourage Ms. Mullins to work within the curriculum to continue to promote reading the best she can, then write a story about her experiences doing so. I am certain her guidance may help many others to meet curricular requirements while encouraging children to read via her innovative means. If I find out she has written such article, I will update this blog post accordingly. Brava Ms. Mullins!”

    I must say, Ms. Mullins, I have supported you. I will continue to support you. I would appreciate it if you would somehow correct the record where you said I said things that I neither said nor implied. I would really appreciate that. Thank you very much.

  121. Risha Mullins, I just read the rest of your blog post. Very sad! I do not know who is “Vital Remnants,” and I only saw that blog post today as a result of reading what you said. I am oh so happy that if people Googled you and found my blog, they only found positive statements in my blog post.

    Let me go further, if I can support you in any way, please let me know. A comment from someone with my unique but balanced position may be of some use to you.

    Good luck.

  122. I absolutely agree with all your supportive colleagues, Risha. It is a terrible thing when one has to be brave to do what is so obviously right. I was also struck by the ignorance of your English Department: Eight out of nine English teachers failed to see CHRIS CRUTCHER when he came to your school? Hello? They’re English teachers? With the right dumbing down education and preventing the development of critical thinking skills, no wonder so many think Fox is news. Keep up the good work.

  123. Risha Mullins, I see now that I did see the Vital Remnants post before, and I commented there a while back saying:

    “Martin, this is an interesting blog post. Just look at all the comments.

    “Now you said, ‘Mullins apparently travels the country giving lectures to other teachers on promoting student reading. This, in and of itself, is a scary thought.’

    “I disagree with you, and I support the teacher’s efforts, and said so publicly….”

    So I have supported you in the past, even at that other blog that made you feel so awful, and I will continue to support you here and elsewhere.

  124. Like so many commenters above me, I’m crying as I type this. Thank you for being you, Risha. Thank you for being one of the brave ones. I wish you the best of luck and better times.

  125. Thank you for sharing. This is really a maddening situation. I don’t understand what some parents are thinking. I really don’t. Please don’t give up. You clearly have a gift and you somehow need to use that gift. Hang in there, please.

  126. Don’t just call NCTE about this; call KEA.

    The fact that this happened in Montgomery County doesn’t surprise me in the slightest (I’m from Clark County). It does sadden and disappoint me, as a Ph.D. student in English.

    I also wonder what effect this has on your students, beyond what they’ve lost in you as a sponsor of literacy. I also wonder how many of your students have now been put off of teaching as a career after seeing the way that you have been treated by both administration and parents.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  127. To all:

    Thank you for sharing my story. I am in shock that so many people were moved to tears. Thank you for caring that much. Thank you for following this blog, for following me on Twitter, for thinking of me, praying for me, lighting candles for me, and sending me snippets of wisdom.

    I am inspired by you all. And I am recharged.

    Please join me in changing the world. Grassroots run deep. Stay tuned.

    All Best,
    Risha Mullins

  128. Anonymous says:

    Wow, your story is chillingly familiar. I’ve been teaching for four years and have dealt with a number of YA book challenges–most recently from a parent who sent out a letter to other parents, using the school directory, in which he accused me of infiltrating the school as a Wiccan plant–because of my use of the Twilight books. (And we thought “witch hunt” was a metaphorical term in the 21st century.) Luckily, I feel like my job is pretty safe and I’ve been able to hang onto my books–even though my administrators and colleagues have pressured me to pull them–but it’s just. so. wearying. I hate waiting around for the next bomb to fall–and then making the same arguments over and over to the same people when it does. I just want to be left alone to teach, you know?

    So I understand your decision to leave your school. It sounds like it was the right decision for you and I hope you find a school that values you for the great teacher you are.

  129. By speaking out, you continue to make a difference. Thank you.

  130. Risha Mullins,

    I am all for accuracy. What specifically should I reword and how?

    Feel free to call me Dan.

    PS, my kid read a Judy Blume book today. Several times. Loved it. I am so happy Judy Blume and others write materials my kid loves to read. And no, I did not screen it first! 😉

    PPS, Judy Blume was a speaker at a webinar last week about Banned Books Week in which I was mentioned (about minute 55), but not by Judy Blume. Judy Blume’s speech was excellent. It starts around minute 13, if I recall.

  131. Wow. I have no words. What happened to freedom of speech? And how would these people react if freedom of religion was attacked in such a fierce manner? Would it teach them anything about what this country is built on? I’m so sick to my stomach about this. About what happened to you. And why. You were excited about education. You passed that love on to your students and you were cut down. What a terrible waste?

    My daughter and I (she’s fifteen) just had a long discussion about this. I think we have a very open relationship, but there may be certain things that she just isn’t comfortable coming to me with regardless. Reading such things in books (like Speak) gives her the same information with anonymity. With the freedom to experience the emotions and thoughts freely.

    I’m pretty conservative, but life is going to happen. And books often convey real life issues in a safe environ. Why take that away? And language???? Seriously??? Do these parents actually believe that their children have NEVER been exposed to foul language?

    Okay, stopping. I’m hijacking your blog. I hope things get better for you. You didn’t deserve what happened. I think you rock.

  132. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. As I read about these events I couldn’t help but think you were writing about a different time. I think you were brave and strong throughout the ordeal, and you continue to show courage by advocating for the right to read. I would be proud to have you as my daughter’s teacher some day!

  133. Risha,
    Your story is truly a heart-wrenching example of how power in the wrong hands can destroy a good thing. Please remember that for the short time your book club members had you and the books you offered that you changed their lives FOREVER. As a fellow teacher and librarian, we can only do so much in situations that compel us to remember we must take care of ourselves sometimes. You did not let your students down. Those of us that love teaching understand your sadness at leaving a job you loved. May you heal over time…♥

    Thanks for sharing your story with us all.

  134. I am repeatedly amazed and confounded at the power of ignorance and prejudice.

    To children…to anyone…
    Read everything, read anything, but read.

  135. In highschool, the only book I enjoyed reading was The Hobbit. Because I’d seen the cartoon movie and new pretty much what was in the book. I hated being forced to read books that bored me to tears in school. I loved my senior english teacher, but I wish I had been able to have more teachers like you and like her. That make an EFFORT. They don’t just pass out what they’re handed and say “here read it”. Not really caring if it’s something that ANYONE wants to read.
    I read the post over at the Safe Libraries blog. And I would have to agree that it sounds condescending and patronizing. “Common sense, no?”
    I almost wish I was in highschool again, reading this post. Or at least highschool English. ((hugs)) You are an amazing person.

  136. Risha dear,

    Somehow, even though two of my books were on the “hit” list, I didn’t hear about any of this until now. I certainly wish I HAD, because I would have spoken up LOUDLY on your behalf, my dear.

    With undying gratitude,
    Sonya Sones

  137. I was at a gathering this evening with a group of Northwest YA authors. We are all rooting for you.

  138. As the son on a teacher, and as a cartoonist who has produced much work aimed at young readers, I want to say I applaud your efforts on behalf of your students. In my experience, great teachers are few and far between, and it’s clear that you belong in that category. This makes it even more tragic that your school’s administration backed the fear-based whims of a group of repressive parents, instead of your successful teaching methods. It is a shame that we currently have far too many cowardly school administrators who would rather kowtow to the uptight and ignorant segments of society, rather than fight to provide the best education possible for the next generation. I do not understand parents who want to keep their children ignorant of the world they live in. I want my young son to be challenged by his school work. I want him to be exposed to different points of view. I’m not afraid to have him look beyond the boundaries of his town and his country and see the whole wide wonderful world that’s out there to be discovered. I want him to have teachers like you. We need to prepare our children for living in the future, not hide our heads in the sand and insist on turning back the clock!

  139. Dear Ms. Mullins, I read this after it was linked by one of my all time favorite YA authors Nancy Merlin on her facebook. … I don’t have the words to describe how utterly mortifed i felt as I read this. I’m a 19 year old sophomore in college who spent most of my high school days locked away in my room reading and rereading many if not all those books mentioned and had many more books specifically order for my public library to increase our travesty of a young adult section. honestly can no comprehend the horrors of what has traspired here, As an inspiring Teacher ( currently working for a mathematics major most likely but if i get a chance to go back to school i would love to do english) I can only hope to touch my students the way she has and I applaud her for doing it. It’s incredibly sad how many little of my friends even knew about the YA section of the library because no one ever really introduced it as a genre in a classroom, I probably wouldn’t have discovered YA novels at all hadn’t it been for my ninth grade teacher introducing The perks of being a wallflower and The lovely bones in our Literary circles. I’m glad to say what was once a small corner of a room at my public library has now been filled to the brim with new YA and more are added every couple of months or so. Speaking from a student’s perspective having seen great teachers being screwed by our own lousy district, I can grantee students have not forgotten you your efforts or anything you have done for them. Students, especially us defiant Teenagers are shockingly good at standing up and speaking out, and I’m sure your students will have at least tried to pass down some of the great things you have taught them during your unfortunate few years with them. Keep hanging on. Know you have the support of students authors and teachers everywhere and you made the lives of your students all the better for simply have being their teachers.

    Rachel Bortolon.

    ((ah and a side note, English is not my first or second language but my third, I am more proficient in english than any other language I currently speak but have always struggled in english classes and as you probably noticed still make many grammatical mistakes in my writing (I would fail at life if it weren’t for spell check T_T ) Reading though is something I always enjoyed and YA had a giant hand in renewing my love for reading after I stopped reading during middle school because I felt books had become too difficult based on what we read in class. I always wanted to be a teacher and would love to teach a literary class one day but due to pressure from my parents and my own language insecurities I have opted for a certificate in mathematics for now while planning to perhaps later on go for a masters in english <3 ))

  140. Your post greatly moved me and I applaud your courage. I know you had a deep and lasting affect on your students. I hope you still hear from them. It’s a shame your co-workers didn’t back you up. As a teen librarian and author I thank your for being a beautiful voice against censorship. You are making a difference!

  141. Thanks for letting the world know that this is happening. I knew things were a bit wonky in the USA, but this is insane. I’ve been reading since i was a kid, and until i was an adult YA was all i read. Goosebumps and Anamporphs and the like. Stories written for kids my age were much more engaging to me, obviousy. Then i moved on (as recommended by my friends) to slightly more ‘serious’ literature like the Belgariad, and i’ve been reading book after book ever since. I’m 27 now and my daughter loves books, even if she can’t read them yet. I hope when she goes to school she has a wonderful teacher like you.

    Ben, Australia.

  142. Thank you, Risha.

  143. I remember my church-elder dad throwing out my YA books when I was 16 for similar reasons. I was pissed off, and not just for hurting my stuff that I bought with my own hard-earned cash from washing dishes.

    I was pissed because he didn’t know me well enough to know that I could read about all sorts of life choices and still hold on to my core values. It made me wonder if he was doubting me or doubting his parenting. I decided on the latter.

  144. Risha, thank you for sharing this post. You most certainly did not disappoint your students or run from the fight. You risked everything you had for those students, for their education, for their right to read books that matter to them. You’ve lost so much, and yet, here you are, still fighting. Still shining the light on this atrocity. Still trying to make the world a better place for students everywhere. People like you are rare and special, and I thank you from the bottom of my very heavy (but hopeful) heart for taking a stand, for sharing your story, and for caring so much. You are an example and a hero, and an amazing, compassionate, kickass teacher.

    I’m so grateful that Paul Hankins introduced us via Twitter yesterday. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and to helping you in any way that I can.

    Sarah Ockler

  145. From a fellow teacher who was also ‘witch hunted’ and ‘run out of her teaching job’, for standing up for the rights of students and the freedom of speech (albeit in a different way) I feel for you and your story. I too, live on and income of less than $10,000./year now, once a celebrated teacher. Know this, they would have continued to destroy you. You are better off now. Teach at the college level, where there is more freedom of the mind, and feel sadness for today’s students, who are at the free reign of extremist parents and their warped views and values, stuffing them down the throat of the masses, although the country is supposed to be democratic. All those who have integrity and guts are punished in today’s society. Those who stand for justice are destroyed. Teachers have no value any longer in this society. All the push for accountability has lead to a situation where parents (uneducated/non-degreed/non teacher-trained parents) are running the show. Superintendents bow to their every whim, bend to their every threat, all for the protection of a pay cheque. In no other job in the country are you given the reins and then stripped of them by outsiders, who have no knowledge of the profession, but in TEACHING. The government has designed this, created this mess, this imbalance of power, by posting test results that reflect the teachers worth as NEVER worthy; thus, perpetuating the public perception that teachers are expendable idiots that can be abused and bossed around, all for the sake of political platforming upon which to run their campaigns on — we’ll see to it we improve education — while the test scores show nothing. A mere snap shot of a student’s performance on a given day, no validation of applied knowledge over time. The state of education is in shambles…your only fault my dear, is that you tried to do what was right. You need to make a new career as a public speaker, speaking out about this injustice, and make more money than you ever would have in teaching, for your family. The only people who really count. HUGS.

  146. Risha, So much support to you. Thanks for being so brave.

  147. Risha, you made me sob, really. I’m a bit ashamed to say I’m thankful for living in Brazil, where classics are much more pornographic than YA (really) and we have no issues with censorship in schools – I invite you to come teach here 🙂
    I’m amazed you held for so long and how much you stand there. Your story really touched me, thank you for sharing it.

  148. A pity. A real pity indeed. I don’t know what to say.

    I’m on the political right myself, but I’d never dream of assaulting YA literature in this manner. While I actually understand where that community was coming from when they released the hounds (they probably saw you as just another anti-American liberal), that doesn’t mean that what they did was right. “Freedom of speech” means you have the right to say what others don’t want to hear — it protects unpopular speech, since popular speech needs no protection (Personally, I would have turned it around on them — showed them places where conservative thought is censored so that they can gain some perspective.)

    While I’m not one to spit on the classics, I don’t find YA literature problematic at all, even if it is a little racy or “the community” doesn’t agree with it for whatever reason.

    You did well, though. Best of luck in your future endeavors. 🙂

  149. I posted this earlier anonymously out of convenience, but since someone else posted after me also anonymously but being more of a jerk I figured I could stop being lazy and actually post as myself.

    A lot of people have commented as teachers, former teachers, parents, etc. I don’t have that, in the scheme of things I am no one. I am just a college student, a part of the masses, but your story is moving. It is a shame that more of your colleagues didn’t find some courage and stand beside you. The things that you experienced had the potential to ignite substantial change in the way schools approach literature.

    My first thought is to apologize to you for the cruelty of humanity, for the ignorance and fears that caused you to endure so much…but that doesn’t seem right. It seems like a good thing that you withstood as much as you did. I know it had to have been awful, but your bravery has hopefully been another step in the direction of acceptance of unique and new voices in classrooms. The people who follow the rules, who don’t stand up to adversity often fall into the background. You were provided an opportunity to stand in the forefront, to stand up for “voice.”

    In using your voice here, speaking freely, you have the potential to start a movement. There are so many other teachers, authors, etc who have experienced things similar to you and who need to realize that the best way for progressive change is to stand together. Don’t back down! It is human nature to fight against change, to run from things we don’t understand, especially in regards to education and children. They are our future, but we are our today…we have the power to invoke great change on a huge level.

    I am glad to have read your story, because it has sparked something within me and hopefully many others. You should be proud of yourself, as I know I am and many others are as well.

  150. This makes me sad. I remember the glee I had when I learned that books I read in high school were banned. I graduated high school in 2007, prior to this books I read included but were far form limited to Maus I & II, Night, Yellow Raft on Blue Water, To Kill A Mockingbird, Frankenstein, Perfume, and The Stranger. I had the luck to be in the International Baccalaureate program in Fairfax County, Virginia. My teachers told us the books had been banned, our parents approved of them and we read them. It was great, some of these were my favorite books. Hell, at one point I thought that every book we read was on a banned book list. We have The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and more.

    This story broke my heart. I lobe reading and finding thing that have been banned, it opens the mind if it’s something well written that challenges normal conventions. In college I’ve learned more about how the literary canon came to be and more about what Shakespeare was talking about and it’s funny to think that people who are against something modern and controversial want their kids to read something archaic and controversial.

    Good luck with finding a school system that accepts you and defends your reading choices. Whatever children I have I’ll find a school system that’s open minded, I’ll hunt down banned book lists and read ‘controversial’ books with them and discuss them. I’ll harass the school to teach things that make people squeamish, broaden some horizons.

  151. I wish I had had you as a teacher during any of my time in grade school! Never had I had a teacher so passionate for my own enrichment, and dedicated to their students.
    Schools have become ‘stores’ and the parent customers get whatever they want if they are unhappy. A beloved teacher at my high school got fired because of one parent complaint. They preach about standardized test scores and ignore the results when it is convenient.
    My heart aches for our dying educational system and for you. I hope you never lose your passion and brilliance for teaching, and that someday the educational system will realize how damning their actions have been toward the students they are supposed to educate.

  152. I’m going to have to disagree with something that a lot of folks here are saying (as a sort of there-there to the parents who want to control what their kid’s read.) Parents shouldn’t be able to control everything a child reads. That makes the assumption that all parents are operating at a basic quality of care that, frankly, many aren’t. School is an escape, for many children, from wildly oppressive home lives. Frankly, libraries saved my life. I wouldn’t have known what normal or healthy was without being able to read about it.

    To give any human being absolute control over what another human being learns is absurd. Can anyone think that their understanding is that perfect? And to impose this on a teenager (a person I would not consider a child) is even more questionable.

    Parents are not perfect. Neither are authors or teachers. However, a teenager should have access to a variety of ideas, as they will surely rebel against any idea that is given to them without choice.


  153. @ Heather

    I agree, it is naive for parents to think they have that much control over their children to start with. I know from my own experience the more adults tried to control me, the more I rebelled. The real key is to simply help their teens navigate life, give them options and discuss the options with them rather than forbidding certain choices.

    @ everyone else

    I want to shake things up in regards to censorship. Read my blog, and stand up against dangerous censorship with me (please). 🙂 http://spikeyfluff123.livejournal.com/5918.html

  154. @ Heather Emme

    Actually, I do believe that parents should be able to control what their kid reads, just as they can control the kinds of TV they can watch. Short of violence (not spanking) or sexual abuse, parents do have a right to raise their kids how they want, since they care more for their kids than some government bureaucrat would. However good our intentions are, fighting censorship does not mean that we have the right to intervene in families’ home life on flimsy evidence.

    That being said, I object to this being taken to the school-wide level, or the national level, since other people’s kids are involved now. That community was dead wrong; if they’re not home-schooling their children, they should accept that they’ll be exposed to ideas that contravene their own.

  155. Reading this makes me so sad. I’m sorry for you and for the children. What a loss!

  156. Dear Risha:

    I’m sorry all that happened to you.

    I fought a fairly similar “war” over Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War in 1993 in a small Iowa town called Audubon. I had never heard the term “eye ball rape” before. It was an amazing spring.

    I did get a great letter from Robert Cormier before he passed away. It was tough being both the saint and the demon of a community, and in the end, rather than buckle down to the book not being taught, I decided to teach my students the more important lesson of standing up for intellectual freedom by leaving my job.

    Like you, when it rained, it poured. My dad spent six weeks that summer on life support and passed away.

    Seventeen years later, I am a respected college professor and a writer. I am grateful for the chain of events that took me away from that small town, and glad that the kids I’ve run into since remember how important intellectual freedom is. I hope as time goes by, you heal, and you show the bastards what an amazing teacher they lost by their small-mindedness.

    I wish you well, both with your passionate teaching, and with your own writing. I’m always happy to hear from another teacher that struggled with censorship and survived.

    Catherine Schaff-Stump

  157. Another example of schooling interfering with learning. I am so glad that you are standing your ground. Hard to believe this is happening in 2010! Keep up the good fight!!

  158. “Anonymous said…
    It’s Kentucky. What did you expect?
    October 3, 2010 3:54 PM”

    And that is a sad statement, indeed. It should not matter what state this took place in (similar challenges were held against English teachers at my – liberal – high school in a fairly liberal state. Books were called into question for dealing with rape; my question to the parents who voiced concerns was “should we ignore that it happens? Should we pretend that everything is rainbows and sunshine, when it’s very likely that you personally know 5 or more people (in your closest circle of friends) that have been raped or molested?” I was a student at the time, and even though I had a high reading level as early as 3rd grade (I tested well into the high school levels, my parents encouraged reading at home), I never sought a book for pleasure until middle school, when I found part of a YA series in the school library. I still own that entire series, and many of the author’s other works.

    I support you, Ms Risha Mullins. I only wish you didn’t have to deal with such anti-education confrontation as you did.

    And to the anonymous coward who claims to be an English teacher – you obviously aren’t. An English teacher would know that having a selection of titles to choose from is part of the standard; Ms Mullins wasn’t telling her students in an authoritarian manner “YOU WILL READ THIS AND ONLY THIS,” she was offering them choices. As a parent, I could see the original complaint coming from a parent who wouldn’t believe that their child would choose such subject matter, and so the evil teacher must have required it. I could be wrong, but I’m quite aware of how blind some parents are to their children’s choices and behaviors. You, sir or ma’am, are no better than the parents who fight the idea of their precious babies learning or believing something that isn’t exactly what they feel. As much as you may fight the idea, our students are on the verge of adulthood; they have their own preferences, their own opinions, and their own experiences. Soon, THEY will be the ones teaching, parenting, and guiding our futures – I only pray that they have a better understanding of individuality, choice, and the importance of teaching AND reading, than you.

  159. SafeLibraries:

    “”Last year, during the first attempt to ban Ms. Mullin’s inclusion of YA literature, [Superintendent Dan Freeman] neglected to follow protocol for objections to materials. After he was forced to follow policy, the review UPHELD the use of the books. However, this year, he allowed the same challenge to occur, and although the review board AGAIN UPHELD the use of the books, he personally banned the books, stating not that they were objectionable, but that they weren’t adequate for preparing students for college, a statement that is ridiculous on its face.”

    Is this your idea of a hero?

  160. Anonymous said…”It’s Kentucky. What did you expect?”


  161. At the risk of overstaying my welcome on Risha’s blog, one last comment: Books are the most powerful part of a student’s education. That’s why frightened people work so hard to ban them. That’s why the framers of the Constitution protected them. That’s why we must fight to keep them in the hands of readers.

  162. Hi

    I am a born-again Christian from South Africa. Having lived through apartheid, I know a thing or two about the dangers of banning any book whatsoever. I know that their are books in the world that espouse viewpoints that I disagree with. I know their are books that may sicken me, that may frighten me or that may enrage me. But no-one, no-one at all, should be allowed to ban a book.

    I come from a country of heroes, of martyrs for freedom. People lost their jobs, their freedom and their lives fighting for the rights that you are fighting for. Heroes like Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko and Desmond Tutu. And I can say, without a trace of hyperbole, that you can be counted with those great men. You are a hero, and don’t let anyone take that from you. You have fought for freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, and those are the freedoms that uphold all others. As the heroes of our struggle say: “Viva Risha Viva!”


  163. Crikey! I think it’s a miracle you made it through such a nightmare with your sanity intact. Can’t say I’d have had such luck. Do NOT feel badly about picking your battles–sometimes you have to do that so you can have the strength to fight another day in the bigger conflict. And that is what you are doing by telling your story.

  164. I’m not going to say anything detailed because I am so angry and ruined inside by this that I know I won’t be able to control what comes out of my fingers…I’ll say something awful that I will regret.

    Thank you for telling us your story…thank you for fighting for as long as you did…you are, in my opinion, a hero for going up against evil incarnate and keeping face for as long as you did.

  165. It’s sad that when I was a teen, there wasn’t a YA genre – so being an advanced reader, I tended to end up with things like The Choirboys by Joseph Wambaugh which I read in 8th grade – talk about inappropriate. I would have given anything for YA books. Now as a mother of 2 teenage girls I am just thrilled when I see them reading. If the book is controversial – great – something we can talk about and discuss. Do I think they are going to act like what they read about? Absolutely not, because I am raising them to be strong young women, to make their own decisions, not act like some girl they read about. I welcome those books that expose them to the real world – because if those parents who are afraid of those books are honest with themselves – they will see that everything in those books happen – and I don’t care if you are in a highschool in L.A. or a farm town in Iowa. Kids need to know what is out there and what they can do in their own lives to stop it – or help those who can’t! Those parents need to stop banning books and start finding ways to take an active role in their kids’ lives – rather than expecting schools to raise their kids and keep them “safe from evil”.. Any teacher that can get kids reading in this age of texting and internet gets a standing ovation from me. Those kids that were lucky enough to have you fighting for them will always remember you! I would love for my kids to have you as a teacher.

  166. Move to NZ. We are short of creative, intelligent, exciting English teachers, and you get to teach what you want – so long as you can find the money to buy the texts!

  167. This sickens me. I wish there was something I could do for you.

    Books play a strong role in my life and I give credit to my teachers throughout school.

    I hope it gets better and if you’re ever out my way (Charlotte, NC), you have a place to stay.

  168. Very sad.

    Outside of the world of literature, brevity is a virtue. I hope I didn’t miss anything important while skimming; I just don’t have time for a 9 page report from a stranger.

    Empower it and yourself by cutting it down to the essentials, then distribute.


  169. Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story. You are an inspiration as an advocate for youth. I’m working on getting my degree to be a youth services librarian and I can only hope to live up to your courageous example! Also, thanks for the brilliant interviews here! Because I admire you and your blog so much I’m giving you a Versatile Blogger Award. Go to the link below to get the details!

    Kelly @ Fresh from the Stacks

  170. This is totally outrageous! I applaud you your strength and courage. As a child I always read well above my age level. I read To Kill A Mockingbird at age 11 in the sixth grade. I inhaled Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land at the same age. At age 12 I read (and continue to read over and over) The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I have books from my childhood (some on the Banned Book list) that are so worn and broken I keep them in plastic baggies so the loose pages don’t fall out.

    I never had an English teacher who inspired me, sadly, but that never dampened my passion for reading. I was pigeon holed at an early age and shoved in a direction I had no intention of going and punished for reading during class. Instead of making me angry, it inspired me to go to college and earn a teaching degree.

    My health doesn’t permit me to teach full time, but I enjoy thoroughly subbing at our local rural school (100 kids, grades K-12). All the kids know I have a huge selection of books they are welcome to borrow at any time. The school’s English teacher posted the list of Banned Books and encouraged her students to check them out, and has in fact borrowed books from myself as well. Just recently, a Holocaust survivor who wrote a book about her experiences gave a talk at our school. My copy of Schindler’s List is in the hands of a young freshman girl. I have scores of books in all age levels dealing with the Holocaust: many of them are in the hands of young children learning about the Holocaust for the first time.

    I guess my point is that you are a huge inspiration and I truly wish I had had a teacher like you. I did ok on my own, imagine how much more I could have accomplished with a teacher like you!

    Gail L.

  171. Thank you for posting this. And thank you for fighting this fight, even with that sort of adversity.

    I had my school years in coastal California, in a rather liberal environment; I read “The Chocolate War” and “A Separate Peace” in junior high, and several other controversial books as well. I was the kind of child who’d always devoured books, and thankfully my family encouraged that, so I can only imagine what kind of hell it would be to have someone ban a book. It reminds me frighteningly of my father’s stories of his own childhood, under a communist regime.

    It’s too easy out here, in liberal environments, to forget that this sort of stuff is alive and well in other parts of the country. So thank you again for sharing your experience, and for fighting, and for getting children interested in reading — because it feels sometimes like that’s going out these days, and that would be utterly tragic, and it so often feels like forcing children to read certain books turns them off on reading in the end, whether because they’re belabored endlessly in English classes or because they’ve read them before or whatnot. A breath of fresh air can make all the difference, and it’s a travesty when people can’t look beyond their own immediate worlds to see that.

    So thank you, again. I hope for all the best for you in the future.

  172. @jenevalynne says:

    I feel very sad for your experience. while I do agree with the mom above when she says some of us do not wish our children to be exposed to certain things, etc,lack of communication between all groups involved caused much of the outcome here.
    The saddest thing is all the politics involved on both sides. That is not my idea of the Christian way to handle things.
    I know I live in a fantasy world when I say the best thing would have been for everyone involved to have gotten together, to learn the whole stories on both sides, and then to work toward a compromise. There is so much anger out there that is so unnecessary.
    You may have been assumed to be one of those teachers out there that do have agendas, that want to push issues upon young, impressionable children. Sorry they didn’t take the time to find that out.
    What is also sad to me is the portrayal of the classics as dull, boring, not understandable. I had a wonderful English teacher who brought the stories to life for us, and later another who did the same with Shakespeare. It is easy now to give in to the pressure to discontinue them, and other classical studies. There is a great resurgence in the home school communities bringing them back, along with classical languages.
    It is very encouraging. I hope things get better for you, will pray for you and your family.

  173. Anonymous says:

    thanks so much for sharing this. I have been encouraged to start a web site called http://www.SmartenUpAmericaNow.com and I would love to chat with you about what you think needs to be changed in order to make education work in this country? Parents being involved? how? And where does that line merge? Being supported by administration as well as peers? Trusting teachers who have been trained above parents?

  174. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for touching so many lives!

  175. I love how the people always pushing to ban books are always doing so on a religious basis. Maybe some of them need to take the time to read the Bible. Last I checked the Bible contains verses descriptive and or advocating suicide, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sexual activity in a violent context, murder, morbid violence, use of drugs and alcohol, homosexuality, voyeurism, revenge, slavery, and war crimes. If you were to retell the stories with the names changed that book would be banned very quickly.

    Good luck fighting those who would only have one point of view taught in our schools.

  176. Anonymous says:
  177. Anonymous says:

    The worst thing about Religion is that it provides validation and permission for the worst people to dictate the terms.

    How’s that whole “War on Terror” thing working out?

  178. Anonymous says:

    You sound like a great teacher. Sorry that a bunch of ignorant Christians (but I repeat myself) got afraid of books but that’s what religion (not God – religion) is all about: Keeping the dumb flock dumb.

    Religion: Scourge of humanity

  179. Anonymous says:

    PS: The bible’s one of the most violent, paranoid, pornagraphic books ever written, esp. the Old Testament.

    Do these idiots ban the Old Testament books where God has some strange Foreskin Fetish?

  180. Anonymous says:

    This is why any parent that can afford it puts their kids in private schools. The public system is doomed as long as individual parents are allowed to dictate curriculum. There are plenty of private schools that will allow parents to “shelter” their kids however they like, and there are equally plenty of schools that will push kids to expand their horizons and embrace diversity in all things.

    Unfortunately, this does nothing for the kids and parents who have no other option but the public system. Even in places where charter schools exist, faculty still is often cowed by parents who do not want their tax dollars to fund “filth”. Only a completely independent school can offer anything but a vanilla, mediocre scholastic experience.

  181. In your post, you briefly touched on something I’d like to hear more about it: a fellow teacher claimed you “misrepresented the classics” and you also hinted that you didn’t have much peer support.
    Were your fellow English teachers upset because you taught YA lit instead of “traditional” lit like Edith Wharton or Nathanial Hawthorne?
    I’m looking to be a high school English teacher and I get really heated up when people awesome that a book is bad because it’s not a “classic”.
    Any book that gets a kid to read, that talks to her inner questions and makes him feel less alone is a good book. What can Jane Austen offer a 16 year old, honestly, beyond their academic resume?
    I commend your choice of literature – I’d love to hear more about this sub-plot and see if you agree with me.

  182. I would much rather you teach my son than have him go anywhere near the system that has failed me, you and so many millions of children over the years. Good teachers are rare, and they’re getting edged out for the most insane of reasons…

  183. Christopher Branski says:

    It’s bad enough that fundamentalist Christians want to keep their children frightened and ignorant, to make matters worse they won’t stop until every child is ignorant and frightened.

    Growing up I had teachers who were at best disinterested and mediocre: apparently part of their job was to make sure the jocks never had to take responsibility for their bad behavior, teaching was at best secondary. Reading your story only reinforces what I’ve believed about American society for years: it’s become a toxic combination of the movies “Idiocracy” and “Farenheit 451.” No other nation has worked so hard at keeping people frightened and ignorant. We’ve only begun to reap what we’ve sown and it’ll only get worse.

  184. Goodness. Sounds like a rough trip. What would Paulo Freire say? He’s day Nazi-punks fuck off. Or was that Jello Biafra?

  185. Anonymous says:

    As I read this story, I felt so much pain in my chest and churning in my stomach when they began to question the books. The close-mindedness of people is astounding, as is what is done in the name of “religion” or “faith.” The beginning of your story is so uplifting, it gave me hope that there are still those of us out there that love literature and want to promote it to others. I hope you have better luck in your new position–don’t ever give up.

  186. Anonymous says:

    A sad story, though your honor certainly shines through it.

    As a child I was an avid reader, and by age 12 I was devouring books that were beyond my years. In the sixth grade I wrote a book report for Silence of the Lambs, which my parents had allowed me to read after much begging on my part – after all, I was mature for my age. Not two days after submitting the homework, my parents were contacted by a school board representative who questioned them about my book choices and even went so far as to suggest therapy for myself, inasmuch as the violent nature of the book would likely have polluted my young mind.

    My mom told the guy to fuck off. I’ve never been so proud of anyone in my life.

  187. Eric in Seattle says:

    I’m rather on the other side of this, and before speaking with my child’s teacher, I’d appreciate some feedback.

    My child’s room (4th grade) has an extensive library of old, donated books that the children can peruse and check out. This week, she brought home a book detailing a romance between two high school students, “Kiss Me, Creep.”

    I don’t see this book as appropriate for a 9-year old girl to be reading; she has no cognitive context for that story. What is the best way to go about this? I have asked her to put it aside and read something more age appropriate, but should I also let the teacher know that there’s a book in his library that is not age appropriate?

    For the record, I’m not mad, and I’m not one of those psycho parents who’s going to make an appointment to see the principal. I just want to let the teacher know that some of the books in his library seem “too old” for fourth graders.


    Eric in Seattle

  188. I don’t know what to say about this mess.

    I grew up in the Midwest, and, because of my understanding parents, I read whatever I wanted to—“White Fang” in the 3rd grade, “River God” in the 5th grade, “Armand the Vampire” in the 6th. Books far past my understanding of sexuality and violence.

    I was also a prolific fiction writer. On more than one occasion, teachers complained to my parents about my writings, claiming they were “sexual” and “deviant.” One concerned parent went so far as to call me a Satanist. (I wasn’t a Satanist, I was Jewish.)

    My point is that my “deviant” writings and choice of sexual books didn’t scar me, or ruin my childhood. Literature opened up my world past fairy tales and anthropomorphic creatures. I grew with the books. My “dark” stories were winning national awards by high school (at which the negativity turned to praise) and my passion for reading the forbidden grew into the darker classics, Lolita, Candide… I’m an intelligent young woman today because, at 12, I went to the public library and looked for the dirtiest books I could find.

    Then, and only then, did I start to pick up Hardy, Woolf, Austen and Milton.

    Fifty years ago, children (at schools of any respectable caliber) were required to read “The Aneid” in the original Latin. I doubt today teachers would even touch the Aneid, because children would become lost in its themes of war, violence, death and sexuality.

    Children aren’t dumber than they were fifty years ago—they just are starved for creativity, and beaten down by teachers, parents, and the administration any time the reach for something past Harry Potter or Twilight.

    Please keep doing what you’re doing. It’s a well known fact that the educational system in America is problematic. Those poor children, who will die before they read Lolita.

    -Sara Zaitsev, King’s College London

  189. Anonymous says:

    My entire elementary/middle/high school career, I was in the accelerated/gifted and talented/AP/whatever classes. My teachers the being proper policy-fearing type, we only read (for certain values of ‘read’) the classics.

    I know of only 2 students in my packed classes who actually read anything class-related at all for all four years of high school – we’d worked out a complicated system of Cliff’s Notes, internet sources, speculation and outright baldfaced bullshit to grope our collective way through the assignments.

    In college, I avoided any English classes that might involve reading. On the one occasion that a tangentially related philosophical/ethical text came up for a technical course, the class ended up organizing just like my class in high school had – we faked it. We didn’t fake it nearly as well, but we still made it.

    Only now, as an actual professional, have I really started to consume literature (primarily sci-fi/fantasy). I find it incredibly upsetting that this stuff was never presented to me – in 15 minutes of reading even a lousy sf novel, there’s more thought-provoking content than all those countless ‘classics’ put together.

  190. Dear Madam,

    My mother was a teacher for 25+ years, and she loved what she did. She too was bullied out for her position, although under different pretenses than yours that almost seem a bit paltry.

    As a student of hers for 2 years, I saw both sides of this position. Under her teaching in class, I saw a woman standing straight and tall for her love of sharing knowledge. As a son, I saw her everyday dealing with emotional struggles as her surrounding faculty covered their own hide in joining in the fight against her.

    As a free-thinking person, I applaud your stance against such trivial accusations of literature.
    As a former student, I thank you for teaching those that you have taught and shown a great deal of care in their growth into well-minded adults.
    As a son of a teacher, I also say my heart truly goes out to you. While I have seen it partly first hand, it pales in comparison with your struggle. I wish you the best in whatever you do.

  191. Anonymous says:

    I realize I am just another voice in a cacophony of online noise, but your story shares the same timbre as my own.
    I think you should listen to the second woman, not the first. You had the crap kicked out of you metaphorically and you kept on. There will always be small ignorant minds, (sadly the one thing, of which, there will never be a shortage). You cannot give what you do not have, and when there is nothing left in the vessel, it can no longer offer light.
    The thing about teaching is it is never accurately measured in the test scores. (those are largely for the admins and politicos) It is measured in the growth and reach of the student’s mind. And that is rarely tangible in the immediate. You do not know what you did there, and you cannot know who will stand in the future because they witnessed your struggle. Not all losses are in vain, and in defeat we sometimes win the war.

  192. Anonymous says:

    You don’t understand, you were SAVED! You were SAVED from corrupting all those precious young minds by the GRACE and LOVE and COMPASSION of our God! If you will accept JESUS into your heart, and understand that everything you have said, felt, and taught up to this point is wrong, then He will clear your mind, heal your heart, and get you back into a classroom and showing kids that all they REALLY NEED to read about is JESUS!

    The reason you were so sickened and affected by the sight of those brave Warriors of God praying outside your classroom is because the Devil Satan had power over you at the time! If you ask the aid of Jesus he shall cast the Devil OUT FROM YOU and you shall suffer no more! Jesus sees all, knows all, and loves all who return His love and do His bidding.


    THIS all all you or anyone else needs to know!

    Accept the Lord, teach the Lord, and the Lord
    will SET YOU FREE!


  193. I grew up in Southern California and did not have that experience with the Dioceses of Orange.

    Although I am an Atheist today, my experiences with Catholic educators in grade 6-12 was a good one. No books were banned. Critical thinking and reading were encouraged (no porn of course).

    My experiences @ Baptist school in grade 1-4 was different. They were very fundamentalist, and were ban happy.

  194. Many moons ago my English teacher let us read many contriversial novels…grapes of wrath…to kill a mockingbird…and God forbid Black like Me….all the good I learned still doesn’t allow me to find the words to describe your story…and my sadness at the loss your students will live with down the road…

  195. Anonymous says:

    We could use a fantastic English teacher at my school. Care to move to Las Vegas?

  196. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry you had to go through something like this. I did myself many years ago. You made the right choice for yourself. You will always feel like you let the kids down. There is no getting around it. But the feeling will fade and you may be vindicated with future achievements. Just two comments.

    Stupidity is a condition, but ignorance is a choice.

    You can’t fight city hall, never upstage school administrators, and religious fundies will never believe they are not right.

  197. I wish the teachers I had in Jr High and High school had even considered giving us such books to read. Instead we were handed those “classics” that didn’t make sense, were painfull to read. I was lucky, my parents taught me the joy of reading as a small child, but most of my class mates weren’t that lucky, and now rarely read. Of course I went to a very conservative religious school, I can only imagine the outcry if a parent had decided they disliked such books….

  198. Anonymous says:

    i hope things work out for you, you obviously care for those kids. im going to read some of these books now

  199. Anonymous says:

    Ugh. What a heartrending experience. I hope that your and your family stay strong, safe, and may be reunited soon.

    And to those of you who are suggesting that parents have the right to determine what their children read? They don’t. Parents who don’t believe in evolution cannot simply withdraw their children from that part of the science curriculum. There is a reason education is mandatory up to a certain age. We have standards in our communities about what constitutes an educated citizen and parents do not get to fiddle with those standards at whim. The book groups presented an extremely sensitive selection of books that students and parents could pick together. We all need to stop kowtowing to the most strident and backward people in our communities and do more to support embattled educators especially ones as careful, professional, and dedicated as Ms. Mullins so obviously is.

    (I’m sorry for the anon post but it was that or link to a defunct blog.)

  200. Every single time I read something like this, one thing always stands out. The parents do not consider the opinions of their children, do not treat them as being able to consider anything critically, and do not grasp the idea that the reason children are drawn to this style of literature is because they -relate- to it, can understand the situations and where the protagonist is approaching.

    This doesn’t have anything to do with religion. Anyone claiming that it is mentioned anywhere in the Bible that what is going on here is justified is wrong. This is about overreaction on a grand scale. Parents attempting to prevent the assumed “corruption” of their children, while blathering off perverted misinterpretations of the literature and spying on teachers. Teachers and principals who are obviously not in a position to be teaching (what do you call someone who gets paid to do a job, i.e. educate, and then doesn’t do that job?).

    Understand that public education should, ideally, be about educating the student. It has been so distorted that this might be hard to grasp, but this is actually its intended purpose. If you do not want your children learning anything outside of what you have approved, then nothing can be considered gained — your children and their children will have the same amount of information, the same perspective, and are doomed to a future of inactive thoughts and vegetative philosophies on right and wrong. If you have the money, send them to a private school where they will be coddled and become completely dependent on you into their mid-40s because you never prepared them for life. If you don’t have the money, teach them a useful skill like farming or automobile repair — they’re going to need it. But please, don’t attempt to stand in the way of those children who have actually found a way to enjoy learning. You criticize the teacher for shoving politics and porn down a students throat, when you yourself are busy harassing everyone around you with what you believe is the obvious, only RIGHT answer to this…

    What a joke.

  201. Craig Clement says:

    The last anonymous comment says it all. This is no different from moslems reading only the Koran. This mindset is prevalent in this country where administrators, who have their own agendas, use ignorant parents to gain the control they crave. It is a nationwide problem and not limited to a few backward regions. Unfortunately, I see no change to the present state of “education” in the foreseeable future.

  202. Anonymous says:

    This is why the USA is deservedly coming apart at the seams. When ignorant religious thugs – aided by simpering lapdog bureaucrats & pandering politicians – are allowed to take a jackhammer to our education system, there’s little doubt that our society is on its last legs.

    If we’re lucky, our children will eke out some sort of survival as a nation-sized, third world redneck-themed resort & amusement park for Chinese tourists…

  203. I’ve never been able to understand the point of censorship when it comes to books used in public schools. I was incredibly lucky as a kid (I’m almost 30 now) in that I had parents who encouraged me to read EVERYTHING. When I was entering elementary school, my aunt would send me comic books as a means to get me into reading (I didn’t need much prompting). I read a lot of YA literature as a youth and was encouraged by all my teachers to pursue authors that interested me. Heck, one English teacher at my school taught The Chocolate War as PART OF THE CURRICULUM. Did anyone object? NO.
    I picked up Catcher in the Rye when I was 15. It blew me away. This may seem cliche now, but I connected with Holden Caulfield and how he felt. It was only after that I learned that the book had a controversial past. I was dumbfounded. Why would a book that was relevant to what I was experiencing at my age, as most YA novels are, be so controversial? Do parents thing they’re kids will remain innocent forever? I’m sorry but that is delusional.
    I’ve always believed that children, and high school students in particular, need to be given every chance to learn about the world around them. Books are the primary avenue they can take to do that.
    I grew up in Canada, so perhaps my point of view is a little different from others here. But I just can’t fathom being told I couldn’t read a book. I remember being in Grade 8, and my English teacher tried to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. The STUDENTS in my class refused, not for any good reason, they just thought it would be too hard. I ended up reading it on my own, while my English teacher bent to the will of my classmates and gave us Who Has Seen The Wind, a YA novel by Canadian author W.O. Mitchell. I hated it. It was dry and boring. I read To Kill a Mockingbird on my own and loved it. The following year, a new English teacher made us read To Kill a Mockingbird. This time the class was more receptive. I loved the fact I had read it already and was ahead of the curve. What I enjoyed more was being able to discuss it in class and see how everyone else reacted to it. Universally adored. I had that same teacher the next year in Grade 11, where we read Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. I started reading things by Edgar Allen Poe. On my own I was reading already quite adult literature like Stephen King (I started reading his stuff in grade 7) and Anne Rice. I even lent my English teacher my copy of Interview with a Vampire.
    Risha, I am so sorry you had to go through such a demoralizing experience and I commend you for your strength and courage under such oppressive fire. A teacher with your credentials should be celebrated by her community, not reviled. I hope you’re able to find a place where you can teach your students how you see fit, with little interference from such overzealous parents.
    Hey, come to Canada! Manitoba is just across the border from North Dakota. Lord knows we need teacher like you in this country, just like they do down in the U.S.A.
    Keep up the good fight and don’t let them get you down.

  204. Anonymous says:

    This post really made me think about some things. I used to be an avid reader as a child. I read just about everything I could get my hands on (some of which I had to hide from my parents). I would sometimes even catch myself spending hours reading an encyclopedia when I had intended to simply look up a factoid. Then, I switched to a private school. While otherwise an excellent school, they required we read a book every month and had ridiculously strict reading policies. I was forced to read nothing but classics and religious propaganda. Reading became such a chore that I have barely read a dozen books in over a dozen years since I graduated. Overprotect your kids and you may just lose them forever.

  205. Anonymous says:

    Risha, please keep on fighting. You’re not alone. Clearly there are many willing to stand with you. I wish that more of my teachers had cared as deeply as you do.

    One comment above stands out:
    “I’m a high school English teacher. I know what I’m talking about. Your self-importance and smug attitude about this is shocking”

    I write this next thought to you, the Anonymous idiot who wrote that despicable comment. You are the epitome of everything that is wrong with the American educational system. You are a both a coward and a fool, and the damage you have no doubt caused is incalculable. The greatest good that you could possibly do for your unfortunate students would be to retire.

  206. Write your own books. You have the talent and the desire. Any publisher would love to have you in the fold. The world needs you.
    Write. Send out the mss. You’ll make it, Risha.
    And thank you for what you’ve done for YA so far.

  207. Anonymous says:

    My only satisfaction in all of this is that the people who protested against you and the books you used will one day be treated, as doctors, by the children who have made it through the education system. Yes, I am anonymous. And, yes, I am in education. Good luck to you.

  208. Anonymous says:

    To all the people who read this and said they started crying, give me a break. You need to get a life. She wasn’t even fired; she quit because she couldn’t handle the criticism.

    The bureaucratic war was lost here the second the teacher sent some long-winded 9 page defense of literature. Every response should have been based on criticizing the procedure the person complaining went through as well as the often byzantine procedures for firing a teacher. Out of all the people that were consulted for help, I don’t see any lawyers.

  209. Anonymous says:

    As someone who was a “reluctant reader” in school myself, it really hurts to hear the way you and your program were treated. It was teachers like you that got me engaged in reading and in school, and who allowed me to end up where I am.
    It’s a shame that the most ignorant and backward members of a community are the ones who set standards for everyone. The Christian in me is ashamed to be associated with people like that.
    At least, from the sound of it, you got through to your students. If they were that proud to be members of the club, then their minds are already freed. The fundamentalists can’t stop them from accessing whatever ideas they want outside school.

  210. I cannot find the words to express my…horror at what you have endured or my disgust with the narrow minded and hateful people who conducted this witch hunt against you. You have my deepest sympathies. I am also an English teacher and cannot imagine how I would have responded if I had been in your position. Thank you for standing up for what is right; your courage is admirable and exemplary.

  211. Anonymous says:

    Books should not be banned because they discuss sex, religion, abortion, etc. Why do parents fight to shield their children from these issues? Pretending that they don’t exist won’t make them go away. Do they want to send their precious snowflakes out into the world completely unarmed?

    I’ve read both Twisted and Unwind, and they were lovely books.


  212. Anonymous says:

    This type of situation has already reached the University level. Complaining parents and the spineless administrators and colleagues that buckle to their slightest whims have all but destroyed education. Students are free to cheat and ignorant zealots are determining the curriculum. I think we need a two month walk out of every teacher in the country from K thru Doctoral Programs as a way to get people angry about the angry people who keep getting their way.

  213. It’s teachers like you that help our children to rise above the mediocrity that seems to plague the school system these days. My teachers and my family encouraged me to read whatever I liked. As a result, I am told that I am well-read and an excellent communicator as an adult. Taking away the opportunity to read books that over-religious and under-responsible parents say are inappropriate is only doing a disservice to their own children. Allowing them to experience, through books, some of the not-so-nice things in the world can open up opportunities for parents and their children to have meaningful discussions and to NOT HIDE from the difficult issues that these books often address. My father handed me “Clan of the Cave Bear” when I was 11 years old. I didn’t get all of it, but he was there to carefully explain anything that I didn’t understand. More parents should do this with their children; maybe they wouldn’t be so scared to allow them to get a little bit out of their comfort zone and learn a few things about life.
    Good luck to you and your family. You are an excellent example of what a good teacher should be.

  214. Wow, what an incredible and depressing story. A state of shock fell over me as I read it. Thanks for your passion for reading and for sharing it with students. You didn’t deserve any of this.

  215. Anonymous said…

    “You don’t understand, you were SAVED! You were SAVED from corrupting all those precious young minds by the GRACE and LOVE and COMPASSION of our God! If you will accept JESUS into your heart, and understand that everything you have said, felt, and taught up to this point is wrong, then He will clear your mind, heal your heart, and get you back into a classroom and showing kids that all they REALLY NEED to read about is JESUS!

    The reason you were so sickened and affected by the sight of those brave Warriors of God praying outside your classroom is because the Devil Satan had power over you at the time! If you ask the aid of Jesus he shall cast the Devil OUT FROM YOU and you shall suffer no more! Jesus sees all, knows all, and loves all who return His love and do His bidding.”

    Religious Anonymous: Thank you so much for the laugh! I probably haven’t had any good absurdity to laugh at in a LONG time! I am sorry, but I don’t think Satan is the answer to everything you disagree with. I probably should keep my mouth shut, but I don’t feel like it. I find your comment incredibly narrow-minded and ridiculous! This is America and along with freedom of speech comes freedom to worship who we please (still within certain confines). It doesn’t have to have been the Devil dwelling with her for to have the reaction she did. It could just be that it is offensive to have people impose their beliefs upon you. I might also add, who are you to judge another persons love for their creator? I don’t know what her religion is, and quite frankly I don’t care. I don’t think it is relevant. She is simply entitles to whatever reaction she has because of her humanity, and I don’t think it is proper for someone to label that reaction as an effect of (in essence) possession.

    AND Seriously?!? How was she “corrupting” young minds? Have you stepped foot outside the confines of your own abode lately. The world itself is a corrupt place. Do you know why? It is ignorance and avoidance. We can’t simply make the problems of the world go away by avoiding them or sitting around twidling our thumbs praying to a God who counts on us to bring about the change we want to see in the world. Why do you think we have free-will (God given or not)? The fact is, reading books about real life issues isn’t corrupting innocent minds, it is helping the minds of young people cope with the already corrupt world. Do you want to take that away from them, just because you believe there is only one way for dealing with adversity and corruption? If you do, then it is you who truly condemns the future of our nation.

    All this being said, you are entirely entitled to your beliefs and opinions, but can you step back and see where other people are coming from?

  216. I love books, I love to read, and I love English. I can recall the days I spent in high school desperately searching our barren library for something to read. Something that wasn’t boring, something that wasn’t old and broken, and something relevant to my generation. My English teacher recommended to me several books that were on the banned books list knowing my personality and knowing I had read most of the other works available to me already. Burning through classics such as Catcher in the Rye and 1984 she pointed me towards Rob Thomas, specifically Rats Saw God. My parents saw the book lying in my room and being good parents looked through it quickly to ascertain its content. I can still remember my mom coming to me one day “Where did you get this filth?” From Mrs. X I replied. “OK, well she must have picked a book just for you” That was her response and I admired her for it. She trusted my teacher, my English teacher, my literary guide, to pick a book for me and was fine with it. She may have disagreed with the content but she knew it was out of her realm of control. I would read what I wanted and she was at least glad I was reading.

    It pains me to read your story and brings tears to my eyes. I have a 3 year old myself and am actually anxiously awaiting the day I can buy her her very own copy of all the classics I have come to know and love. I can assure you she will be bringing a banned book a week to school as soon as she is ready for them. But I know that is not your focus.

    I am proud of you and your struggle. If you are looking for a job again in North Dakota I know of a school for you. You are a good woman, a great person, and I would be honored to call you a friend. With all my respect I ask you to please keep your head up, keep up the fight, and keep teaching our kids as only an English Teacher can. I salute you.

  217. Anonymous says:

    Your story made me cry as a fellow English teacher, it makes me very sad to think that your fellow English teachers did not support you, even at the community meeting. The reason that the public education system is going down and the curriculum is getting dumbed down is because people are not allowing educators to educate, they want to have the control over something and the administrators are not willing to stand up to the community. I am happy to say that there are some educators out there who do still care. I am currently working for a wonderful principal who has no problem supporting teachers when it is in the best interest of the students and holding students to a high level of expectations. I think that what you did do for your students is wonderful, and I don’t think you let them down, they will never forget that you cared and made them love reading.

  218. Risha, have you considered teaching in a Montessori middle school? Your literature circles sound like they’d fit right in!

    I love what you are doing. Beyond actually reading 12 titles, being exposed to 144+ titles and listening to other students discuss the ones you didn’t choose…what a great way to pique curiosity and encourage further reading!

  219. I am sorry this happened, but not surprised, which is exactly what I said to my husband when he forwarded a link to your blog. Conservative southerners are afraid of what’s foreign, and the need to be insular is smothering and reigns superior over any calls for diversity or change. Rape is of course not at all foreign to the south, but if they ignore it, many think that makes it not exist, like racial tension. All those prejudices boil up in the most insidious ways when their children are concerned, which is why I don’t want to work with children in any way. Litigation is scary and real, and the adult almost always loses no matter what the actual outcome. I hope your family finds a way to reunite soon, and maybe you could take a job with the NEA, etc., working from the other side of the fence. Best of luck!

  220. Anonymous says:

    Wise up. You could have used other, modern, books without giving your opponents such an easy target. Literature and history shows that society changes slowly. Now the students suffered, you suffered, and the superintendent/principal/”book board”/etc are well armed to prevent anything like this again. A little less pushyness and more tact would have yielded much better results. Good luck next time. Very glad your child survived.

  221. Anonymous says:

    I appreciate your plight and smiled a knowing smile. I work in/with educational institutions in Ky and have for about 5 years.

    What you have described is what I detest. A small minority dictates what happens to the masses and the administration is terrified. Often times, the people complaining and supporting the complainers are ignorant of the very thing they argue against… “Group Think” at its best.

    I will say I am surprised by the principals sticking with it so long with the site based councils.

    I admire your tenacity and honesty. Me, I am counting the days until I can take a job transfer out of this state.

  222. p.s. I wrote that comment as a Tennessean who earned a B.A. at WKU, totally immersed in the best and worst of the south.

    What I think you should look into is teaching abroad in an international school. The pay is much better than what you’ll be making in KY as an educator, and the experience of being truly well-funded and supported will blow your mind. I am an expatriate in Malaysia and have several friends teaching at the ISKL here, and from drama to English and science, students get the fullest picture, which of course gives them the most options and opportunities in their adult lives.

  223. I was blessed with two very good English teachers in 11th and 12th grade. One taught a split course where one semester we read classics like Lord of the Flies and the other semester we read SF. The other was just an inspiration overall.

    My two teenage sons have both been voracious readers since they were young, and the younger of the two has always been encouraged to share his books with his classmates if they want to read them

    Final point, Superintendent Freeman does not deserve his last name.

  224. Thank you so much for sharing this story. Like so many others posting on here I am both enraged, and saddened by your story. Keep fighting the good fight, and know that you have truly made a difference in many of your students’ lives.

    Hopefully these children will rise above their upbringing of ignorance and bigotry, and will remember the lessons you have taught them.

  225. Honestly its this “cannon” of works and the forced teaching of literature that did not inspire or interest me that ultimately lead me to quiting school(G.E.D. in 2002). Its cases such as this where you have a teacher who genuinely gives a crap about her students and trys to do something outside the box to reach them and is met with distrust, hatred, and intolerance. Groups such as the one that you have faced bring shame upon all those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as well as go against the very basic principals of his teachings. I really wish you luck in the future Ms. Rishia, and to put it not so eloquently…GO KICK ASS FOR EDUCATION!

  226. You’ve experienced what similarly happens to science teachers who try to teach evolution in the Bible Belt areas.

  227. Anonymous says:

    I wish you were my English teacher in High School… I’m sure you left a lasting impact on those kids and they will always thank you for it.

    Maybe someday schools won’t have to ban a book just because some dumbshit doesn’t like it!

  228. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, I gotta call some BS on this.

    As a former business manager and a current teacher I have to read between the lines a bit. You mention several instances were you did something unprofessional and then when you were called on it you described it as a witch hunt. Your test scores also do not support a huge growth. This is explained away through the faults of testing. Yes, there are problems with the test, but a 6 point drop is a huge statistical drop that can’t be explained away by saying the kids were upset I quit. You might want to fight tooth and nail for the inclusion of every book. Heck, you might want to allow Mein Kampf, but you were making decisions beyond your pay grade so to say. Administrators are usually former teachers and probably know a lot more about sacrificing personal goals for “district” goals then you give them credit for. I’m sorry it happened but I hope you learned a valuable lesson about getting caught up in the cogs of the educational machine. You may or may not have heard the old adage or “prayer” but it speaks volumes. God give me the power to change the things I can, the patience to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference. You fought a battle you didn’t have to and left a profession you loved. We don’t live in a society of black and white, we live in a society of shades of gray and whenever we refuse to compromise we paint ourselves into a corner; running the risk we will be shattered between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. This went on over several years. Surely a little compromise would have went a looooong way. Just my two cents.

  229. Anonymous says:

    Just wanted to say that I wish I had a teacher like you in high school. 🙂

  230. Anonymous says:

    “No good deed goes unpunished…..”

    Your story reminds of the reasons why I will never practice organized religion.

    You are a good person who had the best of intentions for your students. It is unfortunate that the voluntary dumbing down of our society is fueled by a close-minded religious culture that knows nothing of the benefits of education.

    Mrs. Mullins, all I can say is that you should be lifted on the shoulders giants because of your efforts. We hear you. Your plight will not be in vain.

  231. Congratulations, you’re a teacher. Unfortunately, our education system is about indoctrination, not education. Did you ever wonder why most of our Generals have their advanced degrees in history (they are required to attain that rank)? Why do they take the media first in a war? Or why Hitler ordered everyone with a high school diploma or above the rank of private killed, when he invaded Poland? What you do is far more important, powerful, and dangerous than any weapon we could pick up to defend our freedom. To quote the poles, “They haven’t killed us yet.”

  232. Reading this broke my heart. I hope things go better for you in the future.

  233. Between Texas stopping science from being taught in science classrooms across the country by manipulating the publishers, and parents like the ones in this article stopping people from reading, I really have to wonder what the hell happened to this country.

    I know people trying to censor (or even burn) books is hardly a new thing, but as a society, we’re supposed to be past this. Instead, the rest of the world is leaving us behind – they’ve moved on, and we haven’t.

    Our country needs more teachers like you, who understand that meaningful education isn’t just reading out of a textbook – and that promoting a desire to learn is more important than anything specifically taught.

    Good luck to you in the future. You definitely made the right decision. Destroying your career to win a single battle is not the way to make meaningful long-term change.

  234. As a fellow former high school English teacher, I can understand the horrible experience you have had to go through. I have come to the conclusion that principals are not there to protect the teachers, principals are there to monitor teachers and make sure they don’t do anything out of the norm.

    Thank you for your efforts. Have you thought about working for a charter school or a private school? I quit high school teaching to return to graduate school. It was the best decision I made. I teach college and love it. I can really teach whatever and however I want.

    The world needs good teachers and you deserve a great teaching job where all your creativity can shine. Good luck.

  235. My fiance linked me to this, he wants to become a teacher but stories like this scare him so much.

    You fought so long and hard and remained strong through it. My heart breaks at your experience, that there are people out there so ignorant that they would attack you for trying to really give these kids a love for reading.

    Parents that want to take education away from their children in such a manner make me sick to my stomach and I wonder how it is that people like this always feel the need to bring god into it, as if that somehow makes them right.

    From the time I was very young I read everything I could get my hands on and I had strange tastes reading books like ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘And Then There Were None’ along side ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘LOTR’ when I was no older then eight. My parents never stopped me from reading and in fact encouraged me to do so as much as I could and I happily got the same support in school as well. I can’t imagine having books taken from me because the parent of some other child decided I shouldn’t be allowed to read it so I feel sorrow for both you and the children you were teaching.

  236. I am sooo sad that you’ve gone through hell in a country that is supposed to respect diverse ideas, and use them to encourage dialog and learning.
    You were right and the system failed you. I’m sorry!


  237. Matthew M. says:

    You are a fantastic teacher, and a model of a person who prizes an unbiased, true education. You should be proud of your actions, not ashamed.

  238. Anonymous says:

    You are a fantastic educator who is clearly passionate about the progress of her students. I commend you for what you’ve done. I hope you can take solace in the fact that someday, things like this won’t happen. That’s where the zeitgeist is headed. We will look back upon stories like yours and be unable to imagine how a few loudmouthed parents were able to completely direct the reading curriculum of an entire school.

    Again, thank you for sharing your story. You are such a strong person and I have the utmost respect for you.

  239. The ignorance of parents is sometimes quite astounding. But then I think back to over 30 years ago when I started high school.

    It was a parochial high school but spring before we started freshman year we all went for orientation. We were given a bag full of books to read for the summer. Some of the titles probably would have freaked our parents out but we HAD to read them.

    Not a complaint to be heard. And we read them and even enjoyed them.

    Stay strong and continue the good fight!

  240. Your post tells me exactly how lucky I’ve been in my life and in my teachers, in the freedom I had to learn, in the books I had access to.To see kids crippled for a cause makes me sick.

  241. Anonymous says:

    I am a Biology teacher in the North part of the US. I sympathize with your plight. I have never been very good at dealing with school politics and I am less than socially correct. I have a passion for teaching and I see you do as well. I am saddened by the situation you describe, but not surprised. The book you mentioned…To Kill a Mockingbird…epitomizes you situation. There are parents out there that have bias backgrounds and are perhaps not well educated – but we all must live with one another in this world…the trick is to find a way to do so in the spirit of humanity and knowledge. I am a novice student at the foot of the mountain learning to deal with others that have a different point of view compared to my own, I try to empathize – see the situation from the other point of view… I do not always succeed, but I will continue to try…I hope you do too.

  242. please, PLEASE dont let this get you down. i know what this small, whackjob group did was terrible and you will never hear the end of it.. BUT THOSE BUSYBODIES DO NOT REPRESENT THE MAJORITY THEY CLAIM TO REPRESENT.

    as a roman catholic, i find it appalling and wish there was more i can do, but alas, this is all i can do.

    you will persevere. you will prevail. dont give up!

  243. I send my son to a local Christian school. The first week of school they had a guy come in with a travelling museum on creationism. He told the kids that the earth and the universe is 6 thousand years old. Science has it all wrong. He also told them that dinosaurs walked the earth a thousand years ago, and the nice ones were pets. They have since died out, as many species did…a thousand years ago. I am not kidding you about this. I hope it gets better for you. A teacher that cares. A teacher that gets her kids reading. You are a rare commodity. I wonder how many of the uber Christians know what their kids are doing on the internet, or reading other places. Not many I will tell you, not many.

  244. The fact that they run good teachers like you off is a large part of the reasons students like me hated high school. Fortunately, I pretty much lived at the library and would simply ditch school to go read in the woods. I’ve read all the books you mention and today I have my Master’s Degree in writing and write novels myself but what a shame that I had to educate myself and that school hindered rather than helped me in becoming well-read. My heart goes out to you, and to the kids being cheated by a system of idiots.

  245. Steven Schwartz says:

    Madam, you have my dearest and deepest sympathies. The fact that this could happen to any teacher, let alone one so dedicated as yourself, is painfully sad. Hopefully one day those who wronged you so will see the error of their deluded ways, but until then, may God watch over you and guide you to the future you so obviously deserve.

  246. So much for commenting on one of the linked blogs. The service was discontinued heh.

    When something is being called an idiotic situation by the members of the website called http://www.fark.com, it’s a sign that things have truly gotten stupid. Fark doesn’t usually pay attention to petty stupidity after all.

  247. Anonymous says:

    Stumbled across your post through FARK today and thank you for sharing your story. I must say that I’m fairly outraged about how poorly this community treated you. I know parents can be overbearing but this is truly unbelievable. I can tell by the way you write that you care deeply about your students and only wanted to encourage them.

    I owe who I am today to many of the teachers who were willing to push boundaries and encourage me to explore. While I’m sure that my words mean nothing, just another anonymous voice in the crowd, but I hope that you take solace in the fact that there are many like me who not only appreciate teachers like you, but wouldn’t be the same without them. I suppose that we need to start being the vocal ones.

    While I don’t have children of my own, you’ve inspired me to make sure that my tax dollars are put to their best use!

  248. Anonymous says:

    Oh my. Just makes me terrified for the future. If kids are reading, and liking what they are reading, and their parents don’t have a problem with it, then let them read for goodness sakes! If the parents have a problem with it, let them change classes to a teacher with a different curriculum. End of story. Sheesh do we have to make everything so freakin’ hard? If someone wants to tell me what my kids should or shouldn’t be reading, I’d tell them to take their uppity butt out of my business and worry about their own. But, then again, I do live in Austin. We are pretty free thinking down here. I’d love it if you came and taught down here. I want my kids to have teachers like you! And besides… Shakespear wasn’t always a classic. How do these people know that in 300 or 500 years “Twisted” or “Lessons From a Dead Girl” won’t be all the rage in college reading preparation classes?

  249. Anonymous says:

    I..don’t often respod to stories I read on the internet,but this story….made me so incredibly sad,angry,depressed and…overjoyed. Overjoyed that there are people like you in this world who still give a damn and still manage to make a difference. I hope you continue to work with children….even if its just on a volunteer basis. I can gurantee you,the kids who were lucky enough to be in your book club will never forget you. Keep on fighting. Never give up. Never surrender. The world needs more people like you.

  250. As a parent, I find what you have gone through to be absolutely horrible. Here in Texas I am seeing the same types of things happen to our public schools. I wish there was more I could do to stop this brutal assault on free speech and real learning.

  251. re: Anonymous October 4, 2010 4:16 PM

    “…get you back into a classroom and showing kids that all they REALLY NEED to read about is JESUS!
    THIS all all you or anyone else needs to know!”

    I’m hoping this is a joke. However, it if is not, I feel the need to point out that your ability to communicate your message is dependent upon someone having taught you something resembling language skills (skills that have fundamentally nothing to do with Jesus). That person was a teacher, obviously.

    To the author of this post, I am horrified that you had to go through this. I had a handful of really great English teachers that strongly encouraged me to read all kinds of books. I can’t thank those teachers now, since I don’t know where they are, but I can thank you.

    Thank you for caring about students enough to get them reading books that they’ll actually want to read.

  252. Bless your heart. I cried for you and your students…and because I could easily see it happening here.

  253. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I worry that reading is a lost art. I still try not to use web speak when I write, just because someone has to prove that complete words and non-truncated sentences truly are the best way to communicate. I am so sad when I go to YouTube or other comment driven sites and read comments that clearly illustrate the poor literacy in our culture today. As a father I am discouraged for our youth, and as a teacher (though not in a formal school format) I worry about the general cognitive abilities of a society that has lost the very thing that allowed us to advance beyond caves and clubs at ALL. Math has existed since the first time someone, excited about having two apples, handed one apple to a friend and realized that THEY too now only had ONE apple. But it was not until someone WROTE about that event and the nuances of mathematical change it illustrated, and someone else read and understood it without ever having personally seen it, that we were able to move forward as a species.

    OK, so I could not let this go and started clicking the internal links of this article, including this Blog link:


    “Now I haven’t read these books, and, being an English instructor and a fairly well-read person, I’ve never, with one exception, even heard of them either.”

    immediately followed by

    “According to “teenreads.com,” undoubtedly a bastion of discriminating literary taste, Knowles Lessons from a Dead Girl “does a credible job of exploring friendships, particularly those of girls, in all their complexity and depth.” I bet.”

    is a perfect illustration of academic hubris. Anyone who believes that the only instruction that should take place in schools should be done with the “classics” should think on this. Nuclear physics did not exist in the school system 60 years ago. Quantum mechanics was not even conceivable on a concrete level until the invention of the electron microscope. Only a few hundred years ago, most of the world was debating if the world was indeed round. “The classics” are not always what they are cracked up to be.

    People who say that science and math should advance, while art, music and literature should remain stagnant, well, they deserve what they get. My advice to this teacher would be simple. These people do not value you. They do not respect you. They will certainly will not support you. Go elsewhere. Let the psychotic fundamentalist mothers teach their own kids and they can marry their first cousins like grandpa tells them to and live happily ever after reading the old testament until their eyes go myopic… You truly can not save everyone, and the ones who actively fight against you do not deserve saving.

  254. Anonymous says:

    I worry that reading is a lost art. I still try not to use web speak when I write, just because someone has to prove that complete words and non-truncated sentences truly are the best way to communicate. I am so sad when I go to YouTube or other comment driven sites and read comments that clearly illustrate the poor literacy in our culture today. As a father I am discouraged for our youth, and as a teacher (though not in a formal school format) I worry about the general cognitive abilities of a society that has lost the very thing that allowed us to advance beyond caves and clubs at ALL. Math has existed since the first time someone, excited about having two apples, handed one apple to a friend and realized that THEY too now only had ONE apple. But it was not until someone WROTE about that event and the nuances of mathematical change it illustrated, and someone else read and understood it without ever having personally seen it, that we were able to move forward as a species.

    OK, so I could not let this go and started clicking the internal links of this article, including the Blog link:

    “Now I haven’t read these books, and, being an English instructor and a fairly well-read person, I’ve never, with one exception, even heard of them either.”

    immediately followed by

    “According to “teenreads.com,” undoubtedly a bastion of discriminating literary taste, Knowles Lessons from a Dead Girl “does a credible job of exploring friendships, particularly those of girls, in all their complexity and depth.” I bet.”

    is a perfect illustration of academic hubris. Anyone who believes that the only instruction that should take place in schools should be done with the “classics” should think on this. Nuclear physics did not exist in the school system 60 years ago. Quantum mechanics was not even conceivable on a concrete level until the invention of the electron microscope. Only a few hundred years ago, most of the world was debating if the world was indeed round. “The classics” are not always what they are cracked up to be.

    People who say that science and math should advance, while art, music and literature should remain stagnant, well, they deserve what they get. My advice to this teacher would be simple. These people do not value you. They do not respect you. They will certainly will not support you. Go elsewhere. Let the psychotic fundamentalist mothers teach their own kids and they can marry their first cousins like grandpa tells them to and live happily ever after reading the old testament until their eyes go myopic… You truly can not save everyone, and the ones who actively fight against you do not deserve saving.

    I too am sorry for the Anon post. Not much of a blogger, though you would never be able to tell from the length of my response…

  255. To anonymous, who accuses Risha of being demon possessed, I would like to point out the scenes with rape, incest, sex, violence, and swearing in the Bible. I would also like to point out that the Bible says not to judge. And I’d like to say that God gave free will for a reason. Banning books is about thought-control. God loves us so much he doesn’t want to control us.

    I am a home school mom. I have three precious children that I love, and when they reach their high school years, these books will be on their to-read list along with several other books that someone wants to read. Controversial stories? Excellent. I think it is excellent for parents and children to discuss controversy. How else will parents teach morals to their children if they can’t talk about difficult subjects? Coming together to discuss books is one of the best ways to broach such topics.

    It’s hard to be a parent and make the best decisions, but controlling your children’s thoughts is not the way to protect them. By the time they are in high school, you should be preparing to set them free, to live on their own, not put them in a box and cripple their minds. How much more fruitful the parents’ time would have been spent if they had read the books and discussed them with their children. If there was something inappropriate, what a great opportunity for parents to share their values with their children!

    I am also a YA writer. The YA anthology Unlocked contains my short story Symbiote, the story of a slave girl who dreams of freedom. It is situations where people tell you what to think, where your loyalties should lie, how you should feel, that tears me apart, and it is that sorrow that I pour into my writing.

    Thank you, Risha, for sharing your story.

  256. Anonymous says:

    The mistake you made is in providing books with sexual content to minors. You should have left the book content up to the parents and not tried to usurp the role. You are there to teach children HOW to read not WHAT to read. You brought the problem onto yourself. Like many in education you think you are there to brainwash children. Stick to the three Rs and stop trying to teach the kids WHAT to think. Stop whining and playing the victim. Maybe you should get out of the profession and leave it to those who stop meddling in the affairs of parents.

  257. This is just horrendous. I’m so sorry to hear that this is how they want to treat a caring and talented educator… their loss. Good luck with all your future endeavors!

  258. Anonymous says:

    My former school district is currently standardizing and pasteurizing all final exams, projects and classwork in every subject across the entire district. This wouldn’t sounds so bad, but this does include the fine arts. Yes, a student in one school will be given the exact project (with little room for creativity as objectives of the project will be tested) as a kid miles away in a different class with a different teacher.
    Streamline the system! Give me convenience or give me death!

  259. To all:

    Please don’t say you are “nobody” or that you can’t add to what has been said already. Just Saturday I had less than 20 comments altogether on this thing. Who is the nobody?

    Your posts mean so much to me. I’m immensely grateful for your support. I wish I could respond to every one of you personally.

    Please keep fighting with me for YA in the classroom, for options in the classroom.

    All Best,
    Risha Mullins

    To anonymous from 8: 25 p.m. Oct. 4th:

    Your angry diction makes me sad. And I’m not psychoanalyzing you here, but it makes me wonder if your anger at me, for some reason, prevents you from reaching an understanding with me and of me. I’m also wondering your geographical location.

    In providing students with so many options–classic and YA, Christian and non, poetry and narrative, racy and non–I am teaching them “how” to read not “what” to read. So, in that, I agree with you. And if I have to spend my own money to be equitable in book choices, I will do it, and have done it.

    About the sexual content. I do see how this, in theory, seems problematic, though many minors of the ages I teach know everything and have done everything and have let me know about it in their journals. This is where this issue becomes a real conundrum: sex is part of the human condition. It is inextricably part of literature. I teach “The Miller’s Tale” from Chaucer. Go read it. I teach “Hamlet”. Go read the Sparknotes so you can catch all the Renaissance sexual talk and action. I teach Dracula, rife with masked, repressed sexuality. I teach, from the literature book, “The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant” where the young boy finally cuts his catfish line because the moon light shines down her “Small breasts, rising and falling softly” (paraphrased). This is no more than is found in many of the books that were banned from me. And is far less than in some of the heavier classics I teach–as in out loud, you take notes, I pull out every reference and allusion and dirty detail from history to promote the context for understanding. Why is YA different? Scarier? Because the references and allusions are easier to catch because the diction and syntax are contemporary. That’s why they are targets.

    I’m not sure what the three “R”s are, but I probably won’t stick to them. And I definitely will not get out of this profession. Actually, my goal is to teach other teachers someday, so they’ll go into this profession intellectually armed.

    Again, I’m sorry you’re angry.

    All Best,
    Risha Mullins

  260. I’m an education student right now and I’m really sorry you had to go through all of this. I wish parents would just understand how much you care and how much they are hindering their child’s possibilities with their closemindedness.

  261. Anonymous says:

    People who want to ban books are no better than bigots or any other people who think they’re better than someone else.

    If the parents don’t want their kids reading a book, they should kindly ask to be able to be able to pick out which books they want their kids to read for assignments.

    Instead, they want the school to cater to the lowest denominator so they don’t need to spend time with their children.

  262. Anonymous says:

    If it is criminal of a parent to allow the truancy of their own children, how can it a lesser crime when one parent is allowed to make an entire school district crippled, and every student a truant from the education they deserve? Every time a single person tries to sabotage the curriculum for all, they should be reminded that homeschooling is an option. Why is there no backbone in the system? Is there a horrible court precedent that favors parent’s protests? This absolutely sickens me. We need education as a nation–so badly.

  263. Anonymous says:

    This sadly is a fight parents fight to say they are involved with their children’s lives. Compared to the filth kids will read outside of school curriculums (Twilight) these books are a better value. Children are less likely to read things that are forced upon them, that are boring and uninteresting! What do parents really believe their children are doing instead of actively reading books!? I’ll tell you, not sitting around knitting mittens! Maybe we should do a study on parenting techniques and give them a critique on how their precious teenagers are spending their free time! I applaud you for getting your class involved and eager to read and learn!! Read books that talk about something real, something valuable, something that motivates and changes lives! That is the job of a teacher, not to just read and discuss, but to inspire and understand what they are reading! Good for you and keep going, don’t let a few bad apples ruin your passion for teaching and teaching well!! Our communities are stressed for teachers!? Why!? Because, they run off the good ones (passionate, inspiring and motivating teachers), for those who will fight less and do what they are told!

  264. Wow. All I can tell you is that if I had had you as a teacher, I would have loved it. I was lucky enough to have a reading program in my school that allowed students to read many wonderful YA books, and some teachers who recommended a few that are still very close to my heart, but there were no teachers who went so above and beyond to get their students to read. I am one who was always a voracious reader. It makes me so sad to hear people say that they don’t like to read. If someone would just give them the right books, I know that they would love it.
    Also, it makes me so incredibly angry that backwards people get to run the show all the time. Especially when you consider that lots of people just jump on the banning-books-bandwagon because they want to be upset about something, maybe “liberal propaganda”. So they take good books out of schools because of the subject matter and then those same people likely let their children watch whatever the eff they want on television or at the movies.
    I cried when reading your story. Thank you for sharing. I will share this with other people and maybe by spreading awareness of problems such as these we can help stop them.

  265. What a staggering, heart-wrenching account! Passing this along to everyone I know. People need to know about this, that it happens, how it happens.

    I have strong opinions on the dumbing down of our world, the way we seem to deliberately raise intellectually-stunted children and unfairly sabotage their potential. My own child is beautiful, smart, the sort who devours books. But the fact that he’s head-and-shoulders above everyone else his age gives me pause. He shouldn’t be.

    I don’t know you, but I love you for what you do. Keep fighting. We need you.

  266. Anonymous says:

    Kelsey in CO: This is why Americans are becoming illiterate.
    Parents who fear these books do so because they fear their children learning and questioning. Heaven forbid they think for themselves, let alone question their parents.
    Without both we will continue our slide to being a third rate nation.

  267. Anonymous says:

    I hope your story spreads across the country and more parents fight for teachers like you!

    -Mom of 4

  268. We need Many More teachers like Risha, so that today’s youth do not grow up to be trolls on FARK!

  269. your story is so moving. you are not running from anything, you are surviving to fight another day. if anything is clear it is that you have always been and will always bee a courageous teacher. i would be honored to have you teach my children. you are a patriotic American defending this fine country against the most devastating threats imaginable … ignorance and small-mindedness. God bless you for the personal sacrifice you have made to enrich children’s lives with the gift of reading and education!!

  270. welovetea says:

    This whole situation is an outrage! Thank you for your courage in all this. As a professor of philosophy and religious studies, I can only say you know you’re fighting for something important when you hit resistance. I’ll keep fighting to maintain academic freedom in my school if you keep fighting for it with the youth! What college teacher wants students who were coddled and sheltered all through school, anyway?

  271. It is reasons like this that I refuse to actually go and teach history and social studies in a public school. I don’t do censorship. What was the battle of the Alamo fought over? Freedom. Why? The Texans wanted slaves. Davy Crockett wasn’t awesome; he was a jerk! I just! Just! ARGH! SNARL! I HATE that you went through that. HATE it! I’d hug you right now, and were I in charge, I’d hire you immediately. <3 Thanks for being so brave for so long!

  272. Risha,

    I’ve never read your blog until now, and, oddly enough, found my way here through a random news aggregator that I’ve used to amuse myself over the years.

    I’ve been out of the YA world for about a year now, having gone on hiatus after my son was born, oddly enough, last year on September 29. I used to review for ALAN, and also reviewed Lessons from a Dead Girl and Soul Enchilada (David’s debut book) specifically requested from the authors. I remember the controversy Jo experienced when Lessons first came out, but I’m not sure if I’d heard of your particular story until now, since I honestly haven’t been paying much attention to literary things lately.

    Reading about your soul-wrenching experience leaves me without words. I feel awful for you and the pain you’ve experienced, as well as a deep sadness for the loss of your former students in the wonderful teacher they had. You’ve done some good work, lady, and fought the good fight, and I wish you didn’t have to cry anymore.

    Although I wasn’t personally involved in this story, I feel as though I should have been. I’ve been avoiding the online world for exactly a year now, and while a lot of it is laziness and a bit of selfishness in enjoying the first year of my son’s life, I must say that, after reading this, I’m wracked with guilt that I didn’t help you in some way by blogging, writing a letter, or what not. I know I’m just a peon in the YA world, and only a fraction of the Kidlitosphere knows who I am, but that could have been one more person on your side, one more voice to tell you that it’s okay and we’ll stand with you.

    I’ve been slowly gathering up the courage to reenter the world of reviews, blogs, and networking, but I think it’s safe to say you’ve brought me back. I feel like I’m a soldier that has neglected her post, or something like that. No more. The nightmare you have been through is intolerable, and shouldn’t be brought on anybody.

    You did the right thing. Please believe that.

    I hope I get to meet you someday.

  273. Good Lord, this is awful. But you know what’s good to know?

    This is the Internet. Yes, you’re going to get Googled, but Google works by what’s most popular, most heavily linked. And this blog post is going to spread. It’s going to be Tweeted, Digg’d and more.

    That principal and the religious freaks who put you through so much pain and destroyed the literary lives of their OWN CHILDREN are going to be outnumbered and outgunned.

    God Bless you, ma’am. And may She forgive the morons, jerks, twits and idiots who claim to do stupid things in Her Name.

  274. I am not a reader, but I am a designer and contemporary artists that explores social issues. I am very sympathetic to your situation. It must have been extremely extremely hard to have gone through everything you posted here. It is enraging to see how closed minded certain people are, it is even more enraging when people begin to use religion to get what they want; and people who do not make educated decisions but simply to follow the the norm. There is really little I can do, but I just wanted to let you know that your action, your decision, your strength, you belief…everything about you is so heroic that the uncivilized population is not able to understand. I also think that your resignation was wise and allows you time for strategy planning. You may have lost a battle, but you haven’t lost the war. Now is a good time for you to recharge, regroup, reorganize and then resume; run back into the battlefield for a second round with new tricks and new reinforcement. I sincerely have the highest respect for what you have been through as well as what you have done.

  275. Dear Parents,

    If you don’t want your child reading books you don’t like, then home school them. Because while you think you are dictating what YOUR child should read, you really end up dictating what EVERYONE’S child should read.

    Stop hurting our education because of your delicate sensitivities.

    Your Child’s Classmate

  276. @ Anonymous – 8:25PM : You know what? You’re right! You are absolutely right. Children should be given a copy of the New International Bible and told to read THAT.

    That way, they can learn aaallllll about drunkeness, prostitution, slavery, adultery, incest, sodomy, rape, volunteering your own children to be raped, sacrificing your own children, getting stoned to death for eating shrimp, learning how to commit genocide and more!

    Oh, and let’s make sure they all learn how a long-haired hippy that loved his wine so much he could make it with his finger and hung out with his groupies was nailed to the cross, just because he told a bunch of old farts to chill out and be nice to people. Oooh! OOOOH! And THEN learn how they hunted down all his fellow hippies and murdered them in the most brutal ways they could imagine! DEEP-FRIED PROPHET! W00T!!!

    Yeah! Good lessons in there!

  277. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of when they showed us the movie “Ghandi” in middle school. Important person in the history of both India, the US (inspired MLK to nonviolent resistance), and anti-colonialism in general. Parents howled because Ghandi was a Hindu. The movie didn’t teach or advocate Hinduism, but the mere fact that the main character was non Christian outraged them. The kids discussed the situation and we simply concluded that the group of parents were insane. The administrators apologized and promised never to show a movie like that again. The kids then concluded that our administrators were spineless.

  278. Anonymous says:

    I am truly sorry to hear about your experience. I am now a Law student at AU in DC and if it wasn’t for reading when I was younger I could never have gotten where I am today. I thank you and all the teachers like you that help their students read.

    I also recommend pursing legal action against the school district for work discrimination.

  279. Stephen J. Ardent says:

    It must be tough being a liberal elitist educator who is also a paid employee and having to abide by giving an education to students in accordance with community standards.

    Too strong? I’m sorry, being a teach does not mean you know best.

    A lot of people here bashing religion, equating certain beliefs with ignorance, etc. Blah blah blah.

    But the simple fact of the matter is that parents, in general, are not satisfied with the education their children have been receiving. They are not satisfied with what they see as less education and more social engineering.

    And these are their children, not yours. And they’re damn sick of being taxed and then told they’re ignorant and that someone else knows best what they want their children taught.

    Combine that with the fact that people, of all groups, are more insecure now.

    Just as anyone else does, time to get a job where you feel you and your talents are appreciated.

    Or perhaps start a school of your own. See what kind of business you can drum up.

  280. Lindsey from Wyoming says:

    I want to thank you, not only for posting your story, but for your prolonged and brave struggle to protect students and literature itself against censorship, oppression, and closed-mindedness. As the daughter of a teacher and a prolific reader in childhood, I have witnessed smaller scale examples of your fight for my entire life. I remember very well the knee-jerk reaction that classmates would have if a book we were assigned in class dared to mention sex, desire, homosexuality, or anything resembling cynicism towards God or our government. I’ve seen projects shut down because they were deemed potentially offensive, and classes inundated with politically correct “classics” and syllabi designed to offend no one. I would have thanked my lucky stars for a program like yours, or a teacher like yourself, when I was growing up. My own youth was filled with YA books that I worked through feverishly, often read secretly tucked beneath my desk while I was ostensibly learning what it had been deemed appropriate for me to learn. Despite the best efforts of a standardized school system, I retained my love of literature and am currently studying English at the university level. It is thanks to people like you that I have hope that when I leave school, the literature that I loved as a child will still be there.

  281. Anonymous says:

    I… I hate these people. People who don’t know anything about what they do. People who wave their clubs and torches and mindlessly destroy the works of others because they fail to understand it. It pushes me farther and farther away from religion to see these wackos and their ignorant agenda choking the life from this world. I may be just an anonymous bystander, but I simply cannot stand this sort of injustice and ignorance any longer. I just wish I could change ignorance into understanding 🙁

  282. Anonymous says:

    As a lover of literature and a burgeoning writer, I shed tears as I write this. Literally.

    What you describe is exactly what is wrong with our schools in the current time; narrow-minded, self-righteous individuals grinding individuality and genuine caring right into the dust. Teachers who approach their jobs with the right attitude (get people to learn something, and love doing it) are crucified, while those who simply follow rules without regard to whether or not such are working are rewarded.

    I was allowed to read whatever I wished growing up; my parents encouraged me to read Newsweek at 8 and learn about the Iran-Contra Affair (important when I was in the single digits) and read “Forbidden City” and “Les Miserables” to me. “Family Reading Time” was an event in a household with no television and a limited music selection. Indeed, one of my fondest childhood memories is my father’s deep baritone struggling through Victor Hugo’s complicated prose.

    And now? The hateful dissect every story for superficial mention of sex or violence, without regard to the artistic merit of the work they are butchering. Only titles with the requisite amount of dust on the cover are left sacred, and I can see a time in the near future where even that will not save them.

    As we purge the pain and lust from our myths, so too do we remove the uplifting lesson that such stories impart to us. With such do we teach our children how all-important it is to conform to a standard, never mind the fact that we are a nation BUILT on revolution and change. As we “shield” them from the ugly bits do we stunt their ability to deal with the harm real life deals out to us. Maybe that is why America dies.

    It was a teacher just like you who convinced a 13 year old, maladjusted, hormone-addled preteen he had a gift, just by telling him so. I am saddened and enraged that a caring instructor like yourself could have been treated such.


    Eric Plume

  283. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for standing up to make your voice heard. The school system I attended, I only ever found stifling. While you cannot control how others think of you, I sincerely doubt your students will ever consider your story a failure.

  284. Where can I get more information about how you created this phenomenal success?

    What you did could open up whole new worlds to kids in the local Boys & Girls Club in this area, and could make a world of difference to the kids at the Books for Life childrens libraries being built in Nicaragua (booksforlife.org).

    You succeeded. And you can do more! (And in more appreciative environments, even! 😉

  285. Anonymous says:

    Oh, and as an aside…

    Moral courage is rare in these times, even more so in the field of education. To those parents who are reaming this woman for daring to allow children to pick their own books, I say;

    GROW UP.

    The classics have enough dirty humor in their pages to satisfy the most puerile porn dealer; I know, I’ve read them. William Shakespeare’s works were BAWDY COMEDIES in his day, relegated to the lower classes for their entertainment (much as the books you so revile). Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” is nicely removed from most high-school textbooks (since it’s quite obviously perverse) but the rest contain enough innuendo to fill out an AC/DC tune. I remember laughing myself sick at a stage performance of “Taming of the Shrew” shown in my sophomore English class; what I find sad is that other than my teacher I was the only one who was.

    How long before some perceptive Fundamentalist catches on to all the oral sex jokes in Shakespeare’s plays and bans them from high schools?

    And why should they have the right to?

    As an example of the kind of moral courage Risha Mullins showed; I was in high school at the time of the Columbine shootings (circa 1998). At my school, there was a movement among parents to ban the wearing of trench coats, or the display of “Gothic” makeup and dress style. The principal at my school flat-out refused; his quote…

    “The kids at this school (who dress like this) are not bad kids, and I refuse to tell them that they are.”

    The ban never went through.

    Though it was unsuccessful, this is the kind of moral courage that Risha Mullins showed. And as the recipient of said courage once in his life, I thank you for trying. Keep doing so.

    Eric Plume

    P.S. Yes I know I’m commenting twice in rapid succession, but I hope a lover of literature can understand how some things take a lot of words to convey. I wish we could meet in person sometime.

  286. Anonymous says:

    Reading brings enlightenment and is a cornerstone to building an educated person. Throughout school I was able to read whatever I pleased, I only read things I enjoyed, but they were books that had educational value. Throughout college I read textbooks for learning and novels for enjoyment. Now I own a bookstore and share many titles with others who love to read. To strip a child of the freedom to pick up a wholesome book is an obvious attack on their ability to think with an open and free mind.

    I am sorry that this travesty has fell upon you, I can only hope that ignorance will someday subside. Alas, it’s day is far off.

  287. Anonymous says:


    We would be honoured if you could come to us and teach English. Your passion and hard work would be greatly appreciated.

    Over here we do not ban books and we do not have religious fanatics.

    There are currently 2747 open positions for English teachers in Sweden.

    On the behalf of the citizens of Swedish.

  288. You are making it easy for us to pass you.

  289. Anonymous says:


  290. A story that both threatens and confirms my faith in humanity.

  291. Anonymous says:

    I’ll keep it short – thank you for being such a great teacher. If even 20% of the teaching staff cared for the subject anywhere near as much as you, we’d all be in a much better place today.

    I think it’s appalling that even today our schools ban books. How is this even still happening in this country?

  292. Anonymous says:

    Get out of Kentucky and the Bible Belt. Your family needs to move up to the North East or where church and state are actually separate. This is the kind of fear mongering that divides our country and make the South wonder why the North looks down upon them. Keep your chin up and know there are more people on your side about this then you will ever imagine. This is not your fault and you did the right thing.

  293. I know this is just going to be lost in a torrent of posts, but…

    I like books. I really, really like books. I read them whenever I can. I caught onto reading relatively early and can blitz a regular sized book, while still enjoying it. That’s a curse, not a blessing. No matter how hard I try, I can never find enough books that interest me.
    I’m a teenager. YA books have such an impact words cannot describe it.

    But I’m rambling.
    “If I can give any advice at all, it would be this.
    Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” – Albert Einstein

    Your story is inspiring. The only question I have is: Who was the higher up faction?

    Note: As it turns out, the universe isn’t infinite.

  294. Thanks for the post, Risha. Like others here, I would have loved to have you as a teacher when I was growing up.

  295. It’s sad. It’s more than sad, it’s tragic and what makes it tragic is how unnecessary and stupid those doing the censoring behaved. It was not “for the childern,” it was a power-play, a muscle flex ending in a fist. It was stupid.
    I see these people every day, sneering at me in my bookstore job for selling “smut” like “Slaughterhouse Five.” I see them as they make a pig-wallow of any tidy area and leave with nothing but some CDs they’ve shoplifted.
    I don’t know how you can stand being a teacher. I would never last more than two days, faced with the challenged you face.
    Thank you for trying as hard as you do.

  296. Anonymous says:

    A nation in intellectual decline, hellbent on cheering their fall all the way to the bottom. A community can’t survive if it allows the regressers to flourish and dictate the agenda. Litmus test for any institution: Discuss atheism, socialism or vegetarism and see how heated the debate will become. Intolerance will show it’s ugly head in seconds.

  297. Anonymous says:

    The parents, school-boards and religious zealots you descibe are the reason my wife and I chose not to have children.

    Teachers such as yourself offer a faint gimmer of hope that America will not recede back into into the dark ages.

  298. Thank you for everything you have done. You are an inspiration.

  299. Thanks for documenting your story of censorship so eloquently.

  300. I read your article and linked to it via my facebook account. Here is what I wrote.

    Recently a post was put up by others called Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? An article that was filled with the complaints of a curmudgeon
    and a lot of stereotyping in order to make it seem like the next generation was clueless. The same type of complaints made by boomers about the me generation and so on and so on.

    However… the problem is not up and coming generation it is the previous generation. The inability adapt, to accept, to change, to stop fearing. Our generation, our parents generation and the generations before that. Despite much of the progress made by the younger generations that helped to give women the right to vote. That helped to bring about civil rights, that helped to put men on the moon, that helped to create the information superhighway. The one thing that is over looked is fear held onto by previous generations.

    We are more then willing to condemn the failure of the school system which now in some ways turns out sub standard students. But the school system is not to blame for that. I know that is shocking to some. Who is to blame? The previous generation, the parents. So in an effort to take on the same stereotyping done in Beth J. Harpaz for the Boston Globe. I will do the same. I will stereotype what the older generation has done.

    The older generation has let religion creep into our schools. Despite a distinct separation of church and state. We have had to go back to court with kitzmiller v dover to stop schools from teaching the lies that are creationism. The older generations have fought against the rights of gays to marry despite the fact that civil rights movement was just a little over 40 years ago. The older generation has let corporations and their interests become paramount over the rights of the citizens something that was made clear with with the 14th amendment. We now no longer strive for advancement. We strive to protect the institutions from lawsuits. Be it a corporate one or a government one. We have let the fear mongers stifle us. We let them hem and haw about the imaginary threat of sharia law in the US. We use to teach about different cultures now we teach fear. The previous generation throws around words like socialism just as the generation prior to that threw around the word communism. We use to have students actually read the communist manifesto and then discuss the pros and cons of the book. Now we just censor it.

    The one thing that the previous generation manages to pass on to the next is fear. The next generation works at overcoming the specific item of that fear but the seed is planted and then they have to fear something so they do the same as the prior generation in a different way. Books like Candide by Voltaire, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee and others. These books are banned by the parents, the previous generation. Granted it is not all the parents but remember I am continuing the stereotype here. Because one email (before it would be one letter) now will shut down a school book club. We take the books from the kids and tell them they are bad. We plant that seed of fear. Who knows where the next generation will let it grow.

  301. I went to an alternative high school with defiant teachers and just as an example, the English teacher gave me a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and said she thought I’d like it. She was on the money. This book jump started my interest in literature and since then I have given many classics a chance and much to my surprise, have liked. There was nothing written in that book that was even half as bad as reality in high school. Or even middle school for that matter. Jesus, the stuff that went on in those halls drove me out of them! But we have BOOKS TO WORRY ABOUT!

  302. If you don’t speak out against this kind of things, undeterred, no one will.
    “Great power is not achieved, but thrust upon those who want it least.”


  303. There is a tropical depression outside my window as I sit here in bed waiting for an opportunity to dart to class, where I will sit and silently study medical biochemistry. I had no intentions of ending up on a tiny Caribbean island 4 years ago, but my dream of becoming a doctor brought me here – not exactly the most prestigious place to end up, BUT I am following my dream.

    Something that I have appreciated throughout my education were effective teachers. Aside a handful of educators, a majority of my teachers have been unnecessary as they were easily replaced by the authors and editors of my text books. Gathering from what all you described in your story, you are one of the few educators that are irreplaceable in the life of a student. Please do not give up. You are worth SO MUCH to so many students you have taught in the past, and have yet to meet.

  304. Anonymous says:

    It is very disappointing that the administration and staff didn’t back you up. But that just shows how they run away from hardship. They are to scared to back someone else up because they let fear control them. It is easier to run then to stand up for something.

    Those parents who pushed you in that way are even more disappointing. They are harming their children. In todays society where they are all touchy feely and not being mean to kids, are being extrememly cruel. But they will never see it that way because they are narrow minded.

    The school system needs to update it self but it wont’ work to do so. They don’t want to work. They want to be lazy and just let things slide by because hard work is to much for them. It is easier to bow down to parents, some who never passed highschool, to let things be run the way they want.

    When you bring something new to people who are ‘old’ it never goes over well.

    You are an amazing person. You taught those kids a great many things. They have seen true strength, commitment and hard work though you; more than they will see at home especially for the ones whose parents fought against you.

    You are an inspiration to everyone to stand up for what they beleive in.

  305. Anonymous says:

    You just censored your own article on crap censorship..?

  306. Could you perhaps restore the post or something? At least the original part was very inspiring, perhaps without so many personal details?

    It was a fantastic story and it would be a shame if we never saw it again.

  307. I want to thank you for writing this, and I feel lucky to have seen it before you had to take it down (though I understand why you did). I’ve always had a passion for reading, first and foremost, and others have said better than I what a crime it is what happened to you. I want to be a teacher. I’m working on going back to school to get my masters and get certified, and this both terrifies and motivates me. I hope to have the opportunity to be as good a teacher and mentor as it seems you were to those kids. I just wanted to tell you you’re sort of my new hero, and that your students are lucky to have you.

  308. Anonymous says:

    You are wonderful. Thank you for your sacrifice.

  309. Anonymous says:

    I agree with the above comment. You are wonderful and I have no doubt that your students will remember you always. You are the kind of teacher the world needs.

  310. I’m sure I’m just a drop of water in this big comment bucket, but I wanted to say that your story made me cry. I was a student who struggled to find reading material in school. I was an advanced readers and I could take on the classics, but let’s face it… I was a kid. I wanted to read about kid things.

    I was lucky that my parents let me read anything I wanted when I was in junior high and on. That included Stephen King’s IT (which if you consider graphic sex scenes in books pornography… it… um… really was pornography.) I’ve asked my mom why she let me read anything like that when so many other parents were busy trying to hide books from their kids. She said because she couldn’t hide the truths of the world forever from me, and it was better to her that I experienced them through a fictional book rather than try them out for myself without any knowledge of them.

    My mom would have been appalled by the events you describe and if I’d been a kid in that school, she’d have been standing with you telling everyone that those books shouldn’t be banned.

    I think you’re a wonderful person and a wonderful teacher. I can only hope that the students you managed to touch and help during your time teaching can maintain their love of reading further into their education. I hope they read all kinds of books that those parents which felt the need to censor someone would balk at. I hope they learn a lot of things that make them better people from those books.

    I hope everyone is like you in the future and not close minded and trying to act as a shield against knowledge like those parents and your former employers. You went to that school and you did what teachers do: You taught. They were simply too concerned about reputation, numbers and a passive aggressive need not to deal with any criticism to actually do their job, which is to broaden the minds of students everywhere to all possibilities.

    If they ever look around and see the world and think that it seems empty or ignorant or dull or sad or angry I want them to realize that they contributed to the problem in a really big way. To top it off, they chased you away when you were doing a wonderful thing to brighten the world.

    I hope you find success and happiness soon.

    Love, Maggie

  311. How dare that arrogant, elitist, liberal, so-called “educator” deign to fight what anyone in the community wanted. She blew it, and now she’s all whiny because her passive-aggressive “follow the rules to the letter” ploy failed to keep those books in the hands of her students against the wishes of the community, and against the wishes of her immediate supervisors, who, like any good administrator, was trying to give the community the quality of education that they wanted, not something dictated from on-high by the NEA or some other liberal, socialist, un-American organization. By the way, my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek, and this is an extremely depressing outcome for what sounds like a damned good teacher. Yes, I’m practicing right-wing demagoguery. 😉 I’m also glad that nobody realized that the book on the display rack in my 5th grade classroom, donated by the library, titled “Tarnsman of Gor” by John Norman, was the misogynistic porn every hormone addled 11 year old boy only dreams of.

  312. nice post

  313. Like so many here have already detailed in quite colorful language how ridiculous this whole incident was, I wholeheartedly agree.

    I’ve noticed that you tend to find these types of overwhelmingly dense people in the Southern states. I wish I could honestly tell you there’s something you can do, but I can’t.

    While I’m not a teacher, I work in the educational technology field and I’m a large supporter of education (and English, mainly because it’s depressing to see how illiterate we are becoming as a country). I live in NY and this type of inane disregard for intelligence or logic displayed by those that believe in some archaic religion that’s log past its due day is a very rare occurrence.

    New York doesn’t have the world’s greatest school system (and, like all places in the world, it has its own problems), but parents are not nearly this pathetic or mindlessly thick. I know this post is two year old and admittedly, I haven’t taken the time to read on and see how your career has progressed since this. Regardless, I wish you well in your future endeavors.

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