Litchfield teacher resigns amid short story controversy

On June 18, the School Board of Campbell High School in Litchfield, New Hampshire decided to remove four short stories from the “Love/Gender/Family” unit of an English class.  Early last week, Kathleen Reilly resigned from her position as English department head, citing a desire to teach elementary school in a different district.

Reilly, who had taught at the high school since it opened in 2000, did not teach the junior/senior “Short Stories” class herself, but did choose its curriculum.  She did not explicitly state that the controversy forced her to resign.  However, the principal’s suggestion that she had made a “mistake in judgment” when choosing the stories, coupled with the School Board’s decision to impose more oversight on curriculum development in the future, likely influenced Reilly’s decision to leave.

A number of parents objected earlier this month to four stories by Ernest Hemingway, David Sedaris, Stephen King, and Laura Lippman because of their themes of abortion, homosexuality, cannibalism, and drug use, respectively.  In an email to the Union Leader Reporter, Reilly defended the use of the stories in class:

The first story, ‘The Crack Cocaine Diet,’ was not intended to glorify bad behavior; rather, it was chosen for its tone and point of view and to show the often devastating consequences of drug use. In addition to its tone and style, the message of the story ‘I Like Guys’ was respect and acceptance, not an advocacy for homosexuality.

Certain parents, particularly Sue Ann Johnson, insisted that the inclusion of the stories was part of a liberal “agenda” and that they did not want their children learning about homosexuality in school.

Reilly’s resignation is a sad development in this ongoing controversy.  No teacher should have to feel compelled to leave a school because of angry objections to the books she teaches.  Parents have a right to prevent their own children from reading certain stories, but other students may read what they want–and teachers have the right to assign any story that, in their professional opinion, has educational merit.

Read an op-ed piece by Andy Towne, a 2007 graduate of Campbell high school, in defense of Kathleen Reilly and the banned stories.

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13 Responses to Litchfield teacher resigns amid short story controversy

  1. alex203 says:

    cool!!! – thanks a lot for this post!!!

  2. MOMwithAbrain says:

    Good riddance to the teacher who tried to dumb down the education in Litchfield. This was never CENSORSHIP…the parents can go out and get the trash and read it to their own children. THis was about a school that dumbed down the education to the level of Jerry Springer and got caught. A few parents demanded a HIGH quality literature class and since it’s THEIR money and THEIR children, THEY should have a voice.

  3. Pingback: Kids’ Right to Read Opposes “Love/Gender/Family” Censorship in Litchfield, NH « Blogging Censorship

  4. Emilia2008CHSgrad says:

    MOMwithAbrain this is censorship. Pure and simple. It is also bigotry being that at the orignal meeting the book they are were most concerned with is “I like guys”. I have read this and there is NOTHING wrong with it. Kevin Smith, who was quoted in the original Union Leader article, does not have student at Campbell but he was vocal in trying to block the gay marriage bill from passing. While he did not speak at the second meeting (which I did attend and speak at, twice) it was because after all that was written about Mrs. Johnson they decided to hide behind “Crack Cocaine Diet”. I have also read this book and see nothing wrong with it. The first paragraph is a little shocking but that is something that people need to get past. I also listened to the books on tape version in which the narrator is very sarcastic, which is the way I believe the story should have been taken.

    By reading these short stories Mrs. Reilly who was my teacher freshman year, my drama director freshman-junior year, and I was her teacher’s aid senior year, is trying to get students to think. This is something that the students simply don’t do enough of, because of parents who haven’t taught their kids to think and question things. Reading these stories does not dumb down the school it simply makes the students aware of issues. I have heard people say “why aren’t they reading Shakespeare instead?”, and Shakespeare is read, just not in this specific class. There was even a Shakespeare class for a long time but the school stopped offering it when not enough students were signing up.

    Mrs. Reilly is the more dedicated than most imagine. She was always there at school starting at 6am and during drama season she would stay until 10-11pm to make sure everything got done. She always had a smile on her face and was always there to talk to and the attacks on her character by people who don’t know her are completely unfounded.

    I am completely ashamed that the town I have spent my whole life in and that the high school I graduated from have done this. They talk about the “liberal agenda”, but what about the conservative agenda of these parents?

    • MOMwithABrain says:

      You do realize that it’s normally the kids who are bothered by the material assigned to them? Most parents have no idea what is in these books UNTIL it’s brought to them by their children.
      Why should we force these kids to read material they are comfortable with?

  5. Wesley says:

    All this from a town that had its last cross bruning in 1994!!!!! Do you think Sue Ann Johnson was among the offenders? this town is totally backwards and racist.
    Get real, you religious nut-jobs. Seriously though, she probably loves burning crosses. She sucks.

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-8308867.html

    • apples and oranges says:

      Did you know that this school has had a dropout rate of 15% for the last 3 years!!! 2009 it got down to 7% because they gave extra credit to kids who could color and stay INSIDE THE LINES. Yes they Did Dumb Down the programs for the ones who had ousy grades so the school wouldn’t look bad. Any student can get these books in a library and read them, but what is taught in public schools should be college prep material. Not jerry springer material. If homosexuality is ok then the school should show 2 guy pounding each other in the back door so kids can see whats really involved with man luv. Just like abortion everyone is for pro choice well ok lets show a real abortion say a mid term abortion and then lets ask the kids for a revote on who still supports that issue. Welcome to the real big world kids. If you don’t want to watch those videos then you are Not an educated Citizen and should be treated as a child. That lady Miss JOhnson stood up for what she believed in just like you are, let the citizens of the town vote on what is appropiate and so be it .

      • MOMwithAbrain says:

        I have an idea, those who want their kids to read garbage, feed it to your own kids. This is a PUBLIC school and the taxpayers get to decide what’s appropriate for the school and their children. This was NEVER censorship, these kids are free to read whatever they want outside the classroom.
        BRAVO to any taxpayer who demands quality over trash!

    • Gadsden Gurl says:

      How is it ‘racist’ to stop your kid from having pornography shoved in their faces? Are you a moron? I think YOU are a racist… and a bigot.

  6. Christina B says:

    As a writer, a reader, a CHS alumn, and a lifetime Litchfield resident, this story disgusted me throughout it’s lifespan in the public eye. At college, my friends were horrified to hear that this happened.

    I read one of the “offending” works today, “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemmingway. This was because it was included in a creative writing book, and it was cited multiple times because it’s an amazing piece of literature. Did you know that not once does the author actually tell us what the characters are thinking? He doesn’t “tell” us anything! Everything is shown, as if you’re sitting in the room and just observing, not making judgments.

    The fact that they’re talking about abortions is only apparant if you read between the lines and stretch your mind, or if the teacher and/or SparkNotes tells you so.

    Other stories–not just short stories, but full-length novels–are banned books in other schools. One, Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, was banned by the US Government, twice, because it showed what happened to WWI vets: the government was afraid that people would be scared away from enlisting. We read a book in a required class that our own country is afraid of, but no one complained about it, since the topic wasn’t “liberal.”

    Litchfield, you disgust me, and once I graduate college, I’m not coming back.

  7. MOMwithAbrain says:

    Good riddance Christina!!
    What is offensive to one parent may not be offensive to another. It’s a PUBLIC school and they have to cater to ALL parents. Its THEIR kids and THEIR money paying for the school. They should have a say!
    I personally would not oppose SOME of the reading material in this class, other short stories like the Crack Cocaine diet wasn’t any great piece of literature. This was an 11th grade class and the story was written on a 5th grade level. For that reason alone, it should be removed.

  8. Pingback: Short Story Censorship | The John Fox

  9. Gadsden Gurl says:

    This is bullshit. If your kid comes home and is upset about the pure filth being shoved down their throats the parents have the right to keep their kid away from it. SHAME ON YOU. You think forcing kids into the public school is going to break their spirit so you can make them little communists… TRASH!

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