Editing Anne Frank
Adapted from the Torn Pages anthology introduction. Individual names have been changed, but the account is otherwise factual.
On March 14th, 2013, I began a last exchange with ResponsiveEd/Quest, the publicly funded charter school my daughter attended. Delany had come home with her copy of The Diary of Anne Frank damaged, page 130 torn out by the school. They’d done this to all copies of the book in their possession.
I emailed the superintendent and received this reply:
The book was for a school project in the classroom, so I did not feel I needed to ask the parent regarding its use. I apologize. Had this been a personal copy you brought from [home], I certainly would have asked. I can refund you or purchase another book from half price books. Let me know your preference.
Sent from my iPhone
And my reply:
Mrs. Y, We’d like an undamaged copy returned to us. I would have been happy to sign a release form allowing my child to read the book (or not if I felt it inappropriate.) I would have even respected the decision not to teach a text that has difficult content.
Tearing pages out of books goes against everything we believe in. Source material is appropriate or not. We should not change it to make it fit.
If you reconsider this policy of tearing pages out of books, we can do without a returned copy. That would be a real win that my daughter could feel good about. The power of the word and all that. Otherwise Delany deserves an undamaged copy returned to her. If you think a used copy is appropriate, that’s your call.
I received two replies, one from Mrs. Y, the school director, and one from Mrs. Z, Delany’s teacher.
Thank you Mr. Bell for sharing your thoughts on this matter. I always appreciate hearing from parents. Certainly, I will discuss your concerns with my ELA teaching staff as we discuss novel options for next year. I apologize Delany was offended by the removal of a page from the book. Your suggestions will certainly be of consideration as we make a choice of novels for next year.
Thanks again for your input.
Dear Mr. Bell, I’m sorry we didn’t let you know that we had planned on removing these pages from Delaney’s Diary of Anne Frank book. Last year, these were pages that brought up concerns with parents, and so this year we removed them to do our best to protect the students and do what we thought was right for everyone. I thought that we had let parents know this at the beginning of the year, but my apologies if that was not communicated to you. We sure can replace the book if that is what you wish.
I thanked Mrs. Y, and our interactions ended. She never took action to replace the book or followed up in any other way. The teacher’s reply felt honest, and I thanked her:
We appreciate your reply and sincerity.
I mentioned to Mrs. Y that we’d prefer this policy be reversed (no more tearing pages out of books) but barring that, an undamaged copy will do.
Some quick thoughts...
This is the sort of practice that jumps out at me as simply wrong.
I hope someone there at Quest takes a stand. For instance:
We’re going to read this book, and we’ll need permission slips to do so because it is mature at points. Those without permission will read Old Man and the Sea. (haha: that’s what my 6th grade teacher did.)
OR, We won’t be reading XYZ at this grade level and defer it to a grade where the above is an option.
Any book worth reading deserves the sanctity of each and every one of its pages.
Thanks again for taking the time to reply.
Brandon H. Bell
The teacher, Mrs. Z, had this quote in her signature:
“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”-Dr. Seuss
It seems relevant, given what happened later at the Holocaust Museum.
This would be the end of this story. We’d decided to take Delany out of Quest once testing was done. She’d enter the new school one month before summer. We hoped she’d make some friends before the end of the semester. This is life, right? You try to stand up for what matters even when others don't, including those in authority. And in the end, you effect no change, the machine churns on. Maybe your kids see you took a stand and that counts for something.
But the story didn’t end there.
After their reading of The Diary of Anne Frank, the school scheduled a field trip to the Holocaust Museum. We felt some conflict over her going on the field trip–How will they edit this experience?–so Delany's big sister went along as a chaperone.
The tour culminated in a talk by a Holocaust survivor. Like Anne Frank, his family was hidden by another during the war. I wish I could give more details of his story, but I only know it second hand. One comment stuck out to Delany's big sister.
Teary-eyed, impassioned, this gentleman admonished his listeners to pay attention. To see when something unjust takes place. To say something. Even if it seems small. Even if it seems no good will come of it.
Don’t be a bystander, he said, be an upstander.
As they proceeded from the museum, Mrs Z. stopped our girls and handed Delany a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank she’d just purchased from the museum bookstore. Your family, she told her, was the only one that said anything about the torn pages.
You can google what is on page 130 of The Diary of Anne Frank, the practice of tearing that page from the book is so prevalent. It doesn’t matter what is on the page, it is a small part of her experience. It is the truth. And any attempt to alter it is wrong.
We prepared the Torn Pages anthology that takes this circumstance and others like it as a prompt.
Ideologues are hard at work, who would filter history, literature, and science through their dogmatic lens. Pages should never be torn from books, and no filter, religious or otherwise, should be placed on the secular classroom.
This stance is uniquely positioned to protect and respect the concerns of pluralistic society. We’ll all be the better for it.
There is more understanding for us to find and we present these stories as a small contribution to the unending search.