Stonington Connecticut School removes Animal Farm from 8th grade English curriculum

Censorship?

The impact of the anti-fiction Common Core?

Or both?

George Orwell’s Animal Farm has been dropped from the 8th grade reading curriculum in Stonington, Connecticut.  Although the Orwell classic has been a mainstay in Stonington and in many other schools across the state and nation, a Stonington, Connecticut teacher was told this year that he could not use the text despite having included it in his lesson plan for more than 20 years.

In response to the uproar local media reported that,

“Assistant Superintendent Nikki Gullickson has said a new system of developing anchor texts for core curriculum was put in place this year for eighth-grade classes and that the decision about Orwell’s book came from a meeting of teachers meant to build a consensus.”

However, teachers and parents say the excuse is nonsense and that local school administrators have failed to adequately explain why such an important work of literature has suddenly been deleted from the curriculum.

The story first surfaced when The Day of New London’s David Collins wrote a commentary piece earlier this week entitled, In this Orwellian time of Trump, Stonington schools drop ‘Animal Farm’.

Collins wrote,

It is troubling to me that, at a time when sales of books by George Orwell are spiking nationally amid fears of Donald Trump’s totalitarian inclinations, that Stonington has dropped his “Animal Farm” from the eighth-grade teaching curriculum.

More troubling is that a group of parents that tried to get it restored, supporting a teacher who has been using the book in classes for the last 20 years, got little traction with public school administrators.

Most frightening to me was the response from those administrators, when I called to ask about the fate of the literary classic in Stonington schools.

What they told me could have come right out of Orwell’s typewriter. I felt like I was talking to the pigs who expelled the humans from the farm in “Animal Farm” and were running the show as they pleased.

It all started when parents, clued in by their children to what was happening, opened a dialogue with a teacher at Mystic Middle School who was upset that he could no longer use in courses the classic that he had taught to so many students over the years.

Collins added,

The Mystic Middle School teacher got what I might call the Orwellian treatment when he asked why “Animal Farm” was eliminated from the curriculum after all these years, he told a parent in an email.

“There is something very ‘1984’ about all this, including the doublespeak about the curriculum,” the teacher wrote in early January. “I don’t have a good answer for ‘why’ the book was dropped …”

“None of the reasons I have been given make much sense. I have heard 1) whole group discussion of a single book is discouraged 2) the book is age inappropriate and 3) it’s not part of a ‘list’ of approved books. I don’t understand this either! …

Collins reported that when asked about the situation, Mystic Middle School Principal Gregory Keith falsely denied the development.  Collins explained,

He said the book would indeed be taught in February, evidently referring to a recent compromise in which students can volunteer to learn about the book in an “enrichment” session outside the regular classes.

At the same time, the English teacher in question was told not to discuss the matter and refer all questions to school administrators.

While the decision reeks of censorship, an unanswered question is whether the effort to remove Animal Farm is part of the greater shift toward the Common Core which frowns upon using fiction to teach English and language arts.  Proponents of the Common Core have sought to dramatically reduce the use of fiction texts, calling instead for teachers to use non-fiction to promote “close reading.”

Now the Stonington Board of Education is stepping into the debacle.  In a follow up story on February 1, 2017, The Day reported,

“Frank Todisco, board chairman, said Wednesday afternoon that he had added an agenda item for Superintendent of Schools Van Riley to discuss the issue and then allow public comment on any issue including the “Animal Farm” decision.

“I think by hearing from the community and the administration, the board will have a better understanding of the issue,” Todisco said. “After that the board will be in a better position to evaluate what any next step might need to be.

For more on the story read The Day’s coverage at:  In this Orwellian time of Trump, Stonington schools drop ‘Animal Farmand Stonington school board to listen to public Thursday on ‘Animal Farm’ decision

Celebrating Our History – Modern American Style….

You know that line about history and being condemned to repeat it….

It seems sad, but oddly fitting that as the “holiday” known as Martin Luther King Day comes to an end, a press release arrives with the news that a group of prominent U.S. labor, academic and arts figures have joined together to write a letter of protest concerning the censorship of an important labor mural by the Museum of the City of New York.

The commissioned artwork was created by Connecticut State University professor, artist and activist Mike Alewtz.

The press release announces that, “a group of 35 leading labor officials, artists, authors and academics released an Open Letter sent to the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) and the Puffin Foundation.  The letter protests the refusal of the museum to install a work of art commissioned for the recently created Puffin Gallery in the MCNY by muralist Mike Alewitz.

The press release states,

“As individuals deeply concerned about both the history and current status of the labor movement, we are writing to oppose the suppression and censorship of a major new labor mural, The City at the Crossroads of History.”

And it goes on to explain,

“We believe that events like the strikes of maritime workers, the Stonewall rebellion, the fight for the 8-hour day, rent strikes, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the Black nationalist movement and the rest of our history deserves to be seen by the very people who build and provide the resources to maintain cultural institutions like our foundations and museums.

We believe that Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Sanger and a host of other individuals who went to jail or gave their lives for our movement should not be hidden from view.

To deny our legacy, in a gallery that purportedly represents the tradition of social activism, is an insulting slap in the face to activists, artists, unionists and all those whose work contributes to the prosperity of the city.”

You can see the mural by following the link below —- it is spectacular to say the least!

For background about the issue, the announcement adds,

“The mural, composed of four panels, was created by Mike Alewitz over the course of several years. Alewitz is a well-known artist working in the US and internationally.  He is an Associate Professor of Art at Central CT State University, where he directs the mural painting program.

Alewitz’s mural was unanimously praised and accepted by the Puffin Foundations’ officers and the committee of leading historians and cultural figures that oversaw the construction and installation of the Puffin Gallery.  However, MCNY Director Susan Henshaw Jones has refused to install the mural.  Attempts by the National Coalition Against Censorship and others to discuss the issue have not been acknowledged.”

Finally, the media announcement goes on to note that the letter of protest, “comes close to the anniversary of another famed case of New York censorship – February 9 marks the anniversary of the 1934 destruction of Man at the Crossroads, a mural by Diego Rivera that was famously destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller.”

* * *

The full letter, including the list of signers can be found at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/15oBMfjsJgQ9YKnzG56h6O1M4jmsZ9z8sRGa_Nnc1Y_0/pub 

To see the mural – click on the following – A PowerPoint tour of the mural: THE CITY AT THE CROSSROADS OF HISTORY can be accessed via- https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1tIw5DK-Fit900un-WTDPoIajF9wfjp39XJIY7cMHZ5s/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000

And for more about Connecticut based muralist Mike Alewitz, go to: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FlimRnwePDxeDyRtvGv14acZEX2AIVF2WGCQI4MdNLQ/pub