The Floatplane Controversy: Proscription, Procedure, and Protection in Carroll County, Virginia, 1992
Wesdock, Ryan Joseph
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In March of 1992, Marion Goldwasser, a teacher at Carroll County High School in Virginia, came under fire for her use of the book, The Floatplane Notebooks, in her classroom. A local preacher and several parents objected to six pages which contained sexual content. Over the next three months, residents throughout Southwest Virginia entered into a debate over the merits of the book, and more broadly the purpose of education. This debate roughly divided into three camps with different perspectives not just on how to proceed, but on the very nature of the controversy itself. These camps were those who felt the controversy was primarily about the censoring of books, those who were primarily concerned with the proper procedure by which the book should be reviewed, and those who saw the book as a moral affront to religious, Christian values. These disputes remained intractable throughout the controversy reflecting underlying disagreements about the ethical role of state power, the public nature of public schools, and the connection between power and knowledge. By understanding these underlying intellectual causes for the intractability of censorship disputes, historians can engage other academics and the public on this important issue. Engagement can take multiple forms, including writing in handbooks designed to help educators deal with such controversies, writing amici curiae briefs on relevant First Amendment cases, and encouraging a broader and more lucid public discussion on censorship and free speech.
General Audience Abstract
Marion Goldwasser was a high school teacher in Carroll County, Virginia in 1992. That year, she taught a book called The Floatplane Notebooks in her classroom. A parent and a local preacher objected to her use of the book because they did not like its sexual references. They demanded that the book never be used again and that the school board fire Goldwasser. The teacher, the preacher, the school board, and the community debated what to do for four months. Finally, Superintendent Oliver McBride ended the controversy by compromising and allowing the book to be used for advanced senior classes but not junior classes. This controversy matters because it tells us something about censorship controversies in general. They have been going on for a long time and are likely to continue. People disagree about when the government should get involved. They disagree about why we have public schools. They disagree on who should make decisions for the classroom and how the media talks about censorship. Historians need to understand this. When they do, they can help the public become more informed on the issue of censorship.
- Masters Theses