You Know Who Else Disapproved of Anne Frank's Vagina? HITLER.

Books

Did you think that the good folks of the Menifee Union School District in California were the only censorious twits annoying us this week? Oh, ye of little faith.

Today it's Culpeper, Virginia. School authorities there pulled the full version of the Diary of Anne Frank, apparently with the intent to replace it with the bowdlerized version that Otto Frank originally published in 1947. The school had been using the definitive, complete version released upon the fiftieth anniversary of Frank's death in a concentration camp.

So — why did they pull it? Were there grim stories of Nazi atrocities? Vivid descriptions of heaps of dead spied out of the garret window? Horrific but apt speculations about the millions of Jews who were not hidden?

Nope. Anne mentioned her Bad Bad Place in a context other than identifying it as a font of pure evil, and a parent was offended.

Citing a parent’s concern over the sexual nature of the vagina passage in the definitive edition, Allen said school officials immediately chose to pull this version and use an alternative copy.

“What we have asked is that this particular edition will not be taught,” Allen said from his office Wednesday morning. “I don’t want to make a big deal out of this. So we listened to the parent and we pulled it.”

Apparently, Anne’s father, Otto Frank, the sole survivor of the “Secret Annex,” felt the need to censor his daughter’s most intimate thoughts as well, eliminating about 30 percent of the original diary published in 1947.

He omitted parts where Anne criticized her mother and other Jews living in the confined quarters as well as some sexually suggestive references.

May I say entirely inappropriately JESUS CHRIST.

The school district is not backing down. Quoth the ironically named Bobbi Johnson:

“The essence of the story, the struggle of a young girl faced with horrible atrocities, is not lost by editing the few pages that speak to adolescent discovery of intimate feelings,” Johnson wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Exponent Thursday. “While these pages could be the basis of a relevant discussion, they do not reflect the purpose of studying the book at the middle-school level and could foster a discussion in a classroom that many would find inappropriate.”

Of course, most people who read the Diary of Anne Frank recognize that it is precisely the juxtaposition of the raw feelings of an adolescent girl and the horror of the Holocaust that makes it remarkable. If people wanted to learn more about how much Hitler sucked, they could just Tivo the History Channel at random. There are tens of thousands of written accounts of the fate of Jews in World War II. Anne's is gripping precisely because of who she is and how she expresses herself.

Now, bear in mind that it is eighth-graders in Culpeper who are reading this. What kind of language is the school district classifying as "explicit", justifying a retreat to a different version that cuts out 30% of the content? This blogger quotes the Washington Post:

There are little folds of skin all over the place, you can hardly find it. The little hole underneath is so terribly small that I simply can’t imagine how a man can get in there, let alone how a whole baby can get out!

Oh my God. If eighth graders read that, society will be DOOMED.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

23 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Chris Berez  •  Jan 29, 2010 @9:40 am

    I've tried multiple times to formulate a comprehensive response several times and just ended up deleting it. Really I'm completely speechless. This is even worse than the dictionary thing.

  2. Casey  •  Jan 29, 2010 @11:34 am

    And, the moment that the school district announced that the book was being banned, I'll bet a bunch of curious boys who would have otherwise read the Cliff Notes instead, went back and read the book searching for Anne's vagina monologue.

  3. mmmwright  •  Jan 29, 2010 @1:18 pm

    And, of course, there are no eighth graders in the school district with computers and Google that will enable them to look up that passage. Most of the eighth graders probably were not even aware of that passage until the book was pulled, and now they're all going to be reading it on line. Way to go to get your students reading The Diary of Anne Frank, Culpeper School District administrators! Cudos to Jim Allen, director of instruction for the school system! Very sneaky!

  4. PatrickKelley  •  Jan 29, 2010 @3:14 pm

    Human idiocy never ceases to amaze me. Heaven forbid that Anne Frank should become a known human being with human feelings and curiosity about herself and the world. Why, that might well imply that had she lived long enough she might have actually developed full blown needs and (gasp) desires. Far better to keep her as some iconic figure who should be known forevermore and solely as a young girl killed by the Nazis, not as an actual living, breathing person with an individual identity of her own.

  5. SG  •  Jan 29, 2010 @5:09 pm

    That only goes on to show how pretty much anything done regarding the history of nazi Germany and the holocaust today is, alas, not done as it is claimed out of audacity and desire to expose what was done some 70 years ago, but done purely out of self-conscious pseudo-guilt trip that allows everyone to feel like a very goodly and moral person.

    The jews and other people murdered in the extermination camps really have become some sort of secular Jesus for the West. In fact, it looks exactly like the thought process used regarding Jesus or any saint. You can talk about their crucifixion or martyrdom all day long, but god forbid that you ever speak about their possible sex lives. Unless I am mistaken, many a hagiographer "edited" the life of the saint he was telling about – either to point out that this was no ordinary human, or to avoid the more, ahem, subversive parts.

    It goes contrary to any kind of interesting reflexion, and as pointed out, it feels furthermore grossly immoral, dirty, perverted in the first sense of the term, and unchristian too, that images or descriptions of heaps of gassed or tortured bodies are OK, but a passage about folds of skin and little holes is not.

  6. rufus  •  Jan 29, 2010 @11:25 pm

    I once lived in Culpeper; believe me, it sucks. When I was a teen, they were trying to get Poe pulled from the high schools to save the kids from hearing about beating hearts under the floorboards. Happily, they failed. Admins in those days still had the spines their species has since lost in the evolutionary process.

  7. TomH  •  Jan 30, 2010 @7:07 am

    Too bad I can not find the principal of the school offensive, so that we can remove her. I almost can't wait until my kids are in school so I can go head to head with these people :)

  8. parse  •  Jan 31, 2010 @1:16 pm

    And how about that censorious twit Otto Frank!

  9. DMS  •  Jan 31, 2010 @3:18 pm

    Ken,

    I'm not sure but this may be the first time I've seen Godwin's Law come into effect in the title of a blog post.

    But in doing so you have proved Godwin's law false, so congratulations. A step forward for science.

    I've resorted to attempts at humor here because I'm basically too speechless at the idiocy of the school administrators to sensibly comment.

  10. Randall  •  Feb 1, 2010 @9:40 am

    Reason number 8,354 why we homeschool our kids…

  11. Ron Coleman  •  Feb 1, 2010 @7:53 pm

    Let's try to work our way past the sloganeering here and try to find an issue.

    1. The fact that anything can be looked up on the Internet does not mean it should be taught in school (or utilized in the title of a blog post), as "mmmwright" says. In fact, to the contrary, demonstrating to children that there is a distinction between "everything that's out there" and what we choose to draw near, especially into our homes and schools, is to expose them to the concept of civilization. (For what it's worth, conservatives in particular value civilization.) This does not have anything to do with whether or not that the passage was appropriate. Rather I am saying that the argument of "they all know about this anyway" is one that "proves too much," and is not sound.

    2. Casey's point that "all they did was draw attention to it" is not compelling for similar reasons. It assumes facts not in evidence, including the proposition that this news story in any way changed the students' awareness of the passage, which is not at all obvious. But it also amounts to an end run around the merits of the question: Was this censorship right, or wrong?

    3. SG, you use a lot of words to make your argument but you don't demonstrate why, in fact, the sex lives of the victims of genocide actually are relevant to us in any way — given that no one can realistically assert that anyone has ever been under the impression that they did not have sex lives. Also, your claim about "pretty much anything done regarding the history of nazi Germany and the holocaust today" ignores the point that Ken did not ignore, namely that these deletions are consistent with those made by Otto Frank, not today, but quite a few yesterdays ago.

    4. Ken, for your part I don't see how you have rebutted the argument by Bobbi Johnson, which I will state as follows: (a) That dignity and privacy have a legitimate place here; (b) that the moral content of the Anne Frank story that so compelled the world when first published — in their censored version — is not remotely attenuated by the absence of her musings about genitalia; and (c) that among adolescents literary and humane discussion, contemplation and growth will inevitably give way to prurience if the latter is given half a chance, and that the educational process does not benefit from such distraction.

    Yes, privacy, because these were the private journal writings of a murder victim, not Anne Frank's voluntarily published memoirs, much less a "tell all" literary escapade about coming of age in war-torn Europe. And Otto Frank was her DAD. Does anyone here have daughters? Dead ones? Murdered ones?

    What am I missing, then? Or am I just an "asshat" too?

  12. Ex-Culpeper Teacher  •  Feb 1, 2010 @9:21 pm

    I actually used to teach eighth grade English in this particular middle school in Culpeper (Floyd T Binns), and I used this exact text in my honors classroom. It's astonishing that no one noticed this "objectionable" context for years. If it was so disruptive, why didn't they stop me from teaching it four years ago? Curious.

    Believe me, if these parents saw half of the confiscated notes we used to get from eighth graders, they would no longer be concerned about Anne Frank's "vulgar" thoughts.

    Maybe the uncensored version works just as well. But I know that when teens read Anne's thoughts, they find that they can relate to her. These are topics that they're thinking about, too. They can't relate to her fear that she'll die, but they can relate to her fights with her mother or her confusion about her body. When they can relate to her, they understand at the end what a terrible loss occurred. Isn't that what education is supposed to do?

  13. Todshi  •  Feb 3, 2010 @5:10 am

    To be honest, if I was stuck in a tiny area with my family as the sword of Damacules dangles over my head, the last thing I'd be thinking about is my penis.
    As to whether the school did the right thing or not is irreverent. The fact is that you have a first person account of what it is like to be in a situation where you can wake up one morning and find a stormtrooper with a rifle in your face, ready to ship your ass off to a death camp. An account not written by an adult who could handle it better, but by a child with a whole future ahead of her if she could survive. Frankly, I rather read about how she deals with this than about her awakening sexual curiosity. Trust me, I lived with teenage girls. And I didn't want to hear about then.

  14. Ron Coleman  •  Feb 3, 2010 @6:43 pm

    ECT, I don't know. Maybe it's not disruptive at all. Maybe it depends on the class makeup. Maybe it's a non-issue.

    I am mainly suggesting, however, that the way the question was treated here was not really serious, and to note that people on a respectable blog like this should actually consider thinking before they start calling people "asshats" and mocking points of view that they obviously can't even comprehend.

    As to your last question, "When they can relate to her, they understand at the end what a terrible loss occurred. Isn’t that what education is supposed to do?" I would say, if it is a yes or no question, "No." It may be a desideratum of education, but I can probably think of half a dozen other things that are more important, one of which is the ability to empathize with people who, in fact, are not exactly the same as you.

    Which is ironic, considering my criticisms of the comments (and the blog post) here.

  15. Will  •  Feb 14, 2010 @5:56 pm

    Ron – are you a troll or simply an asshat? I vote the former but can't rule out the latter. Of course taking something as important as the Diary of Anne Frank and 'editing out the bad stuff', is beyond wrong, but I guess you can't see that. My I suggest getting your thesourus out of your butt (anyone who uses the term desideratum is clearly an asshat, and an insecure one at that)?

    Of course the title isn't serious because if you take this sort of stuff seriously then it gets pretty depressin and, it doesn't generate page-views. I myself have taken note to use the term 'vagina' and 'hitler' more in the titles of my blog posts.

    The really sad thing about this whole episode is that it shows that Americans (or many of them) still can't accept sex as something natural. It's ok to talk about gassing millions of people but God forbid that a vagina is in there anyplace.

  16. Ken  •  Feb 16, 2010 @2:44 pm

    WIll, Ron is neither a troll nor an asshat. He's an insightful blogger (and, by repute, quite a good lawyer) who happens to disagree with me on this.

    Ron, I made a note to respond to you, but have been swamped. Suffice it to say I don't agree with your take. I think you are attributing to Ms. Johnson some palatable views that she didn't actually express. I understand the "privacy" argument, which is why I didn't criticize Otto Frank. But I see very little indication that anyone pulled this book — or wanted it pulled — because they thought it was indecent to the privacy of Anne Frank. That seems more like a post-hoc justification you are offering — one that may have some merit.

    As to the disruption — the articles suggested that the issue arose after the book was taught. There's no indication that it caused actual disruption.

    Maybe I'm straining to see the worst, Ron, but I think you're straining to see the best.

  17. Ron Coleman  •  Feb 16, 2010 @3:02 pm

    Ken, thanks for standing up to the incivility–which is, above all, what I'm reacting to here.

    You're right about at least a couple of things: I sure as heck realized I was giving Ms. Johnson the kind of mouthpiece that I usually charge decently large bucks for. But you can't always choose your clients!

    By the way, straining to see the best? Not a terrible way to go through life! ;-)

  18. Will  •  Feb 16, 2010 @3:32 pm

    Ken/Ron – I don't know Ron other than by that post. So he may be an 'insightful blogger' but, from his post, if the hat fits… But let's get specific:

    1. The fact that anything can be looked up on the Internet does not mean it should be taught in school

    > no debate but the logic of the school board seems to be that the passage in question would 'cause harm' to school children. This is a point that is not supported by either Ron nor the school board. Also, this book had been used by the school district for years (without incident) – so what changed?

    2. Casey’s point that “all they did was draw attention to it” is not compelling for similar reasons.

    While the point may not be germane to the issue of censorship, I find it hard to debate that the lawsuit, and publicity, will get kids to read the passage carefully (and then they will ask 'why edit this').

    3. SG, you use a lot of words to make your argument but you don’t demonstrate why, in fact, the sex lives of the victims of genocide actually are relevant to us in any way

    >Ugh! Who is to decide what is 'relevant' and what is not? You or Anne Frank? The fact that her father edited it really has no bearing here. The point is that someone other than the origial writer decided to 'edit it'. This is censorship – do you support this?

    4. Ken, for your part I don’t see how you have rebutted the argument by Bobbi Johnson, which I will state as follows: (a) That dignity and privacy have a legitimate place here;

    >So you are telling me how to define dignity? That makes no sense.

    (b) that the moral content of the Anne Frank story that so compelled the world when first published — in their censored version — is not remotely attenuated by the absence of her musings about genitalia;

    >Again, how is it that you believe that you (or Bobbi J.) have anything to say about the 'impact'. I would argue that any censorship diminishes the original work. Talking about her vaja-ja is up to her, if you don't think it is relevant then that is your issue (or the issue of her father). But saying that you or Bobbi can meddle with the original text to support their idea of what is relevant is pretty laughable.

    (c) that among adolescents literary and humane discussion, contemplation and growth will inevitably give way to prurience if the latter is given half a chance, and that the educational process does not benefit from such distraction.

    >Wow, many words but the same conclusion, it is YOUR OPINION what impacts the educational process. This was not the intent of the author.

    So, I don't know – if these are insightful arguments then I am an ass-hat. To me they seem to be very very weak arguments that, if accepted lead to arbitrary censorship.

    Finally, this whimpy "I'm reacting to the incivility" is super weak and isn't supported by your orginal post. Maybe I am miss-reading "you take a lot of words…" but I think it is a pretty obvious slam. Also the comment "conservatives in particular value civilization" is also a slam (and a pretty stupid thing to say as it is your subjective judgement and cannot be defended logically).

    Whew, so Ken/Ron – what say you?

  19. Ken  •  Feb 16, 2010 @5:00 pm

    Ken, thanks for standing up to the incivility–which is, above all, what I’m reacting to here.

    You’re right about at least a couple of things: I sure as heck realized I was giving Ms. Johnson the kind of mouthpiece that I usually charge decently large bucks for. But you can’t always choose your clients!

    Well, our modus operandi here is to discuss social issues by making fun of people. We're probably irretrievably uncivil in that sense. Further, censorship makes me even less civil. Had the school here removed the book because an administrator said "you know, I deeply disagree with the editorial decision to republish the book with an adolescent girl's private sexual thoughts left in. They aren't material and it's a creepy invasion of her privacy," I might have had an entirely different reaction and been less quick on the trigger with ridicule. But that simply isn't what happened. The school pulled the book — after it had been taught without incident — because a parent complained that a couple of sentences mentioned vaginas. If I encountered the parent, or the administrator, at a cocktail party or a wedding, would I indulge in an urge to ridicule? No. That WOULD be unforgivably uncivil. But if calling them out on a blog is uncivil, than I am uncivil.

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