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Oct 19, 2010 2:25 AM by Ariel Wesler

Controversial book remains on the shelves at San Luis Obispo High School

A controversial autobiography will stay in both the classroom and the library at San Luis Obispo High School.

A seven-member panel made up of parents, staff, and students voted unanimously to approve the book during a meeting today at the school. The decision comes after a parent complained about some graphic language and descriptions inside the book "Kaffir Boy." It's part of the a 10th Grade World History class.

For more than a decade, "Kaffir Boy" has been a part of Carrie Zinn's 10th Grade Honors World History class. She's never received a complaint, until now.

"It's for mature readers and all this time, the students in the honors class have fit that," Zinn said.

The book, written by Mark Mathabane, chronicles his horrific experiences growing up in South Africa under Apartheid. The problem for some parents is three graphic lines on page 72, where the boys prostitute themselves for food. In the letter, the parents wrote,

"Do we want this kind of language? Do we want our kids exposed to this? said AP U.S. History Teacher John Franklin. "Parents have a right to know if their children are presented with such graphic sexual material."

But students stood up for the book.

"It's very disrespectful to ignore the fact of the history," one student said.

"It's being given to us so when we can understand what these people really experienced, and if it's sugar coated in some sense, then you're not really learning what actually happened," said a student on the panel.

In fact, not a single person at the meeting spoke out against the book and those who complained were nowhere to be found.

"We can't have a debate without a person to talk to," said Ivan Simon, another World History teacher.

That further frustrated other parents and teachers who felt the whole issue went to far.

"If these parents had called me, which they never did and said, here's my objection. I would have said, ok, we'll do something else and we'll do it in a way where your student won't be singled out," Zinn said.

Ironically, all this attention has only brought more attention to what the complaints were trying to avoid.

"Till lately, no one had read that book. Now, it's pretty famous," said the school's librarian.

There have also been complaints nationwide. The American Library Association put the book on its list of the 100 most challenged books of the decade. According to the San Luis Obispo High School Librarian, Santa Maria High school and St. Joseph High are the only two local high schools that do not have the book on campus.

Thanks to a school board member, the book's author will speak at Cal Poly Thursday night. He will discuss his book and the issue of censorship.

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