Georgiana Molloy Anglican School backflips on book ban

Georgiana Molloy Anglican School principal Ted Kosicki says Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet won't be removed from the reading list. Image supplied.
Georgiana Molloy Anglican School principal Ted Kosicki says Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet won't be removed from the reading list. Image supplied.

Georgiana Molloy Anglican School principal Ted Kosicki has back-peddled on a potential book ban after his comments caused backlash.

His comments received prime time national media attention and have prompted prominent literary identities to speak out.

On February 9, Mr Kosicki issued an unclear newsletter to Year 11 and 12 parents and students, which raised questions as to whether certain English texts would be removed from the school’s curriculum. 

In the email, he stated he was disappointed about ‘vulgar language, explicit sexual innuendo and the deprivation of women’ being given to students through various mediums.

He said he suddenly found the curriculum ‘uncensored and crowded with inappropriate material’, which is why he took ‘immediate actions’.

Seemingly having pulled texts from the course, his email went on to apologise to students who spent their summer reading in preparation for the school year.

However, in another email on February 12, Mr Kosicki moved to reassure parents that no text on this year’s English list would be changed.

He told The Mail that following concerns raised by some parents, the English Department conducted a internal review of the school’s chosen English texts for 2018.

“There was never any suggestion that the school would ban or remove texts such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Tim Winton’s Breath from the reading list,” he said.

The school did not confirm what changes would be on next year’s list.

A parent, who spoke to The Mail, said censoring the reading list was an ‘absolutely ridiculous’ idea, a ‘knee jerk reaction based on a minority’ and the school may as well ‘shut down the internet’.

One of the reportedly offending books was Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones.

Mr Silvey said in a statement he believed schools should prepare students for the adult world.

"Often this requires sensitively introducing themes and ideas that can be confronting. What literature affords our students is a safe means of exposure to challenging material," he said. 

"This is why I'd urge you to trust your staff, whose expertise lies in guiding and encouraging students through discussion, passing on the requisite skills to digest and dissect, and offering context and advice.

"Most of all, trust your students. They're stronger, wiser and more capable than you might presume."

It was reported that complaints were also made about Nam Le's The Boat, and that teachers were told to audit texts including Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Tim Winton's Cloudstreet and Breath. 

University of WA Professor Andrew Lynch is director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

He was "amazed" that such texts would be vetted for sexual references and vulgar language.

"These books are not guides for living," he said.

"Censorship assumes that a student is a passive person who will just take on whatever a book says."

He said teachers had been taking students to film versions of Romeo and Juliet for many years and it was vital for helping bring Shakespeare into student's lives.

Cloudstreet was a book he had also taught when it was published in 1991.

It had a "bit of bad language, perhaps" but was primarily "an intensely thoughtful book about people's lives and behaviour".

"It's not a book that intends to corrupt," he said. 

Prof Lynch said it would be a mistake to put the onus on the teachers to parse every work on the syllabus, rather than discussing with parents specifically what concerned them.

Paul Gardner is a former English teacher, now senior lecturer in at Curtin University's School of Education. 

He said it was odd that concerns about texts written so many years ago should be raised now.

"As Shakespeare himself said, literature holds a mirror up to nature. Nature includes the human condition, how people relate and behave towards each other," he said.

"You will always see sensitive issues in literature."

Dr Gardner said the classroom was a structured space in which students and adults could negotiate meanings and form understandings about issues they were bound to come across outside school.

"We are living through an age in which we are all being presented with biased, misleading, fake information," he said.

"It is imperative that every single one of us develops the ability to apply critical analysis of all kinds of information, to identify truth from untruth, biased from unbiased."