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‘Bastard’ out of California: Fremont School Bans Sexually Frank Novel for Third Time

By Daniel Rubin-Marx, SIECUS Research Intern


Fremont, California’s Washington High School endured criticism from teachers and students alike after banning a controversial American classic from the classroom for the third time.  English teacher Teri Hu found the third time not a charm when submitting Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina for district approval.  “I'm challenging them on their biases,” said Hu.[1] Each year for the past four years, the Fremont School District has banned a book from English language classrooms; Allison’s explicit memoir of childhood sexual abuse was rejected in 2009 and 2010; the Tony Kushner play Angels in America was rejected in 2011.  What lay behind these decisions?

According to district school board President Lily Mei, the criterion was ‘educational significance’.  “I didn’t feel it was of substantial educational value,” she said, suggesting that other books with similar themes are more appropriate for Fremont classrooms.[2]  “The Color Purple is more uplifting…there are characters out there that go through rape and abuse and have better endings.”[3]  As for Angels in America, Mei said that the play “doesn’t portray certain cultures in a very positive light.”[4]

Reactions to this decision have been vocal from teachers, students, and parents. Recent high school graduate Mazin Mahgoub noted the seemingly pointless effort put forth by the board to censor the adolescents’ reading material.  “Look at the kind of movies we watch. There are 13, 14 and 15 year old kids watching things on the Internet far beyond what we are reading.”[5] Additionally, Carlmont High School teacher Joseph Hill defended both board-rejected titles, arguing for their power to depict facets of human sexuality, and their ability to so through good writing:  “…they’re not just about great ideas, they’re also great art.”[6]

Fremont schools offered twenty-nine Advanced Placement high school English courses last year,[7] leading parents such as Dianne Jones to express concern about the district’s commitment to teach students the material they must learn in order to succeed.  Allison’s and Kushner’s works are often referenced on Advanced Placement English exams.  Jones summarized her concern in four words: “The issue is censorship.”[8]

[1] Sharon Noguchi, “Fremont School Board Votes Down Controversial Book—Again,” Mercury News, 8 July 2012, accessed 12 July 2012,

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Alex Washburn, “There Goes Fremont Banning Books Again,” SF Bay, 10 July 2012, accessed 12 July 2012,

[6] Noguchi

[7]Chris Roberts, “Fremont School Board Bans Controversial Books,” NBC Bay Area, 9 July 2012, accessed 12 July 2012,

[8] Noguchi