Bid to censor Anne Frank's 'pornographic' diary in schools fails

Michigan school committee rejects mother's plea to remove edition of Diary of a Young Girl from students' eyes

A mother's attempt to ban Anne Frank's diary from classrooms in Michigan over "pornographic" anatomical descriptions has failed, after a committee ruled that the title's removal "would effectively impose situational censorship".

Earlier this month the mother of a 12-year-old in the Northville school district in Michigan raised concerns with the school about her daughter reading the "definitive" version of Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, in which Frank writes how "until I was 11 or 12, I didn't realise there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn't see them. What's even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris", and "when you're standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you're standing, so you can't see what's inside. They separate when you sit down and they're very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there's a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That's the clitoris."

The definitive edition of the diary contains material deleted from the 1947 version by Otto Frank, Anne's father. Buddy Elias, her cousin, has said that it shows Anne "in a truer light, not as a saint, but as a girl like every other girl. She was nothing, actually; people try to make a saint out of her and glorify her. That she was not. She was an ordinary, normal girl with a talent for writing."

But the Michigan mother told press that the unexpurgated version was "pretty graphic, and it's pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading", adding "it's inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when it's really the parents' job to give the students this information."

She launched a formal complaint asking for the diary to be removed from the school – a move which was vehemently protested by free speech campaigners, who said that The Diary of a Young Girl was "both relevant to today's students and pedagogically valuable", and that "the passage in question relates to an experience that may be of particular concern to many … students: physical changes associated with puberty."

The school committee has now voted unanimously to retain the book as an option for students in the seventh grade curriculum after reviewing the mother's concerns. "The committee felt strongly that a decision to remove the use of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – The Definitive Edition as a choice within this larger unit of study would effectively impose situational censorship by eliminating the opportunity for the deeper study afforded by this edition," wrote assistant superintendent Robert Behnke in a letter to the community.

The Diary of a Young Girl charts Frank's life as a Jewish teenager in hiding during the second world war. It is widely viewed as a classic, and has sold millions of copies in countries around the world. The National Coalition Against Censorship welcomed the school district's decision, saying: "Frank's honest writings about her body and the changes she was undergoing during her two-year period of hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam can serve as an excellent resource for students themselves undergoing these changes."


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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