12 August 2011

"A Study in Scarlet" banned in a Virginia school

From a report in Charlottesville's The Daily Progress:
The Albemarle County School Board voted Thursday night to remove Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” from sixth-grade reading lists. A parent of a Henley Middle School student originally challenged the book in May on the grounds that it is derogatory toward Mormons... 

The board based its decision on the recommendation of a committee commissioned to study the Victorian work. In its report, the committee concluded that the book was not age-appropriate for sixth-graders...

“‘A Study in Scarlet’ has been used to introduce students to the mystery genre and into the character of Sherlock Holmes. This is our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion,” Stevenson told the board. Stevenson suggested replacing the book with Doyle’s fifth novel, “The Hound of the Baskervilles, which, she said, is a better introduction to mystery.
A Study in Scarlet was the original Sherlock Holmes novel; it features the meeting of Holmes and Watson.  This is not the first time the book has been controversial:
According to a 1994 Salt Lake City newspaper article, when Conan Doyle was asked about his depiction of the Latter-day Saints' organization as being steeped in kidnapping, murder and enslavement, he said: "all I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that, though it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history. It's best to let the matter rest". However, Conan Doyle's daughter has stated: "You know, father would be the first to admit that his first Sherlock Holmes novel was full of errors about the Mormons". Years after Conan Doyle's death, Levi Edgar Young, a descendant of Brigham Young and a Mormon general authority, claimed that Conan Doyle had privately apologized, saying that "He [Conan Doyle] said he had been misled by writings of the time about the Church".
 Via the StarTribune.


  1. Hey, Hitler was really derogatory towards Jews. Let's stop teaching kids about him.

  2. So sick of religions expecting and receiving special treatment. Ridiculous.

  3. Here in Brazil we had a very similar debate, nation wide, concerning the work of our most known author for children, who was a racist back in the early 20th century. The case rested with the decision by the national education board to add a preface to the book, explaining kids that the kind of expressions the text have are not ok.

  4. I believe T.H. Foster has set a new record for the application of Godwin's Law on this blog.


  5. It's just wrong to change classic books because they may offend someone, e.g. Huckleberry Finn. That's the way people were then, and it offers a great opportunity to talk about societal attitudes and progress. No wonder kids do poorly on tests. They are discouraged from actually thinking.

  6. I wonder how many people posting knee jerk reactions to this have actually read "A Study in Scarlet" I pride myself on being a pretty liberal parent but even I would hesitate to let a six year-old read a book that contains abduction, human trafficking, attempted rape, sexual assault and murder.

    I can't say I'm not slightly conflicted about this issue since I've been a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fanatic but in this case I'm finding it hard to argue in favor of the book. As wonderful as the Sherlock Holmes canon is, these are not children's stories. By all means let young people read challenging works like this but let them be children for a while first.

    I'm as disdainful of religion as the next atheist but not every issue that involves religion is about religion.

  7. As a footnote, replacing it with Hound of the Baskervilles is a terrible idea. From a pure detection standpoint Hound is one of the weakest stories in the Canon.

  8. Material that invents awful things about a particular group (religious or otherwise) is useful for teaching kids about propaganda, historical views, and how to identify BS. It's not what I'd use to introduce a sixth grade classroom to an entire genre of literature.

    From what I remember, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing can be very mature and very dark. You certainly have to teach kids *about* Sherlock Holmes if you're introducing them to the mystery genre, but if you're going to require eleven and twelve year olds to read his work I'd pick the stories with care. Some kids are ready for mature themes at that age, but most aren't.

  9. I have no problem with criticism of any religion (including Mormonism), but the facts ought to be right. As Conan Doyle admitted, however, he got a lot of things wrong in this first story. The basic story is fine but the details are wrong.

  10. Minnesotastan that is NOT what Godwin's law regards; Godwin's law describes the inevitability of one's intellectual opponents being compared to Hitler, which Foster did not do.

    Frankly I am sick of that law being invoked; National Socialism was so wrong in so many ways, it seems insane to disregard the lessons of that ideology.

  11. 032125, Bite our clanks.
    They are not lessons! That is the point - they are extrapolations made by simplistic and superstitious people, and are often as not wrong.

    Logical fallacies often guide the actions of government - Charles Manson used LSD, therefore, LSD causes people to start murder cults. The gov. responds with the now endless drug war...millions harmed...others bored in prison playing checkers.
    am I getting off topic?

  12. I read the entire cannon the Summer after sixth grade. For that matter I had read most of the works of Poe by the time I had finished 4th grade. I was not harmed by either. The rape was depicted in Victorian verbage, if I recall, and I was unaware that's what it was.

  13. I think the saintliness of the one Mormon--willing to accept whatever pill remained--was a plus in favor of Mormonism. If nothing else, he was seeking justice.

    It truth, I think the story said little more than "there are good and bad people in ever religion."

  14. Godwin's Law does NOT require that one's debate opponent be compared to Hitler:

    "Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies) is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990[2] that has become an Internet adage. It states: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1 (100%)." In other words, Godwin put forth the hyperbolic observation that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis."

    "it means that somebody's eventually going to say something about the Nazis in any thread that lasts very long. When it happens, the thread is going to start either degenerating into a long flamewar over Nazi Germany or about Godwin's Law. Either way, the thread is effectively over, and you can safely killfile the thread and move on."

  15. I imagine they don't teach the Protocols of Zion to sixth graders in that school district either even though it would be a wonderful introduction to conspiracy theory literature.

    It's wrong to slander large groups of people (if that's what Conan Doyle did) and I haven't got any problem not exposing children to lies (especially given the truth about Joseph Smith is bad enough).

    The reaction to the banning of A Study in Scarlet by some of the people here is over the top knee-jerk reaction to school districts banning Huckleberry Finn and Judy Blume.

  16. Lots of books are filled with inaccurate views. It gives young people a chance to learn how to read something and disagree.

  17. Eve - yes, that is very true. A Study in Scarlet probably isn't the best choice for that, though. It involves a religious sect doing terrible things - the teacher can basically say 'that's not true, they never really did that', and that's about all the discussion that can be had. By comparison, Huck Finn involves an entire cultural attitude that is still floating around in some forms today, and can be debated for hours by anyone with a brain.

    Unfortunately, discussing controversial literature doesn't raise standardized test scores, so no school that wants to keep their funding is going to spend time on it. Go ahead, ask me how I feel about No Child Left Behind...

  18. "removed from the mandatory reading list" isn't really what "banned" means.

  19. Thank you, Andrew; I was just coming to make the same comment.

    I read "A Study in Scarlet" a month ago (my review here).


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