Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Trustee Sheila Ward wants to ban a book she hasn't read

Toronto District School Board Trustee Sheila Ward (Toronto Centre) told the Jewish Tribune this week that she will "move heaven and earth to have The Shepherd’s Granddaughter taken off the school library shelves" in response to a demand by B'nai Brith Canada and parent Brian Henry that the book be removed from school reading lists. Upon a closer reading of her words it's evident that Ward is rushing to judgement to not only condemn a book she hasn't read but condemn also the professional organization of librarians that is promoting the book in its reading programme.

The Shepherd's Granddaughter was written by Toronto author and teacher-librarian Anne Laurel Carter According to the Toronto Star it "is currently being read by thousands of Grade 7 and 8 students across the province as part of the Ontario Library Association’s massive Forest of Reading program, meant to highlight the best examples of Canadian literature" 

Peggy Thomas of the Ontario Library Association describes the book as being of "literary quality; it is written for a group of students who are at that time exploring the world around them and grappling with ideas larger than themselves." The B'nai Brith however sees it as propaganda because its narrative is from the point of view of a Palestinian who has lost her land.

Ms Ward condemns the book in no uncertain terms. However, it's evident from her own statements that she hasn't read it. Ward is quoted by the Jewish Tribune saying "This book, on the basis of what Mr. Henry has sent to me, is so blatantly biased that it is intolerable," and "Provided Mr. Henry presented it correctly, and he’s given quite a number of examples, I’m extremely concerned and upset. It is completely unacceptable to have this kind of hatemongering and enormously biased, inaccurate portrayal of Israelis."

Ward's minor disclaimer does not prevent her from trusting her informant's information enough to condemn the book sight unseen, despite the fact that the respected Ontario Library Association has endorsed the book.

Ward goes further. Instead of reserving judgement until she's read the book herself or at least talking to the Ontario Library Association and finding out why they disagree with Henry, Ward, despite not having actually read the book, condemns the OLA saying "I’d like an investigation. Until I have some really hard answers, I’d like to suspend our involvement with the OLA.”

So let's recap. Sheila Ward has not read the book. However, on the basis of a complaint by a parent, Brian Henry, and B'nai Brith Canada she is willing to "move heaven and earth" to remove the book from TDSB libraries and suspend the TDSB's involvement with the Ontario Library Association.

Ward is a public official and a former school board chair. While, as a school trustee, she may be tempted to agree with every parent who comes to her with a complaint she has an obligation and a public official to actually investigate before coming to a conclusion. Instead, Ward has rushed to judgement based on hearing only one opinion and committed herself to not only removing the book from our schools but suspending the TDSB's association with the Ontario Library Association. Worse, she does so without having even read the book at issue and is willing to cut off the OLA which, presumably, actually has read the book and as a professional association of librarians has a certain expertise in assessing the quality and educational value of chidlren's literature.

Interestingly, the lead headline in the B'nai Brith published Jewish Tribune concerning this book is:  Could this book turn your child against Israel? Is B'nai Brith's real concern that this book, by presenting a narrative from the perspective of "the other" might lead to critical thinking in children? Now when I was growing up we were told that was what distinguished quality children's literature from the rest. If The Shepherd's Granddaughter truly was anti-Semitic the fear would not be that it might make Jewish children think differently about Israel. No, B'nai Brith recognizes that the book might actually do what education is supposed to do, treat children to think critically and question their assumptions. Evidently, critical thinking is discouraged when it comes to Israel and the last thing B'nai Brith wants Jewish children to do is to question the preconceptions and assumptions they might have about Israel and the Palestinians. The real issue therefore is not whether or not this book is propaganda but whether or not it interferes with the pro-Israel propaganda that have been fed to children, Jewish children in particular.

Ward is acting recklessly and engaging in shameless political pandering. Voters in her ward should remember this at the October election.

Ward can be contacted at

The entire School Board, plus director Chris Spence, can be reached at the following addresses:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

h/t Michelle

UPDATE:  The TDSB has rejected Henry's complaint.
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Skinny Dipper said...

I do want students in grade seven and up to think more critically about the world around them. Ontario students in grade-six learn about Canada and its trading partners. At that grade, the students should be introduced to the idea that other people may have differing opinions. Also, the students in grades six to eight should be introduced to texts that may not always be friendly or nice.

I do not expect that the students must agree with a particular text. I do hope that they can learn how to assess a text critically. The students may not like a book like The Shepherd's Granddaughter. That is fine. They should be exposed to texts like it and examine them critically.

A few years ago, I had some grade-eight students read Stitches by Glenn Huser. It was about an effeminate boy growing up. Many of the students did not like this book. That was fine with me. They did become exposed to characters and situations that may or may not have been like their own. They were able to critically assess this text. They should be able to do the same with The Shepherd's Granddaughter.

Cliff said...

Brian Henry has a long rather toxic history of attacking anyone who disagrees with the straight pro-Likud, pro-settlers line as an 'antisemite'. His preference is the 'Let's you and him fight' method of getting other people to do his dirty work.

Remember Cherniak's disgusting and slanderous attacks on Stacy Douglas? Brian Henry orchestrated that.