Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.


  • Updated
  • 0

A North Carolina author and a Virginia teacher are targets of would-be censors in a rural Virginia county.


The first inkling of trouble came in March when the vice principal of Carroll County High School stood in the doorway of English teacher Marion Goldwasser's room and said, ``I think we got a problem.'

It was more than that. Three days later, Goldwasser listened with horror as a local part-time preacher, J.B. Lineberry, ripped her on the radio with what she remembers as hellfire and some big lies.She says Lineberry called her immoral, godless, a believer in the occult and implied that her husband, Mike, a respected Virginia cattleman, was a wimp for not controlling her.

``I really thought I was having a heart attack. I couldn't breathe,' she says, recalling that day in hilly Carroll County, a farming and fruit-growing area across the North Carolina border, about 90 miles northwest of Greensboro.

What had Goldwasser - Carroll County's 1991 teacher of the year - done to get Lineberry so lathered up?

She had allowed her two 11th-grade general English classes to read ``The Floatplane Notebooks,' a serious yet hilarious, profound yet sometimes profane book about a rural North Carolina family during Civil War times and the Vietnam era.

Its author is popular North Carolina novelist Clyde Edgerton, who also has written such well-received books as ``Raney' and ``Walking Across Egypt.'

Goldwasser's English students loved ``Floatplane.' Some had bragged earlier of having never read a book: Only nerds in the academic and honors classes read books.

But then they were shocked. They found that Edgerton made them laugh out loud - and cry. His characters talked like real folks and reminded them of aunts, uncles and cousins in their own families. Situations in the book rang true.

But Wade and Wanda Humphrey, parents of a student, were outraged about the book's profanity and sex. They complained to principal Harold Golding, who sent the vice principal to Goldwasser's room early in the week. By Friday, Lineberry had taken to the airways. He was not only asking that the book be banned, but that Goldwasser be banished.

Carroll County Schools Superintendent Oliver McBride then ruled that the book would be removed from the schools. McBride ignored a school policy that requires a screening committee to examine books before they are jerked from the curriculum. Efforts to reach McBride were unsuccessful.

Goldwasser filed a grievance against the schools. The Humphreys also filed a written protest of the book. Finally the school system's review committee was allowed to examine the book.

On May 29, the committee ruled that the book could no longer be used at the 11th-grade level but could be allowed as supplementary reading for college-bound 12th-graders. McBride upheld that decision, but the Humphreys plan to appeal to the local school board.

``We feel that the matter is not settled until the book is taken out of the school,' says Lineberry, a 59-year-old self-employed dry wall hanger, painter and evangelist. He says he has read the book twice and that ``the bad stuff' overweighs the good. He also plans to continue pressing to have Goldwasser disciplined.

Lineberry denies that he verbally attacked Goldwasser or her husband except to say that ``if she had good family morals she wouldn't want to teach like that.

``I feel I have no apologies to make,' he says. ``I don't think we need to expose our children to something like this (book). It's like seeing a bunch of hogs in slop and saying let's throw our children in there and see if they can get used to it.'

Some education professionals, especially the National Council of Teachers of English, have criticized the Carroll County school administrators for not backing their teacher and not using the state-required review process.

Millie Davis, a spokeswoman for the council, says what's happening in Virginia is nothing new. Her organization stays busy fighting for certain books, including such frequent targets as ``The Catcher in the Rye' and even Mark Twain's classic ``Huckleberry Finn.'

``I would say censorship is more widespread than it has been documented to be,' she says, explaining that in some places books are arbitrarily removed from library shelves and classrooms when a parent or group complains.

She says her organization encourages school systems to have a strong book selection policy and a review or screening process to handle protests and challenges of reading material.

The voices of a tiny group objecting to a book are often far louder than those who have no objection, she says.

But that has not been the case in Carroll County, where 996 students attend the county's single high school, an almost windowless brick fortress that sits on one of the many hills in aptly named Hillsville. Students, former students and many parents have hurried to Goldwasser's defense.

``They know I'm a good teacher and that I mean well,' says Goldwasser, a Pennsylvania native who, like Edgerton, graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. She holds a master's degree from Stanford University and has taught in Carroll County for more than 20 years.

People sent her flowers. They overwhelmed her with mail - about 200 letters - and telephone calls eulogizing her teaching talents.

``I felt like I had the benefit of having had a funeral while still being alive, if you know what I mean,' says Goldwasser, who speaks softly but with plenty of animation and spirit.

Frank Levering, a writer and former Hollywood screenwriter who returned to his native Carroll County a few years ago to take over his family's orchards, reviewed ``The Floatplane Notebooks' for the Los Angeles Times in 1988, calling it a wonderful book.

When the fuss about the book broke out, he says, he feared Goldwasser would be widely damned. But just the opposite has happened.

``To tell you the truth, that surprised me a little bit. ... I'm delighted. It speaks well of our county,' Levering says of the outpouring of support for Goldwasser.

Many parents seem to agree with parent Billie Kaye Robinette. She says she has no quarrel with the Humphreys not wanting their son to read the book. But Robinette says she has ``a real problem' with the Humphreys ``telling me my child can't read that book.'

Wanda Humphrey says she sees nothing wrong with her and her husband trying to remove the book from the school. If students want to read the book, ``they should do it at home,' she says. ``This kind of literature is not educational.'

Goldwasser confesses she isn't without blame. She had used ``Floatplane' with advanced English students each of the last two years, without protest. Therefore, she didn't notify parents about the book before the general English class began reading it.

``I don't regret assigning the book. I only regret that parents didn't see it ahead of time,' she says. That way if a parent objected, the child would have been excused from reading the book and assigned another.

Her classes had just about finished the book when the vice principal showed up with news that Wade and Wanda Humphrey had complained. Then came Lineberry's attack. Goldwasser said her initial feeling was one of guilt because she had created a stir and betrayed the trust of the school and parents.

She said at the time she wouldn't teach the book again, although she says she meant that she wouldn't use it in 11th-grade general English classes. But then she had second thoughts about that. She wrote down her objectives in choosing the book as a text. It was a good book and deserved to be defended, she decided.

She told the principal she wanted the right to use ``Floatplane' in the future. Later, she met with the principal and Superintendent McBride. She says McBride told her the book could not be used again, period.

She took the matter to the Carroll County school board. Fellow teachers showed up with a petition supporting her and urging that the school system's review policy be followed. But the school board took no action.

Only after Goldwasser filed a grievance and the Humphreys a formal protest against the book was the review committee convened. Edgerton supplied the committee with free copies of the book.

A decorated Vietnam veteran who grew up in Durham County, Edgerton declines to comment publicly about the Carroll County controversy, but he has called Goldwasser to express his support.

This is the second time an Edgerton book has created a ruckus. In the 1980s ``Raney' was denounced by administrators at Baptist-related Campbell University, where Edgerton used to teach. They felt it poked fun at Freewill Baptists.

But Gilbert Campbell, professor of English at Virginia Tech, says that Edgerton's books contain lofty moral messages.

``I'm hardly a fanatic on the subject of censorship and I'm not about to think that 'anything goes,' ' Campbell wrote to Goldwasser, who in turn read the letter to the review committee, ``... but it is indeed ironic that Clyde Edgerton ... should be the subject of this kind of accusation. As a whole, his work is very much in support of the values and joys of family, community, charity and neighborliness. Indeed, Edgerton is nothing if not a Christian writer.'

The review committee praised the book, but concluded, 8 to 1, that it should be confined to advanced 12th-grade classes.

Goldwasser views the decision as a victory for the book as an educational tool, though she regrets 11th-graders will no longer be able to read it in school. Many have fathers or uncles who got caught up in the Vietnam War. Unlike some adults who complained about the book, she said, her 11th-graders were able to get past the swearing to the real message.

Over Goldwasser's blackboard is a poster that was put up long before the book controversy erupted but which she feels sums it up. The poster is of Albert Einstein, along with one of his quotes.

``Great spirits,' Einstein says, ``have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.'


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News