Born in Newark, NJ; daughter of Arsenio Richard (an engineer) and Gloria Louise (a homemaker) DelFattore. Education: Caldwell College, B.A., 1970; St. Bonaventure University, M.A., 1976; Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D., 1978, M.S., 1979.
University of Delaware, Newark, professor of English, 1979—, director of teacher education, College of Arts and Science.
Modern Language Association of America, National Council of Teachers of English, Authors Guild.
Social Issues Resources Series Intellectual Freedom Award, Delaware Library Association, 1992; corecipient, Outstanding Book of the Year Award, American Educational Research Association, 1993, for What Johnny Shouldn't Read: Textbook Censorship in America; American Library Association award; Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America award; Delaware Department of Public Instruction Order of Excellence.
A professor of English at the University of Delaware, Joan DelFattore chronicles the debate that rages over what is being read in elementary and secondary school classrooms in her book What Johnny Shouldn't Read: Textbook Censorship in America. Focusing on courtroom cases, DelFattore shows how lawsuits against school authorities can lead textbook publishers to employ self-censorship. She contends that such states as California and Texas, because of their powerful influence on textbook marketing, determine the content of textbooks sold nationwide. DelFattore points out that the challenges to textbook content come primarily from powerful national organizations of the far right and from "politically correct" extremists on the left.
Gene I. Maeroff, writing in the New York Times Book Review, calls DelFattore's work a "fascinating account of censorship" and a "disquieting account [that] is peopled with zealots who believe it is their mission to insulate the young from authors who seek to corrupt their beliefs about God, patriotism, family values, the role of women and race relations." Maeroff calls these protestors people "who fear that the orderliness of their world is threatened by the books their children are asked to read." And although censorship advocates may not win in court, their arguments often persuade risk-averse publishers to release constrained textbooks that may be devoid of substance. Describing the book as "monumental, well-researched, [and] highly readable," Edward Jenkinson, writing in Educational Researcher, concluded: "What Johnny Shouldn't Read should be read by every teacher, administrator, and parent who wants the children of this country to grow up being free to read, free to think for themselves, and free to make decisions."
DelFattore discussed her inspiration to write What Johnny Shouldn't Read with CA: "During the summer of 1985, I was teaching a literature course to a group of high school teachers when two of them complained that they could not follow the discussion of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The rest of the class was reading the play in paperback, but those two were using high school anthologies. Between three and four hundred lines had been removed, without acknowledgement, from each textbook version. Many of the deletions involved sex: lines containing words like bosom and maidenhood had disappeared. Other omissions were harder to understand; for example, neither book included Romeo's lines in Act I, Scene 2, about heretics being burned at the stake. (Later investigation showed that religious extremists oppose any reference to the fact that religion has ever motivated violence.)
"Intrigued, I set out to explore four questions: Who is deciding what should be removed from textbooks? On what basis? Is this phenomenon limited to literature, or does it also involve other subjects? And by what process is challenged material removed? I discovered that right-of-center and left-of-center pressure groups are using the federal courts and the textbook adoption process to influence the content of a wide variety of nationally marketed textbooks.
"The event that so unexpectedly interrupted my class's discussion of Romeo and Juliet changed the course of my writing career. I had previously published articles on literary biography and criticism, but since then I have focused on the ways in which ideological litmus tests are quietly being applied to instructional materials used in public and private schools nationwide. Far from arguing that non-educators should stay out of discussions of curriculum, I call on more parents and other citizens to become aware of the forces affecting textbooks and to take an active part in debates about curriculum and school governance. Only in that way, I believe, can special interest groups be prevented from imposing their views on the education of all American children."
This has remained DelFattore's focus. Her second book, The Fourth R: Conflicts over Religion in America's Public Schools, also examines censorship in the schools, this time addressing the subject of religious speech. When America was a fledgling country, teaching religion in schools was standard, but controversy surrounded the question of whether schools were promoting Protestantism or Catholicism. From this point, DelFattore chronicles the changing political, social, and cultural views of religion in the schools. From debates on the type of Bible that should be used to the type of prayers that should be said, debates evolved to the question of whether prayers should be allowed in school at all. As a Publishers Weekly critic noted in a review of the book, it was not until the mid-twentieth century that the question of prayer in schools was resolved. The critic stated the DelFattore shows how "finally, in a series of rulings in the 1960s, the Supreme Court banned school authorities from instituting prayers, regardless of their generality." As Massachusetts Law Review contributor J. Thomas Kirkman explained: "At this point of the story, DelFattore has reached the core of the legal and social issues surrounding the place of religion in public schools as it played out in the courts. Her remaining chapters focus on the attempts made to seek compliance with the Constitution, ignore the Constitution, or amend the Constitution." Kirkman added that, "besides obvious compliance by not making any attempts to introduce religion or spiritual reflection, another strategy for compliance is to simply have a moment of silence. Approximately half of the states currently allow for such periods. The solution is not as simple as it appears."
Reviewers applauded The Fourth R, noting that it offers a thoroughly researched and comprehensive exploration of an important topic. Indeed, Brian L. Benzel, writing in School Administrator, noted that the book combines "the passion and personalities of the arguments with the legal and historical background for the role of religion in our political and public policy processes." A similar assessment was made by Scott Walter in a Library Journal review. Walter commented that "DelFattore ensures a wide audience for this well-written, well-researched, and balanced work." In his glowing Sociology of Religion review, Frank S. Ravitch observed: "I have written extensively on this topic and I found DelFattore's ability to bring together disparate historical and legal sources into a coherent picture to be impressive." Ravitch concluded that, "quite frankly, this is one of the best books on religion in the public schools to be published in recent years and given her wonderful style and excellent research I look forward to reading more of DelFattore's work in the future."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Adolescence, December 22, 2005, review of The Fourth R: Conflicts over Religion in America's Public Schools, p. 862.
Catholic Historical Review, October 1, 2007, Frank S. Ravitch, review of The Fourth R, p. 998.
Chronicle of Higher Education, September 16, 1992, review of What Johnny Shouldn't Read: Textbook Censorship in America.
Church History, June 1, 2007, Tracy Fessenden, review of The Fourth R, p. 458.
Educational Researcher, January/February, 1993, Edward Jenkinson, review of What Johnny Shouldn't Read, pp. 35-36.
Library Journal, March 1, 2004, Scott Walter, review of The Fourth R, p. 90.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 23, 1992, review of What Johnny Shouldn't Read, p. 6.
Massachusetts Law Review, winter, 2006, J. Thomas Kirkman, review of The Fourth R.
New York Times Book Review, August 30, 1992, Gene I. Maeroff, review of What Johnny Shouldn't Read.
Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1992, review of What Johnny Shouldn't Read, pp. 91-92; January 12, 2004, review of The Fourth R, p. 46.
School Administrator, December 1, 2004, Brian L. Benzel, review of The Fourth R, p. 41.
Sociology of Religion, March 22, 2006, Frank S. Ravitch, review of The Fourth R, p. 112.