The Angry School Board: A Sherlock Holmes Adventure

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

According to The Daily Progress, the Albemarle County School District in Virginia has decided that “A Study In Scarlet” is an inappropriate story for sixth graders.

The main reason for the Holmes mystery appearing before the board is that the book presents Mormons in an unflattering way. They say that the book will be added to lists for older readers and that it has been replaced by “The Hounds of the Baskervilles” as the sixth graders’s “introduction to the genre of mystery”.

I get it. I do. They are trying to hide their concession to avoid a lawsuit behind a replacement so as not to create a PR nightmare for the district. Because you know, us book folks tend to be not so forgiving when you start waving the ban-hammer our way. But honestly, if I were to ban every piece of literature that was unsympathetic towards a given creed or people, rather intentional or not, the shelves at the library would look awfully bare. So long Shylock and Shakespeare, ta-ta Twain and Huck, hasta la vista Harper and Scout…

Honestly though, when you were a kid and you read your favorite mystery, be it Holmes, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Hank the Cowdog (my favorite), did you really stop and ask yourself about the greater social context of the book, or did you revel in the adventure of it? I thought so.


  1. David Y.B. Kaufmann

    In fact, the school board is abandoning a precious “teachable moment.” It could use “A Study in Scarlet” to teach historical context, to generate a research project about what Mormons actually believe, about the difference between creed and practice in any religion, about stereotyping as a literary device, about the rhetorical and literary weakness of stereotyping, about Conan Doyle’s own foray into spiritualism, about tolerance, etc. But that would require critical thinking, a commitment to dialogue and an understanding of the educational process.

  2. Angela Parson Myers

    I remember being VERY aware of the message behind Huckleberry Finn when I read it. I think I was 10 or 11. But for some reason I can’t even remember A Study in Scarlet, though I’m sure I read it at about the same age.

  3. Christopher Morgan

    It goes without saying that authors such as Mark Twain and Harper Lee have an intent behind their stories. I mean Huck and Jim’s trip to the north isn’t exactly a vield dig at the state of life in the South, it was intended to have an impact on their audiences for the better. I was more directing the comment towards books that have an unintended blatant bias. Say with Shylock and Shakespeare. Where the portrayal of Shylock is more about how English citizens of the Elizabethan era expect to see a Jewish man portrayed on the stage as opposed to Shakespeare seeking to educate a generation about the evils of bigotry.

    There are some books that are written with a bias. The lucky thing is that most of these books were written with the intent to entertain, as in the case of the numerous Sherlock stories. I mean Doyle had to bring the character back from the dead due to demand. There is a difference from a ten year old reading the n*word, a known slur to almost everyone, and a ten year old picking up on the nuances found in the embodiment of a stereotype such as Shylock, or Doyle’s Mormons. I brought up Twain and Harper Lee because they both have beloved books that have faced the chopping block before due to their rather politically incorrect way of dealing with the concept of race. I tend to be with David here in that these authors provide a way for kids to engage these beliefs instead of pretend they don’t exist and everything is rosey.

  4. Arielle

    Well said all,
    It is definitely a teaching moment lost. It occured to me that even the difference between fiction writing and journalism could be explored. How fiction is made up and can have errors even when attempting to portray a group accurately. I understand from Sir Conan Doyle’s daughter that he privately appologized to the Mormon leaders of the day oweing his errors to the information available to him. Whereas in journalism there is (or used to be) the concept of verify such ideas to make an utmost effort at presenting facts.

    Yes there are many lessons that can be taught from this that are being left in the dust.

  5. GinBerlin

    Interesting references, because Shylock is who I usually reference when people talk about Mark Twain and his Huck. That is, as a Jew, I don’t want a bunch of 12 year olds reading the Merchant of Venice unless they are in a class with a teacher trained to deal with the entire concept of antisemitism and the hatred of Jews as well as other forms of racism. And if I were black (and as a white) I also don’t want my kids, at that age, reading the unexpurgated Huck without a similarly trained teacher and without the entire understanding of the history and racism in the US. They won’t get the teacher, so I am just fine with the reading of those books in school being delayed quite a bit. I can’t remember Study in Scarlet at all- it’s been 35 years or so- but if Mormons feel the stereotyping is as bad, let the teaching be delayed to a better time. Frankly, although I am/was a Holmes fan, I think Baskerville’s is the [u]one[/u] that everyone knows anyway. If the kids are intrigued, the books are available free on-line from Through their public library, if not the school one.

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