Thursday, October 26, 2006


I admit I'm finding this controversy in Puyallup, Washington, to be an interesting one: junior high teachers are challenging The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (part of the school's multi-cultural curriculum, a response to a discrimination lawsuit that the school lost), with these teachers saying they believe the book is too mature for their students.

I believe teachers should have some say in the books they teach because, after all, they know their own students better than anyone. But the superintendant, bless his soul, is defending the book.
The head of the Puyallup School District appears prepared to stand behind a novel being questioned by a group of teachers, according to internal documents.

In an e-mail to the School Board president, Superintendent Tony Apostle said he expects teachers to follow the district’s multicultural curriculum, which includes “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” by Ernest J. Gaines.

“This novel is a significant masterpiece of American literature and it belongs in the eighth grade,” Apostle wrote to School Board President Diana Seeley in a Sept. 24 e-mail.

“We also need teachers who (are) confident, capable and competent in teaching this literature to students,” Apostle wrote in the e-mail, requested by The News Tribune through state open records laws.

Apostle sent the message two days after a teacher was disciplined for voicing concerns to parents about the book’s use of racial slurs and violence.

Apostle’s e-mail and other records give more details on the district’s decision to discipline Aylen Junior High School teacher Donna Helgesen. She was put on paid leave for two days after telling parents at a back-to-school meeting that “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” is inappropriate for eighth-graders, records show.

Last week, nine educators, including Helgesen, filed a formal challenge of the novel’s place in the eighth-grade curriculum. The teachers are from five of the six junior high schools in the district. The challenge will be reviewed by a district curriculum committee and could later be appealed to the Puyallup School Board.
The rest of the article might be behind a firewall, but it does sound like the matter is being discussed in an appropriate way through the appropriate channels (after one teacher apparently inappropriately disparaged the book, without authorization, at a Back-to-School Night).


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