Wednesday, June 21, 2006

District Requires That All Books be "Approved" by Principals

The squeaky wheels in Raleigh, North Carolina, have just got their grease: administrators are now requiring that middle and high school teachers get permission from principals to teach any book not on the district's approved reading lists, and they must also now provide reading lists of these books to parents:
Teachers will have to fill out forms requesting permission from their principal...[explaining] why they want to use a book and provide reviews from professional sources. They also will have to identify any potential challenges such as objectionable language, sexuality, violence or cultural/ethnic concerns.
Why has this change come about?
The reading issue came up in April when some parents and Called2Action, a local Christian activist group, complained to the school board about students being required to read three books -- "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, "Beloved" by Toni Morrison and "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier.

The parents objected to what they called the "vulgar and sexually explicit language" in the books and said families should have been warned about them.
Needless to say, I think this is a terrible idea--but not because I don't want parents to have information about the books their kids are reading. That might be a real concern, but it's also a non-problem. That information is already available to any parent simply by asking their kid what they're reading! This new policy just creates a huge, pointless bureaucracy. Why a "solution" to a non-problem? Because it's not really about keeping parents informed at all. This is about intimidating teachers so they that don't teach anything that anyone might consider "controversial" in any way--and so administrators won't have to deal with the headaches caused by far-right protest groups like Called2Action.

But good luck with that. Book banners and book challengers have a nasty habit of moving the bar. This year, it's The Chocolate War that they're upset about, because it's not on a pre-approved "list," or because it has swear words. But next year, they'll be targeting others books, books that are on the pre-approved list, or that are "offensive" in some other way, because the characters don't submit to authority, or are perceived to be disrespectful to a certain brand of religion. Today, it's The Color Purple, but mark my words: next year, it will be The Great Gatsby, or Of Mine and Men, or Shakespeare. And the consequence, of course, is that the whole point of literature, which is to expose readers to diverse and challenging ideas, is lost.

But the last word must go to one of the teachers who must operate under these new rules:
"It's an insult to teachers to require them to do this," said Sharon Winzeler, co-chairwoman of the English department at Broughton High School in Raleigh. "You rely on us to be professionals."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That information is already available to any parent simply by asking their kid what they're reading!" C'mon, man! You can't believe that's true!!! As a teen, did you really tell your parents what you were reading? Did you really answer their questions truthfully? CC

1:13 PM  
Blogger Brent Hartinger said...

What is the alternative, CC? You think the government or the school should monitor the extracurricular reading of every kid or teenager, requiring that they read one thing and forbidding them from reading something else? Now THAT is a way to get kids to stop reading!

I'm sorry, books are about individuals, and parenting is the job of, well, PARENTS.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Dick said...

This made me literally ill.

You are right, it's a non-problem. I HATE DUMB PEOPLE. Really, THE CHOCOLATE WAR? I don't see anyone protesting ALIVE, where people eat each other, but *oh dear god* he said f*ck?!?!

I hope they all catch on fire during their own book burning.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, Brent! I just saw that you had responded to my comment!
I do not think anyone should monitor what teens are reading (I'm a teen myself!) The info on the back cover of the book should be clear enough and say what the book is about. And add of sorts of BEWARES if necessary. Of course I would read any book with a parental advisory on it!
So the way to get more kids to read is just by adding parental advisories to the books ;-)

CC (BTW that's me, Christian ;-)

6:40 PM  
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8:32 PM  

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