Monday, May 30, 2011

"To Kill a Mockingbird" Cancelled... [older news]

To say I'm disappointed is really just the simplest way to put it.  I don't want to turn this into another rant because I've already talked about To Kill a Mockingbird before, and to argue and posit theories would be a waste of breath on this matter.  So today I'm just going to show a few clips from two articles from the, dated May 13, 2011:
Students at Morgan High School will not get to see the play "To Kill A Mockingbird" after the superintendent decided to cancel a planned performance. 
Lori Snyder-Lowe, superintendent for Morgan Local School District, said she received several calls from parents concerned about the play because it contains a racial slur. The play was scheduled to be performed for students this week. 
Snyder-Lowe said she made her decision after calling other school districts and learning they had not allowed the play at school either.
Oh, I get it!  One school didn't let the performance happen, so NO school should.  Right?  *sigh*
Bruce Revennaugh, secretary for the Zane Trace Players, said he was disappointed after he learned he would not be producing the play for the students. 
Revennaugh said he contacted the publishing company for permission to exchange the word for another, and he was refused. 
The company receives requests "every once in a while" to remove the word, said Chris Sergel, vice president of Dramatic Publishing, but making someone uncomfortable is not a sufficient reason to change a vital piece of American literature. 
"Being uncomfortable with history is not means to change it," Sergel said. "We've always denied these requests. People need to figure out how to confront issues." 
Revennaugh said he thinks an opportunity to have an open dialogue about issues was lost.
Mr. Revennaugh, how right you are... in a way.  Granted the opportunity for dialogue about the actual issue of race is now obscured, but the issue of censorship is not a discussion taking place, so at least something is coming out of all this.  Maybe.  If nothing else, the ACLU got involved, according to the second article from the same site:
The book is an acclaimed piece of American literature, Hardiman [legal director for the Ohio ACLU] said, which has for decades created opportunities for youth and adults to discuss the history of racism and injustice. 
Censoring it deprives students the ability to think critically about these issues, form their own opinions and understand the evolution of human rights, Hardiman said. 
“Today, racism is hidden in the closest,” Hardiman said. “In the 1960s, it was in your face. Now it’s more subtle. Banning this topic, the school officials are denying students the opportunity to understand the history of intolerance and injustice in our country and how it may be relevant to their lives today.”
My thoughts exactly, Mr. Hardiman.  My thoughts exactly.  But apparently what we've come to do so well in the modern society of ours, is forget all about this thing called context.  It would save us a lot of grief if people could learn to understand the concept of context.  And I would love to be able to make people see that.  But what is a poor blogger to do but blog and hope.  And so that is what I do.  I blog, and I hope.

Ciao for now!  (and a fun little play with context below...)

Don't they know Trojans are a brand of condoms?  They might want 
to change that before someone thinks their school promotes sex...  
Oh wait, context!!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Lovingly Alice

In this week's news, Lovingly Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was pulled from the shelves of Quail Run Elementary School in the Paradise Valley Unified School District. The book is succinctly described in The Arizona Republic in this way: "[Alice's] mother is dead. Her best friend moves away without a word. Her cat dies. Her brother breaks his leg. And she enters puberty and finds out about sex."

Sounds like a typical existence of a girl coming-of-age in the twenty-first century. But do parents want their children to hear these things? Nope. Why? Because they want their children to stay innocent (though I've spoken of this perceived innocence and the harm that can come from denying information to curious children.) The article goes on,
Adults, for good reason, want their children to hold onto innocence for as long as possible. There is plenty of time to learn about the world. Let's keep them away from books and ideas that rush them along. 
At the same time, children are curious and in a hurry to grow up. They do not live in cocoons. They have access to more information than any generation before them. And they always have talked among themselves. 
It's no stretch to imagine any group of girls on the verge of puberty talking to each other as the book's characters do when they first learn about the existence of sex. That's what makes parents uncomfortable. 
So basically what's making these parents uncomfortable is not the sex, but that fact that they are not the ones in the huddle with their daughters. Okay, that makes more sense. It's a bit of a jealousy thing, right? Okay, so maybe I'm taking things a bit far, but what am I left with after so many stories of parents who want to take away the right of dozens or hundreds of other children because they don't want their own kids to read a certain book.

Basically, what I'm saying this time around is that I think parents who want control over what their children read should set up some ground rules with their children.  If they are concerned that their children will read something objectionable at school, perhaps they could set up a library day when parents and children come in and take out books together and the rest of the week the kids of these concerned parents are not allowed to take out books on their own.  

A bit extreme, maybe, but is it any more ridiculous than getting rid of a book that recognized journals and teachers can use as educational tools?  Is it worse than taking books out of the hands of children who might enjoy them?  I'll let you be the judge.

Ciao for now.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Beware of Liberal Thinking!

While I agree that textbooks in schools should be as unbiased as possible, I've come to realize over the few decades I've been alive that being entirely unbiased and 100% objective is entirely impossible.  History, Economics, Politics, you name it, there is no way for an author to write a book that is without bias and that is without a particular leaning.  Or maybe that's just me, but I don't think so.

A textbook in use in Frederick County, Maryland, is being reviewed by the school board for supposedly promoting a "liberal agenda."  The horror!  The article on states:
The third-grade textbook has been a part of the county's social studies curriculum since 2004, and touches on geography, economics, history, citizenship and the environment. 
But some parents want it removed from classrooms because they say it does not teach facts objectively and tends to favor and promote liberal beliefs and ideologies on issues such as health care, public education and government.
Miller [a board member on the curriculum committee] said parents had been concerned that the book was driven by a liberal agenda, and that it doesn't give enough factual information. It also tends to lead students toward taking a certain stance on issues such as health care, childcare and government, parents have said. 
For example, the text explains how paying for health care can be a hardship for families in the United States, while families in other countries can go to the doctor without paying immediately or for a small fee. Immediately after, the text asks children if they think health care should be free.
Sure it's a bit of a leading question, but most questions of a political nature are! Should health care be free? Maybe, maybe not. There's still a lot of debate on the issue. But how about if the question was worded like this? Would it be nice if it was free because then you could actually see the doctor if you're sick and aren't making a boatload of money? Yes!

But I digress with my liberal-minded ramblings. Needless to say, I'm a proponent of free health care, but that's probably just the Canadian in me talking. The text seems to be mostly in trouble for teaching more ideology and belief than good solid facts. But I ask you, how much of what is in many textbooks is "fact"? How much is included as "fact" because it happens to support the author's goals in writing the book? And how is sharing belief and ideology suddenly such a horrible thing? Is this not the sort of material that helps us think and shape our opinions and argue and all that other fun stuff?

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way, but it just rubs me the wrong way when things are thrown out or questioned because they take a more liberal stance on issues. But now I'm just rambling.

Thanks for listening... and beware of Liberal Thinking!!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Merrill School Board Votes to Keep "Montana 1948"

Normally I would write or rant or lecture a little bit in this blog, but today I'll keep it simple.  The article from is self-explanatory, short, and covers pretty much every issue I would like.  What I'm not including here is the video on the website that is worth taking a look at for more details. 

In short, the article addresses the need for parents to understand that they have every right to read, critique, and limit what their own children read or are exposed to, but they do not have the right to take away the rights of other children to read.  But on that note, I will let you read the article for yourself, the majority of which is copied below.
MERRILL (WAOW) -- Members of the Merrill School Board decide not to ban a book some parents say is questionable reading material for their 10th grade students because of language, and sexual and racists themes.
The book, Montana 1948, was written by retired UW Stevens Point professor, Larry Watson. School leaders added it to the curriculum 12 years ago, saying it was a less controversial substitute for Catcher in the Rye. Members of the school board read the book over the weekend to prepare themselves for the discussion at Monday's special meeting. 
"Having your child not read a certain book is parenting and you have that right as a parent," said Merrill Superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder. "But taking away a book from another child, that's censorship." 
Merrill High School's principal and the district's curriculum director addressed the board, but no public comment was accepted. School leaders said students have the option of reading a different book if they don't feel comfortable with the one they're assigned.
It is at times like this that I am grateful for open-minded individuals like Lisa Snyder who help keep books available to all students and who understand, also, that parents are incredibly valuable in the education process.  Thoughts?

Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's the Big Secret?

It doesn't seem to be much of a secret that many parents have a problem with what is being taught to their children in schools, especially that dreaded sex-education classroom. This is no exception in Oak Harbor where a mom became quite upset after viewing a book entitled What's the Big Secret that her daughter brought home from school. These are the Headlines

An article on covered the story:
"I can't even stand that she had already read this without me even knowing," said Jennifer Swedeoson. 
Swedeoson had planned to have "the birds and the bees" talk with her 10-year-old daughter Kaleigh when she reached middle school. But that timeline changed when Kaleigh brought the book home from school yesterday. 
"I start flipping through, this is all right, but then it starts talking more about sex and I get into it and it's completely too graphic for her."
Really?  Waiting until middle school might be great for you, but it seems that your child will probably already have heard a lot of information and misinformation by that point in time.  I heard about and knew about sex in grade 5.   The article on quoted assistant superintendent Lance Gibbon, who noted that "that fifth grade is when students in Washington state begin sex-ed classes."  Okay, so I'm not totally off my rocker, then.  Which makes me wonder why parents are so afraid of their children hearing about sex in a classroom or a reputable book from a school library.  Isn't this better than getting the information from classmates or random internet sources?  At least this book seems to be a good way of bringing up certain topics that can then be discussed in a home environment.
"This book been on the shelves for 10 years, at five different elementary schools," Gibbon said. "That's 2,500 students a year. That's a lot of kids that had opportunity and a lot of parents to give their input on it. This is the first time there's been any question about it." 
He said plenty of people research the material before it is put on the school library shelves. 
"All of our books are reviewed by staff for age appropriateness, look at outside reviewers, their ratings, and quality of materials," Gibbon said.
I know sex can be a sensitive topic, so don't go thinking that I'm telling you that kids should learn about sex as soon as possible and in any way possible.  I think that getting information is a good thing, though, especially from reputable sources.  And while schools are not perfect by any means, a classroom is at least a safer place to get information about sex than the internet (in many cases) or from classmates.  

I think in this day and age it's hard to keep kids away from information until a certain expected timeframe. Life doesn't ever go by our own timeframes, so isn't it at least a good thing that this child brought the book home where her mother could discuss it in detail with her?  Sure it's not the middle school conversation it "should" have been--at least according to the girl's mother--but at least it's happening at home and in the open rather than behind closed door through inadvisable means and sources.

If you're interested here are links to the Publisher's Weekly review and the School Library Journal's review (a little way down the page) along with a short article about sex-ed.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Perks [or not] of Being Controversial

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, was challenged in Clarkstown, NY.  This isn't the first time this has happened to Wallflower and I'm sure it won't be the last.  According to, this is what happened: 
The controversy erupted in early February, when Aldo and Patricia DeVivo of Congers, parents of a Clarkstown High School North junior, contacted the district, saying they objected to their daughter being taught the book in class. They said they found the book morally and religiously reprehensible. 
In keeping with district policy, the student was allowed to pick an alternative book. But the parents said they were not happy with that alternative because their daughter would be the only one reading that book.
Does this sound familiar to you?  It should.  Last year I posted a similar story (though for the life of me I can't remember exactly which post it is now) in which a family was unsatisfied with their child being allowed to read an alternative text.  Somehow this is a terrible tragedy for the child, that they must read a book different than everyone else.  Will this scar the child for life?  Will their friends run off into the night, never to be heard from again now?  Somehow I doubt it.  So what do good parents do when they they want a book away from their child?
Instead they demanded the district withdraw it from the curriculum and pull it from the libraries. They also campaigned to have the book banned, speaking at meetings and contacting officials.
Well, thank goodness for reasonable people that live in the same community, because the book was kept in the classroom and in the libraries.  Take THAT DeVivos!
The Clarkstown Board of Education unanimously voted to keep [The Perks of Being a Wallflower] in the high school English curriculum, ending weeks of furious debate among community members.
No one spoke in opposition to the book. 
The room broke out in applause after the board vote.
As I keep having to come back to in this blog, when your child goes off to school, you have to trust the school to do what is best for the majority and to also do what they can for those who don't agree.  This, however, does NOT mean getting rid of books because you, parents of one student, don't like them.  

I would also like to point out that an absent voice in this story was the voice of the daughter.  I wonder if the parents thought about whether or not their daughter had a problem with the book, or if their daughter had a problem with reading a different text as opposed to everyone else?  We'll never know because no one seems to have asked.

Thanks for listening, and send out some good karma to the Clarkstown Board of Education for the unanimous vote to hold on to Chbosky's book.  They deserve it!