Friday, February 18, 2011

Sex, Elephants, and the Taylors...

The and both covered the recent controversy relating to Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which has been removed from a class at Bedford High.
A second book has been pulled from the Bedford High School curriculum following complaints about its sexual content by the same parents who started the argument about Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America, which was removed from the high school’s personal finance course last month. (
The school decided to put on a number of intersession courses for students who wanted to learn more about literature that isn't a normal part of the curriculum.
Sara Gruen’s best-selling book “Water for Elephants” was scheduled to be used in one of the high school’s intersession programs – three-day experiences in April geared to give students a valuable opportunity beyond the classroom – but Bedford High School Principal Bill Hagen said the decision was made last week to remove that course as an option. 
But what valuable experience can occur without some sort of obstacle.  In this case it was the parents of a student who was signed up for the intersession course.  These are the same parents who earlier removed their child from a class after the Nickel and Dimed controversy last year.
Bedford residents Dennis and Aimee Taylor sent complaints to Hagen and Superintendent Tim Mayes about the book last week and denounced the text at the Bedford School Board meeting Monday. 
“This book is likely to be a rated-X book, and thus, is totally unsuitable for use by the school,” Taylor said in an e-mail. “I advocate that all persons responsible for the chain of events that lead to this book being used be fired or terminated from the School Board.” 
Taylor further suggested that the school only allow “youth versions” of particular books or organize a parental review system over the summer that would look at books that students need parental permission to read. 
I have to say I am very disappointed in the decision made by the school to not only remove the text, but remove the class entirely.  
Hagen supported the teachers who wanted to remove the intersession option entirely and avoid another round of controversy, but he said the school has to be careful to avoid starting down this slippery slope.
I'm sorry to tell you this, Mr. Hagen, but you've already fallen down the slippery slope you are trying to avoid.  You've taken away two texts and a course just because of one family and where are the review committees and the school district reviews in all of this?
“The inherent danger in what has happened here is that unless we go through a respectful and challenging review process, we might have a safe and sanitized curriculum,” Hagen said. “That’s a concern as an educator that I have.” 
Hagen said the school will continue to improve and review their process to allow books into the curriculum, and he hopes to have more informed discussions from townspeople about them.
This situation is discouraging coming in the wake of my last post on the Richland SD and the successes of their review process.  In this case, no review was taken into consideration.  There was one meeting and then the book was removed, as was the class, by the same Principal who is afraid of a "slippery slope."  I don't know what to say.  I only hope the school ends up having to remove every book and cancel every class based on this one family.  Maybe at that point Mr. Hagen will understand what a problem he's started by falling prey to the Taylors every time they open their mouths.

Freedom requires a fight, and Bedford High is not fighting for Freedom.

Thanks for listening.

(Here's a link to the passage that created such a controversy)


  1. It was a scene depicting graphic oral sex that I read aloud at the meeting. I might also have chosen a strip tease with tit-sucking and tit-twirling for effect. I was not on the agenda and only spoke during public comments. The book was pulled right before the meeting by the principal. He acted with his authority and thus, his move was part of the process, though not the one most commonly understood by Bedford citizens.

  2. I wrote the above letter, though I did not sign it. I hope that, in the spirit of fair debate, that all responders will use their real names, even if they choose to otherwise maintain their privacy. In objecting to this book, I have lost some of my personal privacy. It is a price I am willing to pay, however.

    Dennis Taylor

  3. I understand the fact that you did not appreciate the book, but I feel that the description in the text is far from "x rated" as it was said. And I do appreciate that you are protecting your own children. I have no issue with that. I do, however, have an issue with others being deprived of their own perspectives and opinions on a text because it is simply removed and made to disappear from a classroom. I am not going to debate because I can see that we are of two different minds. Thank you for your comments, and I only hope that you will appreciate the perspective from which this blog is coming, namely that of freedom for readers to learn from texts; instead of keeping students in caves of innocence, YA titles and other texts in classrooms need to be allowed so that young people can come to their own conclusions as well, or they will not have the tools with which to read texts when they are older and do not have parental protection