Sunday, January 1, 2012

Superintendent Forced to Rethink Decisions

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools interim superintendent Jeremy Hughes said community outcry changed his mind. (see the official statement from Hughes here)
-Peg McNichol (Canton Patch)

Interim Superintendent Jeremy Hughes decided to repeal his original decision to remove the book, Waterland (Graham Swift), from classrooms in order to go through proper channels and have the book reviewed by a committee.  Hughes stated, in the Canton Patch article, "my decision to remove the book without instituting the complaint-and-review processes provided for in our district’s Administrative Guidelines" sparked overwhelming objections from the community.  

He continues: "As a former high school English and Latin teacher, I am certainly aware that much of modern literature contains sexual material. It was my judgment, however, that the passages I read from Waterland had crossed the line in terms of graphic portrayal of sexual activity," he wrote. "Although it has been argued that I took action solely on the complaint of one parent, it was my judgment at the time that the majority of parents in Plymouth-Canton would have a similar objection if they read what I read."

The problem with Hughes' decision is that he based it upon an assumption that others would see the book in the same way.  This is obviously not entirely true, judging from the outcry that followed the banning of the book from English AP classrooms at the school.  Some parents may agree with Hughes.  In fact, the majority might end up agreeing with Hughes.  The problem here is that he simply assumed that they would agree with him, and then he removed the book without following proper procedures, including a review of the book by a formed review committee, consisting of parents, teachers, and others from the school district.

The removal of this book, and the challenge to Toni Morrison's Beloved, are both the result of complaints from (drum roll please!) one parent!  Again, why so much action from one parent's complaint?  There are so many options besides removing a book from classrooms, libraries, and other modes of instruction.  Texts are often (though not always) chosen for some merit beyond a teacher simply thinking that a particular book might work because they read it once.  So, if the books are being chosen for a particular purpose, why is it that they are so easily removed after a single complaint?  Why can that parent not simply have their child read a different book?

If nothing else, at least Waterland is being reviewed following proper guidelines now, and hopefully Beloved will be reviewed in the same way.  All I can hope for is that other parents see the slippery slope of removing books just because they discuss sex and just because one parent thinks the book is not suitable for their own child.  No book will be perfect for all students and parents all of the time, but if it is suitable for the majority, much of the time, then in a public education system, it is probably a suitable choice.

End Rant.

P.S.  If you think students are being destroyed by depictions of sex and sexuality in the novels they read for school, just read the following comments from a former student of the AP English course (from the Canton Patch comments section):
Aaron 1:47 pm on Friday, December 30, 2011
As a student who took this class, I am offended by the move to remove these books from AP english. All students who take this course are at least in eleventh grade (17 years old), and most students are seniors. It seems silly to ignore that the majority of students in the course are legally adults. Forgetting this crucial piece of information, the sexually "graphic" scene in Waterland is far from the focus of the book, but is merely a small part of outstanding piece of literary fiction. Waterland became my favorite book in AP English, and has has yet to lose that title. It would be a real shame to see it removed from a great course as a response to an ignorant parent's misplaced squeamishness.  
I feel the same way about Beloved that I do about Waterland, and truthfully don't remember the graphic descriptions the first poster mentioned. Several years removed, I do remember that Beloved taught me new ways to think about race and the legacy of slavery in the United States. Coincidentally, Beloved was the topic of an essay prompt on the AP English exam which I took for college credit my senior year of high school.

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