The New York City principals union has pulled a sexually explicit novel from its middle school curriculum that was recommended by the city’s Department of Education as part of its transition to the new Common Core State Standards.
According to Phillissa Cramer writing at the blog GothamSchools, the novel, Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff, alarmed members of the Council for School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) who reviewed it. Union officials said the novel contained sexually explicit language and content.
The award-winning young adult novel, which focuses on two teens who face significant challenges as they travel the path to college and careers, is part of the eighth grade Scholastic CODEX curriculum that some New York City schools adopted this year as part of the Common Core standards.
Antoinette Isable-Jones, a spokeswoman for CSA, sent an email to reporters Friday that cited several passages that concerned council members, including discussions about sex and drugs.
Isable-Jones said the phrase, “Baby I want to do you good,” for example, appeared in one passage in which a character in the novel relates what a man said to her.
“Nobody is questioning the literary merit of the book, just its age-appropriateness,” said Isable-Jones. She added that some schools are trying to return the book and assign others instead.
Isable-Jones, however, also said the principals union wanted to know how the city vetted the materials it recommended earlier this year. The city had recommended multiple programs for schools that were transitioning to the Common Core, and “simplified” the ordering process for those programs.
Despite the “simplification,” however, the school year rollout experienced many problems, such as teachers not receiving all of their new textbooks and teaching materials that have been aligned with the Common Core.
Fifth grade teachers experienced problems, for example, when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the publisher of a new Common Core-aligned math curriculum, did not have a finished product yet in time for the start of school, leaving fifth grade teachers without a teacher’s manual.
Middle school teachers were also promised at a training session during the summer that they would have the first unit of the new Pearson math curriculum that is aligned with the Common Core in July. After school had already begun, however, these teachers were still waiting for books and materials.
“To me this is yet another instance of the Dept. of Ed putting the cart before the horse, in this case expecting us to plan our lessons around CMP3 [Pearson’s Connected Math Program 3] without having received the appropriate materials,” said one teacher.
Regarding Wolff’s novel, Department of Education officials reportedly said Make Lemonade is part of a series that was named the American Library Association’s Best Book for Young Adults. In addition, they indicated that no schools are required to ask students to read the book even if they are using the CODEX curriculum.
“The novel has been highly recommended for middle school grades and is just one of many novels that teachers can choose among for reading material,” said Erin Hughes, NYC Department of Education spokeswoman. “All schools choose their own Common Core-aligned curricula and are free to select among different books.”
In September, Buena High School in Sierra Vista, Arizona also pulled from its reading list a sexually explicit novel, Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia, that is recommended as an “exemplar text” in the Common Core Standards.