DALLAS, Texas — Highland Park Independent School District (ISD) in the Dallas metro area yanked seven books off its approved high school English literature reading list following parent outcry, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Those books were The Art of Racing in the Rain, The Working Poor: Invisible in America, Siddhartha, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, An Abundance of Katherines, The Glass Castle: A Memoir, and Song of Solomon. The last, Christian Science Monitor reported as President Barack Obama’s favorite all-time novel in 2008.
The books in question contained a variety of themes and content that parents found objectionable including sexuality, rape, abortion, vulgar language, alcoholism, mental illness, and incest, the Dallas Morning News also reported.
Breitbart Texas spoke to Highland Park ISD Communications Director Helen Williams who clarified that of the seven titles, only six were of issue because the complaint against the nonfiction The Glass Castle: A Memoir has been dropped. This book chronicles author Jeanette Walls’ upbringing in a dysfunctional home with parents who struggled with financial problems, alcoholism and mental illness.
Williams also said that The Art of Racing In The Rain, a novel told through a dog’s point-0f-view, was the only book actually in use in a high school classroom and has since been suspended, pending further investigation.
She also pointed out, “One of the misconceptions is that the books are banned. They aren’t banned. They are under review, voicing the similar sentiments from district superintendent Dawson Orr and Highland Park High School (HPHS) principal Walter Kelly, who have addressed these hot-button issues with their families in a September 24 Constant Contact online communication in which they pledged to resolve the questionable book problem.
“We are committed to appointing committee members who represent a variety of viewpoints. We anticipate approximately 10 members per committee with representatives including parents, faculty and staff and counselors. We are encouraged to see that several students are interested in serving, and we plan to include them on committees, as well.”
Ironically, all this happened during National Banned Books Week, which has been celebrated across the country including at the University of Texas inTyler where college students are reading one of the contraband books, World War Z, according to KTRE-9, the ABC affiliate.
Jan Harp, Frankston ISD’s library assistant told KTRE-9 that in East Texas, Frankston banned World War Z in 2012 “after complaints that the book was too vulgar for its students.” District superintendent Micah Lewis stood behind the parent-faculty committee’s decision to remove the book from school shelves.
However, what happened in Highland Park ISD was also the result of 100–plus parents protesting at a September 9th standing-room-only school board meeting. From the approved list of books, parents “read excerpts of sex scenes, references to homosexuality, a description of a girl’s abduction and a passage that criticized capitalism,” according to the Dallas Morning News article. Hundreds of emails were also sent to district officials.
Still, how did these books get on the approved list in the first place?
“For about two decades, HPHS English Department faculty members have worked with parents to compile a list of books ranging from the ancient work of the Greek poet Homer to the work of contemporary authors, such as Malcolm Gladwell. Since 2005, the process has become more formal, with the establishment of parent-teacher literature review committees. When new books are proposed for use in the classroom, the committees read the literature and produce a written rationale that details the instructional merits of the work. The rationale report also lists any potentially controversial content,” Orr and Kelly commented in the Constant Contact.
Clearly, something went wrong. Williams didn’t elaborate further as to what exactly went wrong in this committee process beyond what was posted online and obviously, even problems arose with The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Glass Castle.
Interestingly, in Florida, The Glass Castle replaced Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a novel that gives great insight into post WWI America, the 1920’s and the moral decadence and disillusionment of its time. Walls’ book accommodated the requirements of the Common Core.
Williams insisted that insisted that Highland Park ISD’s list is not derived from Common Core. She said that “Teachers have freedom to recommend literature books they think will inspire their students.” Although, sometimes they make mistakes.
She referenced an instance with the book Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming-of-age story of a high school boy. It hadn’t been vetted. “It had been in the classroom and the district apologized, removing it over the procedural lapse,” she said.
Williams hopes that Highland Park ISD’s communication sent to parents will be helpful in explaining that “some titles that contain material that some parents might find unsuitable for children and that with a parent permission form, students can read non-controversial alternative texts.”
She used the example of the novel 19 Minutes, a highly sensitive book about a school shooting. This was an approved district book but it “raised so much rancor, teachers said they weren’t going to teach it,” Williams said.
“There are other ways to accomplish the same educational objectives” through other approved novels,” she added.
How the district now plans to move forward and resolve these issues was also addressed by Orr and Kelly. They wrote, “Only two of the books that were suspended (excluding The Glass Castle, which is no longer being challenged) were scheduled for use this school year. The four remaining books are not being taught. So, although the challenges to those four have no immediate effect on instruction, we will appoint reconsideration committees to review the books this school year.”
In the case of The Art of Racing in the Rain, 63 students in three classes had read more than half of the book. They completed an assignment, which required them to narrate from a unique viewpoint, such as an animal or inanimate object, since the book is narrated by a dog. Students have since moved onto the next study units that include Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw and Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave. Orr and Kelly made kind mention of the “flexibility” of the affected students and faculty members.
One of the books now under reconsideration via committee is The Working Poor: Invisible in America. It was originally scheduled for use in Spring 2015. Williams pointed out, they hope to come to a resolution on the The Art of Racing in the Rain before then, by the end of the Fall semester. They will also come to a decision on the other suspended books.
Among the options for these six books after being properly vetted are that they can be deemed unrestricted for classroom use, meaning it would be suitable for grades 9-12, Williams stated. A book may instead be classified as restricted, and then it would only be used in a particular grade level or class. The third option would remove the book from the approved list entirely.
In the Dallas Morning News article, former English teacher Carol Wickstrom pointed out that “school districts and teachers walk a tightrope. They must respect the choice of parents who request other reading materials and protect other students’ rights to read them.
The age old issue of what constitutes appropriate literature has become an even tougher balancing act than ever before. Today’s far more explicit language and graphic descriptions are a far cry from the sexual innuendo of a Shakespearean play or the double entendre found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Although Williams told Breitbart Texas, “I’ve been in Highland Park ISD for 11 years and never saw a book challenged before,” books are challenged nationwide all the time.
Over the years, dystopian cautionary tales like The Giver, 1984, Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World have all landed on the the American Library Association (ALA) challenged or banned book lists. Meanwhile, classics like To Kill A Mockingbird and Siddhartha are now taught under new Fed Led Ed guidelines in Common Core states. Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, on the Highland Park ISD list, was a university English Lit staple for years. Today, this same novel with its themes of racism, slavery, murder and incest is read on a secondary public education level.
On the other hand, the Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl that followed the Jewish Frank family hiding from the Nazis during WWII has even been contested for body image content. Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Kite Runner, The Bridge to Terabithia, Huck Finn, Roll of Thunder, Hear Me Cry and The Chocolate War are only a smattering of new and old literature that have wound up on the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom list as potentially corrupting the moral fiber of the nation.
While Where’s Waldo, Harriet the Spy, Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach, Green Eggs and Ham, Winnie the Pooh and Captain Underpants are a few of the more innocuous kid books listed as either challenged or banned by the ALA, one nonfiction entry was the controversial revisionist People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
Curiously, the divisive Occupied America, written by far left ideologue and retired California State University, Northridge professor Rodolfo Acuna, was banned by the Tucson Unified School District prior to shutting down the Mexican American Studies Program that preached the overthrow of the United States government, yet the book was not banned by the ALA. It was awarded the 2009 ALA Outstanding Title.
Fahrenheit 451, another futuristic novel about book burning, reminiscent of totalitarian regime-like censorship, has also been on the ALA challenged book list. Perhaps the toughest challenge in determining a problematic literary work was best said by Frankston ISD’s Harp. She told KTRE-9, that the process of removing a book from a reading list looks at content and appropriateness, not someone’s personal attitude toward an ideology.
That may ultimately prove to be the greatest of all challenges in a world where education progressives so dominate that ideology in the public school classroom.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.