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Parental Involvement:

What to Do About R-Rated Schoolbooks

 

Q. What can parents do about assigned novels in schools that have high levels of sexual activity, drug use, violence and other objectionable content in them?

 

It's ironic, isn't it? Our society has decided that parents should control what movies their children see until age 17 to protect their innocence. But then raunchy schoolbooks are assigned even in third and fourth grade that contain sex-tinged dialogue and interpersonal violence straight out of an R-rated movie. Our tax dollars at work? Sigh.

 

The first thing to do is to know what your child is going to be reading in school. You can get a copy of the assigned reading list from your child's teacher early in the school year, and borrow copies to check through at home in advance. At Open House or Curriculum Night, ask for a list, and for an armload of books that you can take home for at least a couple of days. You'd be surprised how many teachers DO NOT show parents what books their kiddies will be reading at those events. Ask, and you will receive.

 

That way, you can see if there's a problem, and there won't be any ugly surprises on down the road. You can also direct your child's out-of-class reading better, avoiding duplication of what's in the school curriculum on trips to the public library, or in suggesting titles to grandparents and others for gift ideas for your child, to avoid duplication.

 

If one of the assigned books has content that you object to, start the process in questioning its appropriateness months in advance, if at all possible. See below for how to do this.

 

If it's a school library book, you can return the book with a polite note to the librarian outlining your objections, with page numbers documenting your objections, and send a copy to the school principal.

 

School districts have been facing challenges over what should be in the library as long as there have been libraries. But recent changes in the world of children's literature and our society have focused the debates on matters of teen sexuality. Apparently, the content in books readily available to tweens and teens in school libraries is getting raunchier and raunchier. A recent MSNBC story regarding adolescent reading material describes growing parental concern over the explicit nature of books aimed at young teens.

 

Correspondent Janet Shamlian reports on some recent hot-selling teen titles: "In 'Claiming Georgia Tate,' a father has sex with his daughter. In 'Rainbow Party,' teens make plans for an oral sex party. And in 'Teach Me,' out next week and seemingly ripped from the day's headlines, there's a student-teacher affair."

 

Books like these, if they find their way into schools, probably will lead to challenges from concerned parents. Recent disputes over books in Lexington, Mass., Pleasant Valley, Iowa and Columbus, Ohio, have divided communities and led to legal action.

 

A key dispute over school reading material occurred in Fayetteville, Ark. Laurie Taylor, mother of two school-age children, recently found numerous volumes of fiction that vividly described sexual acts of all sorts. "Doing It" features teacher-pupil sex, "Rainbow Boys" describes adult-teen unprotected sex, and "Choke," uncovering the world of sexaholics, was graphic enough to have portions excerpted in Playboy. Perhaps the worst find was "Push" by author Sapphire. Filled with graphic sex, perhaps the low point is the lead character's description of sex with an infant.

 

Taylor formally challenged these and other fiction books with similar content. She did not ask that the school remove all of the books permanently from the shelves, but wanted librarians to have to have a parent's permission before allowing children to read them. She also wanted the school to follow its own review policy while access is mediated by parents. The Fayetteville schools have a policy that requires the school to review materials parents find objectionable. Eventually, the school board did order three of the books to be removed from library shelves, but others were allowed to remain over parental objections.

 

So what's a parent to do, when found in the same boat, either with an assigned book in class, or a library book the child checks out and brings home? A practical, mutually-satisfactory course of action is this:

 

        Where a review panel of parents and teachers cannot agree unanimously about the appropriateness of a contested book, then parental permission should be required in order to read it.

 

        If teachers want to use explicit portions of contested books, then parents should be notified in advance so that they can hold their child out of class if they deem it necessary.

 

        If a book has not been contested before, or during the contesting process, students can read a book of their own choosing, or study, in the school library, while the rest of the class is working with the objectionable material. There should be absolutely no penalty to the student for opting out of that assignment, as long as a book of equal or superior literary merit is read instead.

 

Yes, the third item isolates the children of "nice" parents. But eventually, if enough parents would get the guts to do this, the rotten curriculum would fall by the wayside as teachers realize what it is that they are doing.

 

And if they don't, and parents respond by moving their children to private school or choosing to homeschool them, it may open the school system's eyes to educators whose leadership is demonstrating poor judgment.

 

Some people say that the only thing educators really understand and respond to is a loss of revenue. You can do that through removing your child from that school and decreasing its enrollment. Yes, it's drastic - but the principle of the thing, that children and youth should be protected from R- and X-rated materials, is worth defending.

 

Homework: A website warning parents about potentially objectionable content in books for kids is www.teachclean.com

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Parental Involvement 2012

 

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