Disclaimer: this article represents my personal insights on the new core literature policy and does not necessarily represent the views of the CVUSD Board of Education. - Sandee Everett
There has been much unnecessary controversy concerning the new CVUSD Core Literature policy. Most of this can be cleared up by simply reading the actual policy and the associated administrative regulation (AR).
To summarize, the new core literature selection policy accomplishes four main goals.
- It ensures parents are notified that their child can receive an alternative assignment if a book is in conflict with the student’s sensibilities and/or values.
- It establishes a standard for notifying parents/legal guardians if there are titles on their child’s syllabus that were annotated by the California Department of Education as having mature content. The CDE recommended that educators and parents should read such a book and know the child before giving the book to a child.
- This policy brings the district into compliance with Education Code 60002, which requires that, along with substantial teacher involvement, the district shall encourage and promote the participation of parents/legal guardians and community members in the selection of proposed instructional materials.
- It puts forth a process for an alternative book selection.
There are a few common misunderstandings regarding the new policy which should be clarified. The policy:
- Does not ban any books
- Applies only to 9-12 Grade Core Literature (not other grade levels)
- Does not rewrite or change the current curriculum.
- Does not add additional work to teachers outside of their contract. Alternative assignments will be produced by the District. Prior to this policy, when requested, teachers were responsible to provide alternative assignments.
- Informs parents/students that they have the right to ask for an alternative assignment for ANY book (see CDE district selection policies) that conflicts with a student's sensibilities and/or values, not just those books that were annotated by the CDE as having mature/adult content. The parents/students have always had this right. This policy just ensures notification.
During my 2016 campaign and subsequent service on the board, I have always tried to be a voice for our district’s parents and families. Study after study has shown that one of the most important factors in a successful education is parental involvement and it is only by parents and teachers working together that we can ensure the best possible education for our community’s children. (See Ed Code 51100)
In an effort to balance the board’s responsibility to parents, the community and teachers, the board adopted a policy regarding parental notice and alternative assignments.
The goal in updating this policy is to provide more information to parents which will enable them to be more involved in their children’s education. By informing parents of high schoolers, in advance, of the books their children will be reading, we will be better equipping them to take an active role in the education process, especially if they choose to read along.
Prior to the adoption of the amendments to BP 6161.1, CVUSD was not in compliance with Education Code 60002 which states: “Each district board shall provide for substantial teacher involvement in the selection of instructional materials and shall promote the involvement of parents and other members of the community in the selection of instructional materials.” Therefore, the policy also includes the formation of a committee of parents and community members to provide the board with their opinion regarding whether or not future proposed books should be approved. This committee’s recommendation will be in addition to the recommendation of the teacher/administrator committees that currently recommend literature before it comes to the board for approval.
TRANSPARENCY WITH PARENTS REGARDING CORE LITERATURE CONTENT
This policy requires informing parents whenever the California Department of Education (CDE) annotation for a particular book states the following (as is the case for several of our books):
"This book was published for an adult readership and thus contains mature content. Before handing the text to a child, educators and parents should read the book and know the child." (For an example please see the CDE annotation for The Bluest Eye)
Note: In a move that inexplicably reduces the protection of children, the California Department of Education has recently removed the above annotation from books on its recommended list. There was no explanation provided regarding why the CDE no longer wants parents to know about these books or to read them. Again, as an example, please compare the original annotation of The Bluest Eye (official snapshot from the Internet Archive) with the new annotation.
Based on the six books I have read from our district’s approved list that carry this CDE recommendation, the mature content may include graphic rape, graphic violence, graphic sex, graphic abusive human rights violations and suicidal ideation.
For example, one book on our core literature list that has this recommendation explicitly describes a father raping his 9-year-old daughter. The rape is depicted from the father’s perspective.
I do believe that whenever such a book is used, our teachers would treat it with care and be professional in presenting the book to the students. However, they cannot know a child like a parent does, especially if there has been trauma in a child’s background, depression or other difficult issues that may be exacerbated by reading the graphic details of someone else’s trauma.
When such a book is used in the classroom, I agree with the California Department of Education that we should inform the parents so they can read the book and then make the choice. This is also protective of teachers as the responsibility for making this decision is shifted to the parents. This particular book (The Bluest Eye) is not currently being taught by any of our teachers (to my knowledge) but since it is on our core literature list it can be chosen by students as an individual reading assignment.
It should be noted that the vast majority of the books on our core literature list do not carry this CDE recommendation because even if rape, abuse or violence is treated, it is not depicted in graphic detail. CVUSD High School Core Literature Lists can be found here.
The reading list also contains a number of books that are not on the CDE recommended list, therefore there is no CDE annotation for these books. All books on the CVUSD approved list were requested and vetted by our professional teachers for their educational value.
Prior to these board policy amendments, there was an informal process in place for students to request alternative assignments if they desired. This process worked well in some cases, but poorly in others. One of the main purposes behind our policy amendments is to formalize the process so that it is consistent and evenly applied across the District.
In some cases, students have indicated that they were made to feel embarrassed by the previous informal policy. We need to make sure that all students feel safe and comfortable in their school learning environment. Principle I of the Code of Ethics of the California Teachers Association (CTA) states, “In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator... shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement, shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religion[sic] beliefs, family, social, or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly a) exclude any student from participation in any program; b) deny benefits to any student; c) grant any advantage to any student.”
I believe that parents know what is best for their own child, therefore, when making recommendations to my fellow board members regarding the policy, I recommended that teachers include the following statement in all 9-12 English-Language Arts syllabi: "Parents/legal guardians and students have the choice to request an alternative assignment when the content of these materials does not align with or is in conflict with personal sensibilities and/or values."
I firmly believe that if teachers, administrators, parents and the community have open communication, greater transparency and work together, we will continue to provide a strong, rigorous curriculum that prepares our children for college and life.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OPTING-OUT AND ALTERNATIVE ASSIGNMENTS
There has been some confusion regarding what it means to opt out vs. an alternative assignment. Many consider opting out the same as an alternative assignment and use the terms interchangeably, however there are important distinctions between the two.
When a student opts out of an assignment, the student is not required to complete a different assignment to replace it and the student’s grade will not be impacted. When a student is given an alternative assignment, the student is still responsible to complete this standards-based assignment or it will be reflected in his/her grade for the class.
UPDATED SYLLABUS REQUIREMENTS
Before this policy was adopted, teachers sometimes put TBD (To Be Determined) on their syllabi rather than listing every book to be used during the course. Now, teachers will include in the syllabus all books that will be studied by the class, as well as all books offered to students for individual reading assignments.
This will give parents plenty of time to take the advice of the CDE and read books with mature content well before their child is asked to read the book. It also gives parents the information they need if they wish to help their child choose a book for an individual reading assignment. The books used for individual reading assignments will not be processed by the teacher with the class, therefore, some parents may wish, and are encouraged, to read the book and discuss it with their child at home.
It has long been the practice of CVUSD teachers to notify parents of R-rated movies shown in class, as well as send home a permission slip for parents to sign and return before allowing students to watch R-rated movies in class. This policy serves a similar purpose except a permission slip is not required for the books.
The syllabus is for notification not parental permission. It includes parental notification of the right to ask for an alternative assignment, as well as which books being taught in their child's class (if any) have the CDE annotation that the book contains mature/adult content and therefore the CDE recommendation that parents read the book first. The parent signature is not for the parents to give permission to read the books, but simply a parental acknowledgement that the information has been received and read (just as parental syllabi signatures have always indicated).
It is important to note that a parent can choose an alternative assignment for ANY book that conflicts with a student's personal sensibilities and/or values, not just those with an asterisk indicating the CDE annotation for mature content.
Transparency and providing information builds trust. Updating the syllabus to include more transparent information about literature will continue to build the trust teachers and parents have with one another.
TRANSPARENCY AND VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, RAPE AND ABUSE
It is important to be transparent about the fact that the CVUSD approved literature list includes books that have adult and mature content including graphic rape, graphic violence, graphic sex, suicidal ideation, graphic abuse and other content that can be disturbing to some students.
To my knowledge, it is not a common therapeutic practice to utilize books that describe a fictional character's graphic rape and trauma to help recent victims of such trauma in their recovery. I have also never heard of using large group therapy with a group of diverse students to help recent assault victims, thus a classroom does not make sense for this.
If small group therapy is used, it is done by a trained professional in a controlled environment where everyone has experienced a similar trauma, trust and confidentiality is established and, therefore, victims feel safe sharing their experiences. At the right time in a person's recovery, hearing another's experience in this type of environment can be very helpful and therapeutic, especially if some of those sharing recognize the abuse was not their fault and have made positive progress in their recovery.
Thus, it is important to distinguish between trying to teach non-victimized students to have compassion and understanding towards rape and abuse victims and how actual victims themselves may be perceiving the same material.
A person that has recently experienced such a trauma often suffers from PTSD and other debilitating forms of anxiety. We would not ask a soldier suffering from PTSD to read a book with graphic war violence or watch a movie with such violence in order to help him/her recover. For victims of sexual or physical violence, the approach should be the same. The statistics for the number of high school-age students that have suffered some kind of sexual assault is alarming. Date rape, rape while a person is intoxicated or passed-out, and other scenarios where sexual abuse take place are unfortunately all too common to high school students, even here in the Conejo Valley. Students and parents should have some idea in advance of what is contained in some of these books so victims of abuse are not unwittingly blind-sided and experience retraumatization through some of the content. We must empower these students so that, when they choose to do so, they have a private and embarrassment-free way to receive an alternative reading option if they feel it is necessary for their emotional and mental well-being.
It is important to note that only the victim and the victim's parents should be making decisions about what is best for their child.
All victims of sexual assault, rape and abuse are encouraged to confide in a trusted loved one and to seek help from professionals. They need to be believed and provided with assistance. Their well-being is of the greatest concern and importance.
PARENTAL CONCERNS THAT LED TO THE POLICY
At board meetings people spoke on both sides of the issue. Some wanted to ensure their students could read whatever book the teacher had prepared and others wanted the option to choose an alternative assignment if the book conflicted with personal sensibilities and values. In addition to hearing public comments at board meetings, as board members, we received many other communications from parents, community members, teachers and staff. It became clear to me that many parents were unaware of their right to ask for an alternative assignment if a book conflicted with their child’s personal sensibilities or values. In addition, it was clear that the experience of those that used this right varied and some students had negative experiences when they asked for an alternative assignment.
The California Department of Education webpage regarding District literature selection policies uses a series of questions to ensure literature selection policies promote best practices within the District. The following is one of the bullet points from the webpage which clarifies that students receiving an alternative assignment should not impact other students:
- Is there an established procedure to inform parents of the literature and nonfiction that will be taught during the school year? Is the right of students to use an alternative assignment addressed? (The right to not read a selected text does not mean one can prevent others from reading that text.)
The District’s new selection policy will not impact those students that do not choose an alternative assignment. Because the policy only impacts those students choosing to use an alternative assignment, I will use some of the parent emails I received to demonstrate the concerns board members were trying to resolve with this policy. It is best practice for school districts to have such a policy. The many concerns from parents are what led to my decision to approve a District alternative assignment policy. I have removed identifiers.
The first is from a parent that was concerned when the board approved the 9th grade book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The following email was sent to all five board members in response to one board member. This is one of a number of emails I received from parents and community members with concerns about the book.
Thank you for your response... I am not trying to discount the very important messages of tolerance, friendship, and persistence in the book. But placing value on one particular book because it teaches these lessons does not trump a parent's concern about the sexually explicit content in the book. And I feel you are dismissing my concern over it. I absolutely agree that high schoolers should read books that teach these valuable lessons. But I also believe that there are many alternative books that teach these lessons without the graphic sexual content. As an educator myself, I value books that serve as a springboard for great conversations with young people. But the district and teachers who chose this book are clearly desensitized to the fact that our children are being overly sexualized by the world around them, and leaders are contributing to that when they introduce inappropriate material to minors in an English class. My daughter is an incoming 9th grader and she is very innocent to world and its ways. She chose a book from the Little House series for free reading in 8th grade. Her choice, not mine. Why should I give you the freedom to expose her to the graphic sexual imagery of a young boy masturbating when she is not ready for that? Do you not realize that there are many, many children like my daughter who are not ready for this kind of exposure? And it is not your place or the district’s job to introduce it to her, especially outside the context of a sex-ed class or private conversation with parents at home. This one book is not the only avenue we have to teach our children the very important lessons of tolerance, friendship, and persistence. Thank you for your time.
Another parent contacted the board with concerns about the 11th grade book Snow Falling on Cedars. The following is an email from this parent.
Dear School board members,
Excerpts from the book Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson which is on the 11AP required reading list for...:
on page 91 of the book:
“She put her hand around Kabuo's hardness and squeezed it, and it pulsed once in her hand. Then, because she wanted it this way, she fell onto her back without letting go, and he was on top of her with his hands on her buttocks. ....
The head of his penis found the place it wanted. For a moment he waited there, poised and kisser her - he took her lower lip between his lips and gently held it there. Then with his hands he pulled her to him and at the same time entered her so that she felt his scrotum slap against her skin. Her entire body felt the rightness of it, her entire body was seized to it. Hatsue arched her shoulder blades--her breasts pressed themselves against his chest---and a slow shudder ran through her.”
"...She washed his large penis and felt it harden in her fingers. She put her arms around his neck, locked her feet at the small of his back. Carl held her up with his strong hands clenching the muscles of her legs and leaned the side of his face against her breasts and took to licking them. They moved that way, standing up in the bathtub with the water pouring over them....,"
These expressions are not acceptable as correspondence to a school board member and they are equally unacceptable as ‘literature’ for children. This book must be taken off the required, or even suggested, literature list for students in the Conejo Valley.”
I hope this book being on the approved reading list was an oversight and will be rectified soon. I can't believe any persons would force/require minors to read graphic sexually explicit material.
The key word being "forced/required," we are not censoring it from the library or telling people what they should not read, we are saying it is a bit sick to force/require minors to read such pornography. The imagery that this brings us when you actually pay attention to the words is pornography.
This is exactly the kind of shocking thing that parents are afraid of when they send their kids to public schools. This is why many opt for other school choices such as private or homeschool. Please don't let Westlake High and CVUSD become the epitome of why people should not send their kids to public schools. The homeschooling community is using this kind of delinquency as a selling point for people (especially new mothers) to leave the public schools and homeschool. I have 2 kids in public school here, it may be too late to transplant my older child, but I'm going to have to look very hard about whether to take out my younger one from the public schools if this is sort of perversion exists our public high schools.
Public funds should not be used to require minors to be introduced to soft porn in the guise of a valuable book. This issue has nothing to do with the value of the book. I have read it and it is a great adult read about the Japanese American struggle with discrimination and the internment camp written by a non-Japanese/American. However, there are numerous, over 50, other excellent books, some actually written by Japanese Americans on this topic. Many are award winning literary masterpieces.
" No-No Boy has the honor of being the very first Japanese American novel," writes novelist Ruth Ozeki in her new foreword to John Okada’s classic of Asian American literature. First published in 1956, No-No Boy was virtually ignored by a public eager to put World War II and the Japanese internment behind them. It was not until the mid-1970s that a new generation of Japanese American writers and scholars recognized the novel’s importance and popularized it as one of literature’s most powerful testaments to the Asian American experience.
No-No Boy tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a fictional version of the real-life "no-no boys." Yamada answered "no" twice in a compulsory government questionnaire as to whether he would serve in the armed forces and swear loyalty to the United States. Unwilling to pledge himself to the country that interned him and his family, Ichiro earns two years in prison and the hostility of his family and community when he returns home to Seattle. As Ozeki writes, Ichiro’s "obsessive, tormented" voice subverts Japanese postwar "model-minority" stereotypes, showing a fractured community and one man’s "threnody of guilt, rage, and blame as he tries to negotiate his reentry into a shattered world."
The first edition of No-No Boy since 1979 presents this important work to new generations of readers.
When the Emperor Was Divine
Author: Julie Otsuka
Julie Otsuka’s commanding debut novel paints a portrait of the Japanese internment camps unlike any we have ever seen. With crystalline intensity and precision, Otsuka uses a single family to evoke the deracination—both physical and emotional—of a generation of Japanese Americans. In five chapters, each flawlessly executed from a different point of view—the mother receiving the order to evacuate; the daughter on the long train ride to the camp; the son in the desert encampment; the family’s return to their home; and the bitter release of the father after more than four years in captivity—she has created a small tour de force, a novel of unrelenting economy and suppressed emotion. Spare, intimate, arrestingly understated, When the Emperor Was Divine is a haunting evocation of a family in wartime and an unmistakably resonant lesson for our times. It heralds the arrival of a singularly gifted new novelist.
Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience
by Lawson Fusao Inada (Editor)
An Important Classic in Heyday's California
In the wake of wartime panic that followed the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans residing along the West Coast of the United States were uprooted from their homes and their communities and banished to internment camps throughout the country.
Through personal documents, art, and propaganda, Only What We Could Carry expresses through words, art, and haunting recollections, the fear, confusion and anger of the camp experience. The only anthology of its kind, Only What We Could Carry is an emotional and intellectual testament to the dignity, spirit and strength of the Japanese American internees.
The superintendent committee charged with working on a recommendation for a board policy heard from a number of parents regarding their thoughts and experiences with alternative assignments. Several sent emails to the superintendent and I was copied on those emails. The following are from among those received.
To Members of the CVUSD School Board,
First of all, I’d like to thank you for your service to our community. Our children receive an excellent, advanced, enriched education as students in this school district. I thank you for your continued support as we raise our children to be the best individuals they can be.
I am writing in regards to the matter of giving our students an opportunity to opt out of literature that is offensive, vulgar, and degrading. I understand that to be an educated, well-rounded individual, we must be exposed and familiar with all different types of literature; however, as a parent, I don’t feel that these children should be exposed to certain subjects until they are emotionally ready and mature enough to be able to handle it. For example, I have a daughter who is currently a freshman at a university. I spoke with her on this subject this week. She said that as a sophomore in high school, she opted out of a particular book that she felt was offensive and upsetting to her. As this book was deemed “a classic”, she felt that she could now probably go back and read it in college with a different perspective and be okay.
Three of my children have gone/ go to... As mentioned before, my older child had opted out of two books in her English Classes. On both occasions, the teachers were understanding and respectful and gave her a different book to read. She completed all of her assigned work on task with the other students who were studying the original book. Several of her friends in those classes expressed to her later that they wished they had read the alternative book as they were troubled by reading it.
My second child; however, had a different experience. When she spoke to her teacher about opting out of the required reading material, he was angry with her. He yelled that she “couldn’t live in a bubble forever,” and“ she needed to be exposed to all of this at some point.” Any child in public school does not live in a bubble. They are exposed to so much vulgarity every day. As parents, teachers, leaders, let us help them and provide a place where they can be uplifted and inspired and educated and not dragged down to a place that is offensive and traumatic for some. I am just asking for you to consider the opportunity for our children to opt out of certain books, not because of their difficulty, but because of their extreme, graphic content.
Thank you for your consideration on this matter. It is greatly appreciated.
Another letter received:
My name is... and I was asked to speak at the meeting Tuesday regarding the Districts Core Literature policy. Unfortunately, I have to work at the time of the meeting and won't be able to attend.
I am a mother of four children. Three of my children graduated from... and my youngest is in 8th grade at... For the most part, I have left my children's education in the hands of their teachers, trusting that they had my child's best interest in mind. As far as literature, I always assumed that if anything was given to my child to read that it would be within a standard appropriate for children of their age. My assumption was based on the fact that I had to sign a release to allow my child to watch an R rated movie. If I have to give permission for that, then a book with similar material would also need to be approved by me. I was wrong.
When my daughter was in an English class a few years back, she was required to read "A Handmaid's Tale". It looked interesting so I decided to read it along with her. I was shocked to read some very explicit sexual details that I can still remember and have been unable to forget. Fortunately, ...she had not read that part yet and so I told her to discontinue reading the book and I would tell her what she needed to know. There was no mention ahead of time that this book contained explicit and potentially offensive material.
I am disappointed to hear that there are more books with even more explicit content that are approved for classroom use. I am not a believer in banning books, however I do feel that students should have a choice about what they read. I spoke with my children about this and they would love (or would have in the case of three of them) to have a choice to be forewarned about potentially offensive material in a book and an option to opt out and read another book. Their hesitation with an opt out policy is that they might be singled out or made to feel uncomfortable because of their choice. The attitude of the teacher would play a vital role in this situation and the opt out would need to be presented as an option that the student should not feel guilty about choosing. My children would suffer through something rather than feel like they are causing more work for the teacher or be ridiculed in class for their choice. They should not have to do this.
So far, the only other book that my children have been offended by is, 'The Catcher in the Rye'. When I asked them why it offended them, they answered that it was specifically because there was so much profanity. Most people's typical response to this is that there is no more profanity in this book than they are exposed to every day at school. True, but my daughter made a very valid point. She is offended and uncomfortable with profanity. Because of this, while she was in high school, she created a situation where she didn't have to hear it. She avoided people and situations where she would hear profanity as much as possible. Her friends and teammates knew how she felt and so they respected that and didn't use offensive language around her. My sons had similar experiences.
I know that we cannot avoid or protect our children from all offensive things in the world. My hope is that school can be a safe place for them. We can show respect to all of our students values by giving them a choice as to what material they are required to read in class. Thank you for your consideration.
The following is another letter received:
Dear CVUSD Leaders,
Five of our children have graduated from... Our sixth and final child is a freshman there. We have loved the CVUSD for more than 25 years and appreciate the talented teachers and administrators who have guided our children.
During the last ten years, there have been several R-rated movies promoted by CVUSD teachers to teach curriculum. These movies should have been edited to be appropriate for minors. What movies are currently being used as teaching tools? These should be appropriate for minors and cleared through CVUSD leaders.
We have recently learned that inappropriate literature has been selected for CVUSD minors to study in English courses. As you know, there is a wealth of profound and appropriate literature to be selected for our students, without recommending detailed sexual material. See the below paragraphs from a Toni Morrison novel which is included on a current CVUSD English reading list.
We have elected our Board Members to ensure the CVUSD curriculum is appropriate and inspiring.
"The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison
Approved for 11th grade reading both for the class or as an individual reading assignment. *This book is on the CVUSD approved reading list but I do not think any teacher has taught it recently. Essentially, we have a list of about 50 books that CVUSD is promoting, endorsing and using as great literature for our English classes.
***WARNING: This scene is a father raping his 9-year-old daughter***
"The tenderness welled up in him, and he sank to his knees, his eyes on the foot of his daughter. Crawling on all fours toward her, he raised his hand and caught the foot in an upward stroke. Pecola lost her balance and was about to careen to the floor. Cholly raised his other hand to her hips to save her from falling. he put his head down and nibbled at the back of her leg. His mouth trembled at the firm sweetness of the flesh. He closed his eyes, letting his fingers dig into her waist. The rigidness of her shocked body, the silence of her stunned throat, was better than Pauline's easy laughter had been. The confused mixture of memories of Pauline and the doing of a wild and forbidden thing excited him, and a bolt of desire ran down his genitals, giving it length, and softening the lips of his anus. Surrounding all of this lust was a border of politeness. He wanted to f*** her - tenderly. But the tenderness would not hold. The tightness of her vagina was more than he could bear. His soul seemed to slip down to his guts and fly out into her, and the gigantic thrust he made into her then provoked the only sound she made - a hollow suck of air in the back of her throat. Like the rapid loss of air from a circus balloon.
"Following the disintegration - the falling away - of sexual desire, he was conscious of her wet, soapy hands on his wrists, the finger clenching, but whether her grip was form a hopeless but stubborn struggle to free, or from some other emotion, he could not tell.
"Removing himself from her was so painful to him he cut it short and snatched his genitals out of the dry harbor of her vagina. She appeared to have fainted. Cholly stood up and could see only her grayish panties, so sad and limp around her ankles. Again the hatred mixed with tenderness. The hatred would not let him pick her up, the tenderness forced him to cover her.
"So when the child regained consciousness, she was lying on the kitchen floor under a heavy quilt, trying to connect the pain between her legs with the face of her mother looming over her" (pg. 162-163).
I should emphasize here that the above-mentioned book, "The Bluest Eye," is rarely (if ever) specifically taught or assigned by teachers in our district. However, since it is on the approved reading list, it can be chosen by students as an individual reading assignment.
Another parent letter received:
We have had good success with opting-out. However, in talking with other students, they don’t even know they have the option.
There are two English teachers in particular that each of my daughters have been afraid of to approach, and in fact won’t talk to the teacher without a friend. In talking with other kids, every single girl has felt this way. It is sad when a student is afraid to approach a teacher, because of the inappropriateness of that teacher.
That being said, when there is literature that is discussed that contains material that makes kids uncomfortable, namely content of a sexual nature, the students are even more uncomfortable and do not feel safe whereas they should feel totally safe in their classroom in order for optimal learning to take place.
So looking at this from another angle, why have the students read books that will not only make students uncomfortable, embarrassed, but even scared? For instance, in Bluest Eye, the detailed child rape scene as provided by the perpetrator can cause problems for a student that may have experienced a similar trauma. I find it interesting that we make the kids read these dark, depressing novels, and then wonder why we need more psychologists on campus and why more students are dealing with anxiety and depression issues more than ever before. According to the CDC, teen suicide rates are at a 40-year high.
I read The Kite Runner while on a vacation, and while the author is an excellent writer, the story itself was so depressing that it actually overshadowed my vacation. I’m an avid reader and an English Literature major and am used to these types of books, but I can’t help to wonder if reading this put me in a depressive mood, and clouded what was a fun and sunny vacation, even years later, what does literature like this do to kids who are still developing, who are trying to figure out who they are, whose brains are not yet fully formed, and hormones are surging? I’m not suggesting to not challenge kids with sensitive topics, but there are so many other books out there that can be enlightening and actually show how to get out of precarious situations, how to deal positively with what life throws at you. I would like to see options that kids can learn and grow in a positive way, not need psychiatric treatment. I would think that it is hard for developing kids to not mirror poor behavior if that is what they are filling their heads with; profanity, racial epithets, illegal and/or immoral behavior.
Just the other day I saw a recent graduate of...who is now studying film in college and she mentioned that there were a few books that she had to read in English in which she experienced an emotional collapse afterwards. Is that the goal? I like books to be challenging, I like horizons to be broadened, but I also think that can and should be done in ways that uplift, instruct, enlighten, bring joy, and are a positive experience for these growing minds.
The bottom line is that parents shouldn’t have to pre-read every single book on the syllabus. They should be able to trust that the teacher has every student’s best interest in mind. If a book has content that is inappropriate, have alternatives publicized. Or just have books that are of an amazing quality to begin with so young minds can be edified, not defiled. The classroom, including the teacher, should be a safe place for students.
RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF PARENTS AND STUDENTS
During public comments a couple of people stated that if someone does not like the book a teacher has chosen they can leave the school district. I have also heard people say that the CVUSD should only try to do one thing well and not try to please all students. I find these kinds of statements narrow-minded.
This is a public school system and all students from all worldviews, backgrounds, belief systems and varying educational needs are welcome and encouraged to attend. Public schools provide differentiated education for many students and offering an alternative assignment when something conflicts with personal sensibilities and values is the respectful thing to do.
Would we tell a gifted student, an at-risk student or a ESL student to go somewhere else because they do not fit the one thing that we do well? Who chooses which needs we meet and which needs we ignore? Which students should be forced to pay for their education rather than utilize the excellent free public education in the CVUSD? The correct answer is none of them! These attitudes are entirely unacceptable.
It is also important to understand that we have alarmingly declining enrollment that is creating a budget problem. It has been suggested that the decline in enrollment is a result of the birth rate, however, there are approximately 7,000 school-age children living within the CVUSD boundaries that choose not to attend our public schools.
(There are approximately 25,000 K-12 age children in the CVUSD boundaries. Approximately 17,500 of them attend our schools and about 1,000 students from outside our boundaries opt to come to CVUSD for a total of about 18,500 students currently attending. There are also about 1,000 students that live within CVUSD boundaries but attend another public school district [most attend Oak Park or Las Virgenes]. Another 700-800 children attend the two charter schools within the CVUSD boundaries [the largest drop in our enrollment occurred when these two charter schools opened]. This leaves a little more than 6,000 students that live within the CVUSD boundaries that are either attending a private school, are homeschooled or use some other form of alternative education.)
It is hard to blame the birthrate when there are that many students living within CVUSD boundaries and choosing not to attend our schools. Therefore, when someone suggests students should just leave the district rather than receive an alternative assignment, they are forgetting that not only is that entirely inappropriate, but we cannot afford to treat students that way.
We live in a very diverse community. Most of us wish to send our children to our excellent public school system. We also need to attract back students who have left for a large number of reasons. This new policy finds a way to respect students with varying sensibilities while also respecting every students’ right to study the teacher-selected reading material. It also gives all students a rigorous standards-based assignment while ensuring teachers are not having to come up with rigorous standards-based alternative assignments at the last minute. This policy ensures the alternative assignments are provided by the District and the teachers will simply be asked to explain the assignment to those students wishing to complete an alternative assignment. These students will then be assigned an area where they will go to complete the assignment, while the rest of the class will study the original teacher-selected book. This is not asking too much of anyone, but respects the fact that every student's needs should be met.
The new core literature alternative selection policy is a compromise which allows all students the choice to read a book they are comfortable with.
Sandee Everett, M.S.Ed
Trustee, Conejo Valley Unified School District
Copyright © 2017-2018 by Sandee Everett. All rights reserved.