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UPFRONT-INFORMED PARENTAL CONSENT

TV shows and movies can be rated. Internet screens can filter out objectionable material. We can opt our children out of Family Life/Health when there is a conflict of values, but the state requires English and History and encourages students to read books from the school library and suggested summer reading lists. A more effective method or procedure to address objectionable content in books used in our public schools than only the current retroactive challenge process is needed.

For Family Life/Health class, in our county schools, the only instructional materials used are those identified and approved by the school administration. This is because it is recognized in Family Life/Health that there are controversial materials involved. These instructional materials are fairly constant from year-to-year. They are made available for review to parents, etc. both prior to, and after, school administration approval for use.

The school may say that there are so many books that they cannot review them all. This remark is very concerning because it implies that the schools are not reviewing the books before they are used now. Well itís the schools job to review instructional material. Some school systems have thousands of teachers and librarians and billion dollar budgets. Books need to be reviewed by your childís teachers and librarians as part of the process of determining them appropriate for selection. You shouldnít have to read every potential book your children could be assigned or pick up in the school library to determine if there is objectionable material. How can parents read all the books their children might encounter in the schools and still have time for their jobs and daily activities? It is part of the schools job to review books, and with so many books available it is unbelievable that in order to teach our children that so many books with controversial material are now chosen.

Given (unfortunately) that a lot of books with controversial material are being used (for whatever reason), the only way to prevent our rights from being violated is to have informed parental consent prior to usage.

Parents should sign-off to ok the use of the book. Parental consent must be active, not passive, just as it is for the informed consent required by the state to conduct any research on students. Parental consent must be specific to a particular book if it contains any potentially objectionable material. It should not be general, blanket or umbrella in nature such as for all the books in the class, or all the books on a list.

Informed means the parents (not the child) should be provided sufficient information as to the potentially objectionable (controversial) material so they can determine if it is age/value appropriate for their child to review, read, analyze, discuss, etc. at that time. Provided means that the parent will not have to go to the school or somewhere else to get the information, but rather it will be provided to them. Informed means that the information provided to the parents fully describes the content of the potentially objectionable material so they have sufficient information to make a decision. The type, frequency, vividness/graphicness, etc. of the potentially objectionable material should be clearly documented. Yes, there will be work involved to complete a book review. It will mean teachers proposing the use of a book will have to read it, if they havenít already, and spend time documenting the material contained within.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) says a minimal rationale (done prior to use) should include addressing potential problems with the work and how those problems could be handled, and alternative works an individual student might read or view. The section on Potential Problems with the Work in NCTE guidelines for preparing rationales mention uses of language, actions and situations in a work that might be the source of challenges. The NCTE says it is useful to collect references about the book, and reviews that address any controversial issues in the book are particularly helpful, and that reviews should be kept in a file with the rationale. See the NCTE website at http://www.ncte.org/about/issues/censorship/resources/115785.htm on How to Write a Rationale.

There seems to be a general consensus among educational professionals that for certain books it is reasonable for your child to be able use an alternative. NCTE guidelines on How to Write a Rationale says that the list of alternatives is useful when parents exercise their right to choose what their child will read. It is unclear how a parent would even know that an alternative book is required for their child, unless the rationale documenting the book selection were available for their review prior to the book use.

Challenging the use of books may result in them being removed from the schools or placed at a higher-grade level. While this protects your rights to not have your child read material objectionable to you, it also precludes other children, whose parents might not consider the book objectionable to them, from reading it. The conflict of your rights with other peoples is what gives a lot of people and organizations serious concerns about challenges. The infringement of our rights on other people also gives us concern and seems to be at the center of the issues associated with books with controversial material in schools. Preventing our rights from being violated, without infringing on others rights, is what is needed. Upfront-informed parental consent will achieve this.

We think there are some books that contain extremely controversial and objectionable material that do not belong in the K-12 schools in any way whatsoever. We also think that there are some books with material that is too controversial for use or access at the grade level in the schools that it is currently placed at, and it should be moved to a higher grade level. The challenge process is still available and is certainly what is required in these instances. If a book with controversial or objectionable material was an unusual event, a retroactive challenge process might be a reasonable as the only approach to the occasional/rare bad book. With more and more books with controversial material being used it is to the benefit of both the schools and the parents to have upfront-informed parental consent. This will minimize the number of book challenges and protect parental values and rights from being violated. It will be particularly useful in addressing those books whose use or availability at particular grade level will be in a gray area. They might be acceptable to most parents but objectionable to others.

The selection rationale documentation may be used to derive a book annotation, such as used for the movies. However, the rationale documentation is what is important to a parent to make a decision as to appropriateness for their child. Without documentation any annotation will be too simplistic in nature, in that it either flags a book with, for example, some level of V (or S) or it does not. It is deficient unless there are standards indicating to parent what level or type of controversial material results in what annotation. The content of the potentially objectionable material (type, frequency, vividness/graphicness, etc.) is what causes the annotation. Any annotation without documentation of rationale for selection will not result in an informed parent.

Annotation without any documentation as to why is neither effective nor efficient. What if the same book is used in two classes or for two or three years?  Why (and how) should every teacher using the same book annotate it again (perhaps differently)? A shared file or database of selection rationale documentation will make the job easier for teachers using the same book in another school or class. What if a parent wants additional information regarding what controversial material caused the annotation? There is no reason for each teacher using the same book to come up with this again separately.


Upfront-informed parental consent is the way to make sure our individual values, civil and parental rights are not violated


A Sample Book Review Documentation Form (selection rationale) that focuses on the documentation of the controversial aspects of book selection is available by clicking here.

 

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