WHAT TO DO
- Switch to a private school -
This will cut down significantly on the chance of your child being exposed to objectionable material. However for various reasons such as tuition cost, transportation problems and expense, or availability this may not be the answer.
- Monitor what your child reads like a paranoid hawk -
This will also significantly reduce the chance of your child being exposed to objectionable material. It will take a lot of time on your part, especially as they get older, but if you coordinate and work together with other parents the workload is shared. The book reviews and links on this website are intended to help you become aware of some of the potentially objectionable material in books being used in schools. If you have a problem with your child reading or discussing a particular book, the school system will usually allow them some other book. If the book is the main book being used in the class (as opposed to a book from a choice or supplemental reading list) they may be less accommodating. The books a school places in the school library and on department reading room and classroom shelves will also have to be considered since they are usually not a formal part of any particular course curriculum.
- Challenge the use of the book -
Most school systems have some sort of formal instructional material challenge process. Through it you may challenge the use of material you consider inappropriate (if you become aware of it). This will usually start at the school the book was used in and if they donít respond positively to your request the challenge will be elevated up. Typically it is done on a cumbersome case-by-case basis for each book. The process will generally be tedious and bureaucratic and will go according to rules determined by the school system and reviewers/judges provided by the school system. There may be a token parent on the deciding/review committees but the majority will be people involved with the school system.All the resources of the school system can be aligned against the parent or parents who try to change things. The challengers may be labeled censors, right wing lunatics, etc. Outside groups (ACLU, ALA) might help the schools if the case involves enough books or publicity. These groups and some schools seem to believe that if one book is removed from a public school classroom or library that in a few years all the books will be burned. Typically a book challenge will not be successful or will be limited in that the books use will be elevated to a higher grade. If successful sometimes the decision will later be reversed after the ALA or ACLU gets involved. During the challenge process the school may say the bookís subject matter seemed appropriate for this - grade student. This statement will be made with what it is appropriate for never really clearly explained. This will be hard or impossible for you to pin down. To you it appears appropriate for undermining your values and circumventing your rights as parents. It seems appropriate for exposing your children to things you might have legally opted out of in Family Life/Health classes by introducing them, and more, in other classes.
These are things that should be documented and placed in a file available for public review prior to use of any book. Unfortunately this doesnít ever seem to be done. It appears to a parent that the books appear out of nowhere without documentation regarding selection. If we become aware that one of them has objectionable material we must run a gauntlet of documentation to prove it inappropriate. Instead of the school system showing why the book is the best available you will be proving why it isnít even minimally acceptable.
To make the book challenge process successful you should thoroughly read the book and document your objections. You may want to check some of this sites links for information on how to best prepare for and document the challenge. You may want to talk to people who have been through a book challenge process. Getting the words of a challenge "legally/politically correct" can substantially increase the chance of success.
The book challenge process has potential to be a very powerful tool for parents to remove or limit the use of inappropriate books. If enough parents become aware of how many objectionable books there are in use and begin to work together in constantly challenging them things can improve considerably. One of the main purposes of this website is to get more parents aware of how many controversial books there are already in the schools. We are optimistic as people become aware of the extent of the problem that they will use the book challenge process early and frequently in a prepared manner. Please contact us on the status of your book challenges. We will post the information on this website if you want.
- Try to change the system -
If not you, who? If not now, when? If it is this bad now, how will it be in another 10 years? Selection of books and other instructional material is not rocket science. Books can be selected with some discretion, standards and competency. Controversial material is very rarely necessary to achieve core curriculum, course objectives or Standards of Learning in K-12. Regardless of any "intellectual freedom" discussion, each family has its own values and the schools should not be able to circumvent our parental and civil rights. Students, even high school students, are children and not adults. School libraries are not public libraries. The school is responsible for our children for a significant portion of the day, and during that time are acting as quasi-parents on our behalf. Teachers and schools are accountable for maintaining some minimum standard of decency that respects our individual values and rights.
The current instructional material selection process needs improvement in providing parents access to the rationale documenting why books with that specific controversial material are absolutely necessary to impart particular learning objectives. Although there has been a lot of recent media interest in children being exposed to objectionable material by Hollywood, this is even a more critical issue. If we are against the smut promulgated by Hollywood, we can choose not to go to the movies. Children are required by the state to take certain classes. School books should not be a parental dilemma and moral minefield. Introducing the type of material into the general curriculum that we can opt out of in Family Life/Health by providing it to our children without informed parental consent is duplicitous, if not outright illegal. Not giving parents an upfront indication that controversial, objectionable material might be encountered is tantamount to making our children play Russian roulette with our values in the schools. Is this right? Is this legal? Does this respect our parental rights? Does this respect our religion?
The school may say that they are trying to encourage reading and that it takes controversial books to be interesting enough to get children to read. If it were true that in order to get children to read, controversial material must be used, this would still not justify doing it. If to get a 15-year old boy to read, it was necessary to use Penthouse, would the schools do that? The school may say that controversial things are necessary to learn particular lessons. Such as the horrors of war or the cruelty of man or how one doesnít have to be cruel, etc. Be sure that what specific lesson the controversial material is necessary to teach is specified. Make sure that this lesson is required by the course curriculum and objectives and that this material is the only or best way to do it. Make sure that you are comfortable with the schools teaching that particular lesson especially if is related to student behavior and attitudes or your values and beliefs. Make sure the documentation as to why a particular book was selected for use in a class or placement in the library specifically addresses all the above considerations.
The issue is the how material used and discussed in school is selected, and rationale for selection documented and shared with parents. The issue is that controversial material might be used and discussed without your knowledge and approval. Regardless of any "intellectual freedom" discussion, the Superintendent of schools and all school employees work for the citizens of your county. Unfortunately after wading through lots of obfuscation and double talk about book selection the school systems position will usually boil down to something like this:
We will use anything we feel like in teaching your children. There are no limits on what, if anything, is inappropriate. If and when you become aware of something you consider objectionable, you may retroactively challenge it.
We do not think the citizens of your county have provided the schools a mandate for extremely objectionable material to be used. We do not think there has been a mandate for a teacher to use any material they want or personally deem appropriate, leaving citizens only the recourse of retroactively challenging each individual usage/discussion in a tedious, bureaucratic process. The school system should be able to clearly state what their policies are on extremely controversial material. It not unreasonable that some citizens would regard this material as totally inappropriate, in any form whatsoever for their child. At an absolute minimum there should be a clear, upfront, informed disclosure from their schools that material like this is going to be used, before each time it is.
Informed parental consent prior to usage of potentially objectionable (controversial) material is what we need to prevent the undermining of our individual values, civil and parental rights.
Find out what is in the books in your school system. Let other people know what is in them. Let other people know what they can do about it if they consider some of them bad. Challenge books that you consider bad. Make sure the process that books are selected by that is used in your school system provides on file documentation as to the rationale for selection. Make sure this documentation is easily available for parental review (internet access desirable). Make sure this documentation addresses all controversial material in the books. Make sure it shows the linkage between the controversial material and learning objectives. Make sure that it documents why no other material was available or better suited to achieve learning objectives. Make sure it documents alternative books to achieve learning objectives. Make sure the documentation applies to all the books in the school and not just choice books or certain books. Fight for book selection standards of decency. Fight for informed parental consent prior to use of any controversial material.