In a report released this week, a 12-member review committee in the Dallas-area Highland Park Independent School District recommended retaining Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain on the approved reading list for sophomores and above. Out of seven books that were temporarily suspended from the approved list in September, Stein’s novel was the only one that actually had a formal challenge against it. It also turned up last week on a new list of six books that students must have parental permission to read in class, though it’s unclear if that step will still be required now that the challenge has been resolved.
The review committee’s final reconsideration form, which was accompanied by 108 pages of supporting documents, stated that “through student and teacher testimony, the committee discovered that this book, above others, engages students at multiple learning levels, allowing teachers to facilitate more effective discussion and literary analysis.” All but one committee member judged the book to be appropriate for classroom use. The dissenting member, a parent, cataloged every word and scene she found objectionable on a form found at page 46 of the supporting documents. She maintained that the novel narrated from a dog’s point of view is below reading level for the students, but also contains content that is “objectionable and mature.”
While The Art of Racing’s place in the curriculum has been reaffirmed by the review committee’s overwhelming support, the threat to academic freedom in HPISD has not yet been fully repelled. The district continues to loosely apply a hodgepodge of guidelines to determine books which books students must have parental permission to read, even though they’re already on the approved reading list: “all books that are being challenged by district parents, have been listed on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Challenged Book List in the last decade or have been flagged for parental permission by the district’s literary selection committee.”
Last week students and parents continued to speak out in favor of the freedom to read. All three Highland Park High School students interviewed by local news station KERA supported teachers’ right to determine what they teach without outside interference. One of the students, sophomore Avery Davis, was so disturbed by the suspension of the seven books in September that she and her mother created solidarity ribbons against censorship. Davis handed them out at school and “was out of ribbons before the first bell rang,” she said.
The parents’ group HP Kids Read, which was initially formed to oppose the same seven-book suspension, last week sent a letter to HPISD school board members and administrators urging that “the district’s literary policy…not be based on parents who want their children to avoid challenging material.” The letter had been signed by over 300 parents as of November 20. Meanwhile, students organized their own petition drive and lined up for over an hour last week to sign on. The school board is scheduled to consider proposed revisions to policy at its next meeting on December 9.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.