Nearly two months after a review committee in the Dallas-area Highland Park Independent School District decided not to ban Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain from classrooms, a parent has challenged another of the seven books that were temporarily suspended from the curriculum back in September. The new complaint from parent Meg Bakich says that David K. Shipler’s non-fiction book The Working Poor: Invisible in America is “sexually explicit” and not appropriate for high school juniors.
Shipler’s book explores the lives of people who have jobs but remain mired in a cycle of poverty. Some of the women profiled were sexually abused in their youth, and the author said that they “told me that because they felt the trauma was relevant to their lasting problems.” He added that the book contains “nothing prurient, obscene or sexually explicit.”
Highland Park teachers knew when they selected the book that there was a chance it would be controversial with some parents, but said it was also “a means to build students’ capacity for empathy and knowledge of an issue facing millions in America and millions more across the world.” The school district is one of the most affluent in the state of Texas.
At a heavily-attended meeting this week, school board members decided to delay a vote on proposed changes to the district’s book selection policy so they can have more time to consider community input. The revised policy says that books selected for classroom use “shall not contain excessive or gratuitous explicit sexuality or excessive or gratuitous graphic violence,” but also that they should be “evaluated as a whole and selected for their strengths rather than rejected for their weaknesses.”
Bakich, the parent who challenged The Working Poor, did not attend this week’s meeting, but non-resident Tea Party media consultant Alice Linahan spoke on her behalf. Linahan said the book’s selection “reflects the negative effects of the Common Core,” even though Texas has not adopted that set of education standards. Parent Amy Peck, a Yale University alumna who sometimes conducts application interviews with local students hoping to attend her alma mater, countered that higher education institutions look for “diversity of thought” in their applicants. Shipler’s book exposes Highland Park students to struggles that most of them have never encountered in their own lives, Peck said: “We are fortunate to live in a community where most people have so much, where our children are not confronted with the harsh reality of poverty on a daily basis. Our children need to truly understand the world’s problems in order to make positive change.”
In challenging Shipler’s book, Bakich suggested that students could instead read works by Ayn Rand or Ben Carson, who allegedly plagiarized several passages in his 2012 book America the Beautiful. For now, The Working Poor will continue to be taught while another review committee decides if the challenge has any merit. Perhaps some Highland Park parents could benefit from reading Shipler’s next book, which will be released in May under the title Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.