The mother of a high school senior in Dubuque, Iowa has filed a challenge to remove Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower from classrooms in the Dubuque Community School District. Even though the Contemporary Literature teacher at Dubuque Hempstead High School already accommodated Jodi Lockwood’s request for an alternate assignment for her own son, Lockwood says she wants Perks removed altogether because she is “concerned for the whole class.”
In a positive sign, the district is standing by its challenge policy which requires the complainant to file a Request for Reconsideration of Materials form. Lockwood cited “prevalent, graphic sex scenes” as well as alcohol and drug use in the book. In fact, Perks contains some discussions of sex, along with characters grappling with their sexuality and recovering from sexual abuse. Teen alcohol and drug use is depicted as part of an unhealthy cycle of self-loathing and emotional repression which the characters come to recognize by the end of the book.
In an article (paywalled) from the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Lockwood claimed that her request “really is not about censorship. It’s about partnership, and what I am asking for is that conversation and that parents are made aware of the content of what is being discussed in class.” The district’s director of secondary education, David Olson, pointed out that the challenge policy offers exactly such a partnership through “an organized, fair process that allows for many opinions to be voiced.”
The Telegraph Herald also spoke to community member and retired high school literature teacher Ken Resch, who strongly pushed back against Lockwood’s perception that she bears responsibility for what any students other than her own son read. “You as a parent have every right to decide what your children can watch what your children can read,” he said. “But I do not, will not, accept that you have the right to dictate that to anyone else.”
Lockwood filed the challenge on November 2, and a review committee made up of teachers, a librarian, a community member, high school students, and an administrator is now in the process of reading the entire book and considering whether it is appropriate “for its intended educational use.” The syllabus for Contemporary Literature outlines five Iowa curriculum standards fulfilled by the course. The review committee will recommend a course of action on the book to Superintendent Stan Rheingans, but if Lockwood is unsatisfied with the initial decision she may appeal it to the local school board and then to the state Board of Education.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.