In Teton County, Idaho, where Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima was removed from and then restored to high school classrooms last year after some parents complained about language and “satanic rituals,” the school board is now considering a proposal that would require prior parental consent for each book assigned to students. Along with five other organizational members of the National Coalition Against Censorship, today CBLDF signed on to a letter expressing concern that such a system could “unleash multiple requests for alternative assignments that will be unmanageable as a practical matter and have a detrimental effect on the curriculum.”
The letter on behalf of NCAC’s Kids’ Right to Read Project explains that there is a distinction between allowing parents to request an alternate assignment for their own student(s) based on concrete concerns with a book’s content, and giving parents a prior veto over the whole curriculum based only on out-of-context descriptions of content. KRRP highlights the havoc that could be created when a few parents object to different materials for different reasons:
There could be (and have been) objections to Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich, because of its depiction of poverty; to historical materials that include critical statements about US policies or actions; to books like Native Son by Richard Wright for their depiction of ghetto life; to A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck because of its descriptions of farm life; to The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank because it is a ‘real downer’; to a Shel Silverstein poem in A Light in the Attic because it ‘encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.’
In order to avoid having to constantly rework the curriculum for those students who did not receive parental permission for any given assignment, teachers would inevitably be tempted to assign only the “safest” works and avoid frequently challenged books that often happen to be the most engaging and thought-provoking assignments. Instead of compromising all students in this manner, the letter urges, Teton County should simply abide by objective “policies and procedures for challenging instructional materials.” In fact, when Bless Me, Ultima was restored to classrooms last December, Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme offered what appeared to be a sincere apology for acting outside of district policy, noting that “a…majority of students and parents did not have any objection to this book.” We hope that the members of the school board realize that the current proposal would also restrict all students’ education in order to please a few parents.
Read the entire KRRP letter to Woolstenhulme and the school board below:
We need your help to keep fighting for the right to read! Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.