The challenge to David K. Shipler’s nonfiction book The Working Poor in the Dallas-area Highland Park Independent School District ended this week before the review process could begin, as the parent who lodged the complaint abruptly withdrew it. Although she still objects to the book’s use in AP English classes, Meg Bakich says the current review process is “unbalanced” and would not give her complaint fair consideration.
School district officials had not yet announced which teachers, parents, and students were to serve on the review committee, but Bakich implied in an email to the Dallas Morning News that she didn’t think the membership would be “objective and without participant prejudice to ensure integrity without conflict.” The school board will be considering previously proposed changes to the book selection and challenge review processes at a meeting on Tuesday.
In her challenge to The Working Poor, which explores the lives of people who have jobs but remain mired in a cycle of poverty, Bakich alleged that the book was “sexually explicit” as well as socialist and Marxist. She proposed that students could instead read books by Ayn Rand or Ben Carson. Shipler, a journalist who worked in Moscow in the 1970s as a New York Times correspondent, responded that he is no fan of Marxism and that the people profiled in his book “do not fit into neat political stereotypes.”
Even if the school board does adopt the proposed policy changes on Tuesday, the resulting review process may not be any more to Bakich’s liking. Months of back-and-forth between parents on both sides of the debate have resulted in additions that would actually tend to make book bans and challenges less likely; for instance, the revised policies would allow 11th and 12th grade students who have read the challenged book in class to sit on review committees. Those committees would also be required to “weigh the strengths and weakness of the challenged material as a whole rather than on passages or sections taken out of context.”
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.