|We Believe:||The Other Parent Group Believes:|
|Community standards should be established for age-appropriate literature selection||Community standards are impossible to define and are not necessary|
|All books from all the district’s lists and used in all classes should meet those standards||No material is too graphic or explicit for a classroom, if a teacher is moderating the discussion|
|Literature selection should be an educator-community partnership||Professional educators are the experts and should dictate the literary selection process|
|A child’s formal education should expose him to a broad spectrum of views, but explicit and vulgar writings are not warranted.||A child’s formal education is not complete without exposing him to explicit and vulgar reading material.|
|No proper context exists for this kind of material||Excerpts from our literature selections have been taken out of context.|
|Real students over several years tried opting out and faced unjust repercussions. Click here to read more.||The existing opt out policy provides a solution to those objecting to certain books in the curriculum.|
|This is a community conversation affecting all these constituencies:
||Parents of current high school students should have the primary voice in the conversation.|
The district’s policy for literature selection has not been consistently enforced and has not adequately accommodated objections to controversial submissions. The policy needs to be expanded in order to address the issues we are raising.
Click here to see the Novel Selection / Review Process shared by the English department at the September 9, 2014 Board of Trustees meeting.
The issue of excellence in literature selection is a district issue. The issues we are raising are pertinent to English classes in grades 7-12 at HPMS and HPHS. Administrators at HPHS have begun to take steps to address some concerns. At HPMS, the book approved book list is not currently available for public review and the process is less transparent. There are books from both schools noted in our Literature at Issue section.
All the books under discussion are in the school library and are not banned. We have not asked for the school to ban any books nor to remove them from the curriculum without due process.
This debate is over standards of literature selection, not censorship of certain books or subjects. We are not speaking out against literature that addresses the sometimes challenging, thought-provoking and uncomfortable topics of real life. We are addressing how those topics are taught.
A recent Harris poll shows that a 62% of Americans say that books with explicit language should not be available to children in school libraries. The same poll shows that a majority of Americans (56%) think no books should be banned completely. This shows that Americans are against book banning but want limits by seeking the community standard of decency for books in schools. These issues should be a priority in all schools, public and private.
For several years, many families have tried this approach within HPISD. Yet, because these requests were not granted in a timely way or without undue repercussions for their children, families are now seeking assistance from the Board of Trustees. You can read more about challenges families have faced in Improve Opting Out.
Many public and private schools, both in Dallas and nationally, do not include the objectionable books on the AP Book list on their school reading lists, and their students still excel on AP exams. The AP exams are not a test of the content of any particular book, but tests that measure a student’s ability to analyze and interact with a text. Students can learn these skills without reading the materials in question in HPISD.
“The single most important predictor of student success in college is their ability to read a range of complex text with understanding,” writes David Coleman, contributing author of the Common Core State Standards and President and CEO of The College Board. “If you examine the top 40 lists of what students are reading today in 6th–12th grade, you will find much of it is not complex enough to prepare them for the rigors of college and career. Teachers, parents, and students need to work together to ensure that students are reading far more challenging books and practicing every year reading more demanding text. Students will not likely choose sufficiently challenging text on their own; they need to be challenged and supported to build their strength as readers by stretching to the next level.”
Repeatedly in emails to the Board, parents say they routinely and willingly engage in conversations with their children about difficult realities of life. They also expressed willingness for the district to address challenging topics in the classroom with established, quality literature (which contains content on some of the same, difficult topics). However, the concern is the vulgar, obscene and graphic nature that several of the modern books use to address difficult topics. In short, one can address the perils of pornography without showing pornography. Time-tested classics use discretion, and that is vital.
HPISD states that one of its four criteria for literature selection is that the books reflect community standards. (See the HPISD Literature Selection Factors) The ‘community standards’ factor the district employs is, by its nature, a value-based standard that, in the district’s own words, aims to reflect the values of the community they serve. When hundreds of parents express their concerns about the literature selection process, there is a disconnect between some of the selections and a significant portion of the community.
Several hundred citizens have communicated their concern and disapproval to the Board of Trustees, Superintendent Orr and Principal Kelly. They represent a diverse cross-section of the community, including past, present & future PTA presidents, Dad’s Club presidents, Mad for Plaid leaders, Foundation board members, Town of Highland Park council members, HP distinguished alumni…as well as parents of students in the district, alumni, grandparents and lifelong Park Cities residents.
HPISD has expressed a desire to create a trusting partnership with the parents and community. The district states its four literature selection factors as: instruction, engaging topics, intellectually challenging and community standards. (See the HPISD Literature Selection Factors)
Parents asked for several books currently on the approved reading list to receive a revised, expedited review process to determine if they should remain in the curriculum given the concerns expressed. The district decided to suspend the books. Parents do not have the ability to suspend books.
There’s a difference between the media parents choose to allow or deny their children access to outside of school and the media a school requires a child to view or hear as part of curriculum. In many media venues, our society employs a rating system so that individuals can make informed choices about what they choose exposure to. Exercising discretion regarding exposure to the content of books is no different or less acceptable.
The US Supreme Court in the 2003 case United States vs. American Library Association states: “The interest in protecting young library users from material inappropriate for minors is legitimate, and even compelling, as all Members of the Court appear to agree.”
Should kids be required to read books containing material that:
- cannot be listened to in a song without an expletive labeling
- cannot be viewed in a movie without an R or NC17 rating
- cannot be emailed without being blocked by a filter at a Fortune 500 company
- conflicts with district policy regarding dress and technology (which says students may not display, post or access materials that are obscene or vulgar)