Are these books really "required reading?"
UPDATE: 11/18/05: According to Superintendent Tom Trigg, none of Blue Valley's assigned novels are "required." Technically speaking, it's not "required" to do any assignment, pass any class, or even graduate from high school. But realistically speaking, this statement is very misleading and disingenuous. To cling to that argument, Dr. Trigg is promoting the notion that NO reading assignment, given to a student by a teacher, is ever truly considered a "requirement." Is that what this has really come to? That ALL reading assignments are now "negotiable?" This is a ridiculous breakdown of how school SHOULD be run.
Has Blue Valley made steps to alert parents to the sex and profanity in the assigned novels? Yes. But do teachers CONTINUE to assign, promote, or endorse any sex-filled novel they personally like? YES. Furthermore, do the Blue Valley rationales contain an objective look at what parents need and want to know in this area? NO. Much of the information in their own rationales is incomplete, misleading, or false. Sadly, since the time this issue became public, Blue Valley's efforts have all been directed at one thing -- protecting BLUE VALLEY EMPLOYEES FIRST. Their efforts have NOT been directed at following BOE policy, respecting parental authority, or finding the highest quality literature for our kids. They have spent hundreds of taxpayer dollars and hours to PROTECT THEMSELVES and their own past decisions to adopt and then HIDE the sexually-charged and vulgar literature from parents.
WHY can't Blue Valley teachers follow BOE policy 4600 which promises parents that the books will be ABSENT of gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity in the FIRST PLACE?
WHY do they insist on teaching with SALACIOUS novels?
Below is our original article about what constitutes "required" reading. Do not be mislead by semantics. When teachers give students a book and ask them to read it for a grade, it is "required." (Unless you're willing to deprecate the word "required" to the point that it's not "required" to graduate from high school in the first place.)
According to Blue Valley's most recent official position, none of the 14 books on the petition (with 600+ signatures of parents, patrons, and taxpayers) are "required" reading. What a statement! That news will certainly come as a surprise to the thousands of teenagers who have been asked, expected, taught, and tested on these same books over the past several years by their Blue Valley Communication Arts teachers.
First of all, four years of Language Arts (called English classes in most surrounding school districts, but titled Communication Arts at Blue Valley), are required for Kansas high schoolers according to Kansas state law. For the Blue Valley administration to sell the notion that an individual exercise, project, or book, assigned by a teacher to a minor child, in a required class, is not required is disingenuous due in large part to the very nature of the teacher-student relationship. (Students don't stop to consider school guidelines when the teacher hands them a book and says, "Read chapters 1-5 for tomorrow.")
A favorite explanation that Blue Valley uses to make their claim that the books are not "required" is this: If the student or parents don't want their children to read the book, all they have to do is ask for an alternative. But the truth is that Blue Valley did not have an official guideline to explain how alternative requests were to be handled until the 2004-2005 school year. WHY? Furthermore, this alternative guideline is NOT spelled out in an official Board policy that parents can easily access, but rather, was only provided as a "guideline" to the school principals sometime during the fall of 2004. After repeated patron requests, this guideline was also made available to parents. Click here to read more about the alternative guideline.
While we appreciate the fact that Blue Valley now has an internal alternative guideline (which for the first time at least acknowledges the potential concerns a parent might have with these books), anyone who has actually gone through the alternative process with their children knows it is not a matter of "asking" for an alternative but instead it is often an unworkable, difficult, and/or punitive process for these reasons:
- Because Blue Valley has set up the system as an "opt out" versus "opt in" process, parents are often not even aware of the books their kids are being assigned for a grade. Parental notification letters are currently not standardized (for one thing, some require signatures, some do not), and there is no accountability by the school to make sure that parents actually receive the letters that identify the books their children will be "required" to read.
- Even when the parents know what books their kids are being assigned by their teachers, because many books are either contemporary titles or books that the parents are not already familiar with, most parents don't know about the offensive content in a book until after their child is well into or finished with the book. By that time, the damage is already done and the alternative process is irrelevant. To date, the school makes NO EFFORT to proactively clarify the specific type and amount of adult content in these books.
- Because the alternative process is time consuming, difficult to implement (teachers often haven't offered equitable choices), and very socially ostracizing for the student, it is NOT at all a fair "alternative" as promoted by the school.
- Because the majority of kids would not want to bring this to their parents' attention (that they are being asked to read an offensive book), the issue is further buried. Not only have the kids been taught (by their parents!) to respect their teachers, they also naturally resist "standing out from the crowd" during their teenage years.
- What student would choose an "alternative" when Blue Valley's own official alternative guideline warns that students probably will not score as well on exams if they read an alternative? (How an inferior alternative book is selected -- when the teacher, Blue Valley administration, and parents are ALL supposedly involved in the selection (according to the alternative guideline itself) -- is illogical and unclear. But what IS clear is that the alternative directive ITSELF warns students that they should not ask for an alternative!)
Wouldn't it make more sense to select high-quality, non-sexualized literature for teenagers in the first place?
Wouldn't it be logical and responsible to require Blue Valley to explain how they followed their own textbook selection policy 4600 which promises that the textbooks will be age appropriate in the first place? (To date, the district has refused many patron requests to clarify why individual book selections are age appropriate even though their own selection policies have always made this assurance to the public.)
So do we stand corrected? ...that these teacher-led classroom assignments which have affected thousands of Blue Valley teens are NOT "required reading" as currently claimed by the Blue Valley administration? ...but then neither is passing your Communication Arts classes nor graduating from high school (required, that is).
For the record, the 14 books that over 500 patrons are petitioning the school board to replace with higher quality literature assignments follow. Please take the time to click these links and find out what is REALLY in these books. If this is so "good for the children," it ought to be "great for the parents" too.