Controversial Literature

Discussion in 'General Education' started by bluelightstar, Jan 12, 2008.

  1. bluelightstar

    bluelightstar Companion

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    Jan 12, 2008

    So, how do you go about teaching "controversial" literature? I mean books like Beloved. Incidentally, I don't know how many of you have read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, but my AP suggested I not teach it because of the war in Iraq. Of course, I'm going to teach it anyway.

    The only book banned in our district is Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, but several more (like Equus) are frowned upon.
     
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  3. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I teach math, so the topic doesn't come up.

    But the VERY first thing you do is get it approved. Write a proposal to your department chair, and ask whether you should "cc" it to the AP.

    It may very well be turned down. But that is SO much better for you, your career, and your peace of mind, than teaching a book that parents will find offensive and dealing with the fallout.

    There's a big difference between not banning a book and teaching it in the classroom so that every student MUST read it. As a parent, I would be OK with my kids reading what they wanted (well, when they're in a bit older than they are now.) But to have some books assigned-- given the approval of the school as a quality piece of literature-- that's different. That means that my child does not have the option of stopping the book midway if he or she decides it's too disturbing.


    Wait, I just re-read your post. Your Assistand Principal-- your boss-- specifically told you NOT to do something, and "of course" you're going to do it anyway???

    Do you have a job lined up for next year? In any school I know, that's insubordination.
     
  4. teachertime

    teachertime Companion

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    This year I started with a book called Sacrifice shortly after I received it form a mail order. I hadn't had a chance to read it in its entirety, yet it had gotten superior reviews from critics so I believed it would be a great book on American Indian girl and a becoming of age story.

    My class and I had read through to the second chapter. I went ahead and read the entire book over that weekend and realized BIG MISTAKE....it had a scene in a later chapter that would have been too graphic and hard for the age and grade I was teaching. I scrapped it with the kids protesting loudly they wanted to finish the book. I firmly said no...that if they wanted to read the book, they would have to get it on their own and have their parent's permission.

    The lesson I learned....read the book before you start in with the students, know what the age group children you are teaching, be aware of the subject matter contained in the book especially if it contains controversial material, and finally don't always trust the critics.

    BTW... the critics were right in that the book was a very well written and a very good book on the subject...just not appropriate for the grade and children I was teaching.
     
  5. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    I'm curious, how long have you been teaching? If you are directly going against the wishes of your AP, and you're relatively new, I would suggest you reconsider. If you've been there a long time, and you're ready for the battle, then that's up to you.

    My district doesn't "ban" books, they just have a list of "approved novels" and nothing can be taught that's not on that list. Haha -- prettily flavored censorship!

    Whatever you do, you need to make sure you have the support of several key players: your department chair, your principal, and your language arts district coordinator. If these guys don't back your decision, you could find yourself facing very serious consequences. Be careful.
     
  6. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I keep coming back to this thread-- this is at least the 3rd time I've been here this morning. It bothers me a great deal on a number of levels. ( To answer the question in a previoius post, I'm guessing that you're fairly new to teaching, or you would have already taught contraversial-- approved-- novels to your classes.)

    First: the effect on the kids. No, I haven't read it, nor do I intend to.( With 3 small kids, I tend to read a lot of Amelia Bedelia stuff. What I do read on my free time is what I want to read. I don't read disturbing books.)
    Can you definitively say that not a single student in your class has a brother/sister/parent/cousin/aunt/uncle/friend currently serving in the military, in Iraq in particular? How about recent graduates of your school-- and not so recent grads who might have gone to one of the academies?
    Graphic representations take on a whole different color when you KNOW someone involved. For example, when we all heard about the Oklahoma City bombing, we all agreed that it was a horrible thing and that the people involved should be caught and dealt with. But when 9/11 happened to people we KNEW it was a whole different thing. When you talk to someone (her name is Denise) who ran down 40something flights of stairs before the World Trade Center collapsed on her heels, or when you pass by yet ANOTHER funeral, it's an entirely different matter. I suspect that this is part of the reasoning that prompted your AP to say no.

    Now let's look at professionalism. Like him (and his judgements) or not, the Assistant Principal is your boss. When he says no, the answer is no. If you choose to ignore his directions, how on earth can he work with you? There's not a boss in the world who will choose to work with someone who doesn't follow directions. This isn't about academic freedom, it's about professionalism. Professionals do what they're supposed to do.

    LEt's talk syllabus. Don't you have a syllabus you're supposed to follow? Don't changes have to be approved by the chairman?
    We just started our second trimester. The other teacher of my 2 courses and I wanted to move a chapter from the second to the third trimester, since Easter-- the end of our second trimeester-- comes so much earlier this year. It involved only the two of us and our students. But of course I sent a memo to our chairman, asking his OK. The syllabus is his to set. He agreed with our reasoning and approved the change, as I suspected he would. Don't changes to your syallbus have to be approved ahead of time? My husband (in a different school) has to submit a list of the novels he'll cover to his department chair by the middle of September.

    When the fallout comes-- and it sounds as though it will-- what do you plan to do? The administration is out; they've already voiced their opinion. Your chairman is apparently in the dark, so don't count on support there. When a parent states that her husband is back from Iraq and suffering PTSS, her daughter will NOT read the book and will NOT be penalized for not doing so, what's your plan of attack? When the AP agrees that she-- and anyone with similar objections-- can write a paper instead, what will you do?
     
  7. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    Jan 13, 2008

    I would still teach the things they carried too. Especially because the Iraq war is a GOOD reason to teach it. He didn't say NOT to, he just offered a suggestion. That's what it sounded like from your post anyway. I would explain to him why you think it would be valuable. (If its like my school, the AP doesn't know anything about my content area anyway, it would be more up to our district specialist to tell me not to teach something.)

    Honestly, most good literature is controversial or was controversial at some point. I have gotten a complaint or 2 about almost everything we have read in my class. And I am ok with that.

    In my district, anything we teach has to be on the list of approved readings for that grade level. This doesn't have anything to do with it being controversial - we just evaluate it to make sure that it matches the reading level of students and so there are not duplicates across grade level. However, it helps if there is a parent complaint to tell them this is part of the curriculum for xth grade.
     
  8. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

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    Silverspoon, I agree. It's not the controversy of the novel that bothers me... someone is nearly always going to disapprove of something that we teach. That's what makes it literature.

    The problem is that you'll never stand up to a parent attack if you don't have administrative support. You have to follow the policy of your school or district. If your district doesn't have one, you should make it your personal and professional goal to see that at least your building develops one, with the full support of the administration.

    Protect yourself.
     
  9. silverspoon65

    silverspoon65 Enthusiast

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    Jan 13, 2008

    1. I don't think most English teachers would NOT teach a book because a student would make a personal connection to it. In fact, that's the point most of the time. If a child is really too emotionally distraught to read the book, I think most teachers would give that student an alternate assignment.

    2. I think the professionalism thing wouldn't necessarily be the same issue at every school. If my AP told me not to teach a novel, I would probably laugh at him and say "Ok, what did the specialist say." He has nothing to do with my classroom curriculum and really doesn't know anything about it. He was a math teacher. An AP's role varies drastically from school to school.

    3. I think the way ELA syllabi work is very different from math. In our school, the Math teachers teach almost everything exactly the same way on the exact same day. English is not like that AT ALL. We don't have a set syllabus. We have certain standards to meet, but we can go about doing that in any order and with any material. And that's great because there is so much great literature out there - why limit what a teacher can do by creating a lockstep syllabus?

    As I said in my last post, I think its a good idea to have a list of literature to choose from, that has been approved not necessarily by content, but by level. But that's still maybe 30 books per level I have to choose from, and I have also filed paperwork to add my own books. And The Things They Carried, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye are all on the list.
     
  10. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    In my experience, "suggestions" from administrators are usually more than suggestions--they are expectations.
     
  11. MissFroggy

    MissFroggy Aficionado

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    Jan 13, 2008

    I might be hijacking a little here... sorry. The unfortunate thing about having lists of books which you must read from, is that when a new book comes out that is relevant and would be meaningful to your students, you can't read it.

    At least silverspoon can add to that list. I teach elementary, so it's not a matter of having good books, but which books are available to choose from and whether or not they actually connect to what you are teaching. We have class sets of novels, but half the time we end up purchasing our own (or having parents buy them) so that the kids read what we want them to read. The books we have are the sort of basic novel study type books for each grade, Sadako, Sarah Plain and Tall, A Taste of Blackberries, The Hundred Dresses, etc... all good books, just so typical for this age. I would like to find something a little more interesting--- or maybe they just aren't interesting because of my own feelings about having read them so many times.

    As for controversy, I was looking for a banned book to read to my kids (chapter book) and was having a hard time finding one that would be good for their age. I disagree with banning books, but found myself in a bit of a pickle!
     
  12. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    Yes, and I think this falls under "professional judgment" for the teaching standards (both following your admin's directions and selection of materials), so it could be a ding on your final review. You have to remember that no matter what you think about this or that, we are teaching other people's children and we work for organizations that are ultimately liable for our choices and so we have to respect the wishes of both. :)
     
  13. monsieurteacher

    monsieurteacher Aficionado

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    I think we have to be careful about jumping on the OP for not taking a suggestion... One AP's suggestion may be an expectation while another one may be a suggestion... a suggestion from my VP would be a suggestion, and not an expectation. You see, she knows how to use words properly so that when she says "expectation", we know it actually is an expectation. I know, it's odd that someone would actually say what they mean.

    Why automatically ASSume that the OP was being insubordinate?
     
  14. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    I didn't mean to make any assumptions about "insubordination"; if I came across that way, I apologize. I was speaking from my own situation, where my administrators are my bosses, and what they say "goes". If one were to suggest that I not do something, or that I do things a different way, I take it to mean that that is what they expect from me. All situations, of course, are different, and things may be very different in other places.
     
  15. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    Who assumed that? I think rather that the assumption was that if the AP said not to use the book, that the AP was saying don't use the book.
     
  16. monsieurteacher

    monsieurteacher Aficionado

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    It's right there....
     
  17. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    Dfleming, Well, did you have to say ASSume? That's kind of rude. I think Alice's inference would probably be correct since the OP did say "of course I'm going to use it anyway..."
     
  18. bluelightstar

    bluelightstar Companion

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    The AP suggested that I not teach because she didn't know if parents would find it offensive, but I'm going to teach it anyway because these parents already signed off on it at the beginning of the year and the principal and department chair said ok.

    It's hard to take that AP seriously anyway, since she doesn't believe in too much structure and refuses to suspend students for fighting.
     
  19. monsieurteacher

    monsieurteacher Aficionado

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    Well it appears that both your assumptions were wrong now... what is that saying about assuming?
     
  20. bluelightstar

    bluelightstar Companion

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    Jan 13, 2008

    *All of the works listed above are considered a part of the core curriculum designed to enhance your student’s body of knowledge and increase his or her performance and aptitude on the Advanced Placement examination given at the end of the senior year. If for any reason you as a parent or guardian object to any of the titles listed above, please let me know, and a book of comparable merit will be assigned to your child. However, please know that the rest of his or her classmates will read the novel assigned and reap the benefits of classroom interaction, while your child will be engaged in an independent study.

    I have all parents sign a letter with the planned books and this letter at the beginning of the year. The only thing a parent has ever objected to was Beloved, probably because of the movie. Isn't that enough to cover myself?
     
  21. eduk8r

    eduk8r Enthusiast

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    What is the problem? You seem to be laboring under the assumption that the advice offered was not friendly? Whether you feel it was friendly or not, I know that if Alice didn't care, she wouldn't have offered her advice which is based on her experience. Maybe she didn't sugar coat it but well, in her experience that would get someone fired so sugar coating it wouldn't have been very helpful. Also, the assumptions made were based on the information there. And I can't speak for anyone else--though I don't see anything argumentative in anyone else's post--but I can speak for myself, and there wasn't anything rude or wrong in what I said. Why are you taking issue with this?
     

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