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  #1  
Old 01-12-2008, 09:42 PM
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bluelightstar bluelightstar is offline
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AP Calc, AP Stats, Calc, Eng IV
Controversial Literature

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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  #2  
Old 01-13-2008, 05:28 AM
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Aliceacc Aliceacc is offline
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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.
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  #3  
Old 01-13-2008, 06:21 AM
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English I, II, III, IV
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.
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  #4  
Old 01-13-2008, 06:21 AM
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bandnerdtx bandnerdtx is offline
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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.
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Old 01-13-2008, 06:42 AM
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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?
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Old 01-13-2008, 06:53 AM
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silverspoon65 silverspoon65 is offline
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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.
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  #7  
Old 01-13-2008, 07:05 AM
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bandnerdtx bandnerdtx is offline
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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.
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  #8  
Old 01-13-2008, 07:08 AM
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silverspoon65 silverspoon65 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aliceacc View Post

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.
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.
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  #9  
Old 01-13-2008, 07:40 AM
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In my experience, "suggestions" from administrators are usually more than suggestions--they are expectations.
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  #10  
Old 01-13-2008, 08:52 AM
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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!
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