When students are offended by what's in a book

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by otterpop, Mar 3, 2015.

  1. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    We're doing literature circles right now, and some students are coming to me saying that they're offended by what's in their books. These are books meant for their broad age group. They're higher-level readers, so some books are intended for 5th or 6th graders, but none of the content is particularly troubling. For example, one book is about a kid who hunts and it talks about guns. Another one has some questionable language (but again, none of the worst 4 letter words). Another has a girl who's frustrated and says something rude to God and a student has complained that this is against her religion and it makes her really uncomfortable.

    I had a talk with them about how they're getting older, and sometimes books have things they may not like and part of being a mature reader is being able to deal with that. But I'm also concerned about parent concerns, though none have come up, if I tell a kid to just get over it (nicely, of course).

    What is the best way to handle this? I can give alternative assignments, but I do feel like they need the skills to keep reading something even if they don't agree with it. They'll be faced with more and more of that kind of stuff as they progress through school. Is that too much to ask from a 4th grader (serious question)?
     
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  3. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    As a high school aged student once said, "If I am not allowed, to say it, wear it, or write about it, why should I be forced to read it at the direction of the teacher."

    I somewhat agree. Zero tolerance and political correctness has come so far that if a school will punish a child for writing a story about guns or hunting, punish a child for using those 4 letter words in class or in writing, wearing a shirt with a gun on it because it might scare someone, or write a good story or give an oral report about God and/or their religion, why should it be allowed to force a child to read about violence that the school does not condone, cursing which the school does not condone even if appropriately used and needed for the character development, or force a child to read negative things about their religion when they aren't allowed to voice or write about positive things in their religion.

    There is no way to justify the argument that it is acceptable coming from authority, but not acceptable at other times even if the same level of discretion is applied when used.

    I think you have a fine line to walk.

    Why not give an alternate assignment or be more careful when choosing books for a group to read? I could see how each of those problems were problems that could have been anticipated even if those books were "classics" or common novels used in the past. Also, sometimes high readers aren't ready emotionally for the higher grade level books because of content. I remember The Giver being a book that had to be approved before a child could check it out of the library prior to 6th grade because of content, not complexity of language.
     
  4. MrsC

    MrsC Multitudinous

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    From your post, I would assume that your students are grade 4 or below? I wouldn't require students that age to read books with content that made them uncomfortable, particularly if they are able to clearly articulate their discomfort.

    I would say the same thing about my grade 7 and 8 students. I have provided alternate books on numerous occasions and for a variety of reasons. I try to steer away from anything with questionable language (even though I know that my students hear, and use worse every day) and any situations that have personally impacted my students. There are so many books out there, I don't want my students, or their families, offended by what I ask them to read.
     
  5. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Yeah, it's a tough one. Then you run into -- do you . I try to tell students that they will come across words that are definitely not "appropriate" (though that's a word that could mean diff. things to diff. people) nowadays, but are used in a book usually for a particular reason. Shifting their focus from the fact that "oh my goodness, there's that word in there" to "why did the author choose to use that word in that situation as opposed to some more appropriate word" seems to help somewhat. When you look at some historical fiction or nonfiction books, there are often words in there that would not be considered appropriate right now (n-word, names for the Japanese, etc...), but authors use for a specific purpose or to provide a more realistic account.

    That being said, if there was any push-back from parents, I'd likely tell them something similar, but if we didn't come to an understanding with that, naturally I'd find some form of alternative activity/reading. And if there was ever a book with a load of language, I'd send out some prior notice to parents that provided the reasoning behind why I am using that book over a different book.
     
  6. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Thank you. This does put it in a good perspective for me!

    As far as anticipating the concerns, some could be anticipated, but some not so much. Sometimes I feel like they're just saying it offends them because they don't want to read the book.

    These are books that the school purchased specifically for literature circles, but I'm not much of a fan of literature circles so far. I assigned them books this time, and maybe I'd have better buy-in if kids got to choose what they were reading. It's hard to find high-interest, high-level books that challenge the kids appropriately, and harder when I have a limited number of books to choose from.
     
  7. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    4th graders are still very young. Also, it depends. I think we can all see that racist, sexist, or something that makes fun of a religion is over the line. Therefore, it isn't too hard to see that something that makes fun of a religion might be wrong. I make exceptions for Jehovah Witnesses--not because I agree with them--but because I understand how important one's religion is. If anyone is bothered with a book on a religious grounds, I would be all ears. I guess I would handle their concerns individually. I read a lot of 5th and 6th grade literature, so if you had more specific books, I'd be happy to give more specific opinions.
     
  8. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    "Liar, Liar" by Gary Paulsen is one (http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/liar-liar-1#cart/cleanup). This is one that has had questionable language. Scholastic shows it as interest level grades 5-8 and lexile 940.

    "Worth" caused the religion issue.
     
  9. Jerseygirlteach

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    I disagree. Being offended by everything is a learned behavior and I think hypersensitivity is taking over. I think if you tell the kids that every time a book character has a different perspective than they do, they don't have to read the book, you are validating their hypersensitivity and - on some level - promoting censorship.

    Reading about characters that have a different point of view could be a good learning opportunity and an exercise in tolerance of others.
     
  10. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    This is my natural inclination. But I don't know whether it's an opinion worth going to battle on with kids or potentially their parents. Our school has super involved families.
     
  11. HorseLover

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    That's a tough one. I think 4th graders are still in that in between stage. Some students are ready for that sort of thing, and others really aren't. I might err on the side of letting them read something else. For their sake and for yours if the parents also object.
     
  12. bros

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    Since they're fourth grade, i'd err on the side of caution and allow those who feel uncomfortable to have another book - they might not be ready for material of that nature yet.
     
  13. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    There is no context in your explanation as to why the word "worth" caused a religious issue. However, this book was on the restricted list in Texas a few years ago for politically, racially, or socially offensive. Not sure which one. It has no reference to being restricted because of religion in particular.

    Several reviews showed that it really is more appropriate in content for middle school rather than 4th graders.

    Is this child understanding the context and really comprehending the idea that is being presented?

    I can see a child taking one sentence out of context and missing the big picture of the idea, especially a young one that isn't thinking beyond the small section that they are finding offensive.
     
  14. TeacherNY

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    If so many students are "offended" I would probably just scratch those readings altogether. How man alternative assignments will you have time to create/grade? I don't think you should be making extra work for yourself if you can just get everyone to read the same material (unless it ends up being just one student then that's not too difficult).
     
  15. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    It's not a lot of kids... it is 3, all with different books. The others are really enjoying the books.

    Because of the nature of my assignments, all activities can be used for all books, so it won't be hard to have someone read another book. So far, I only gave one student permission to read something else.
     
  16. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Sorry, Worth is the title of another book. The part that a child found offensive, to roughly paraphrase, said something like "Dear God, I don't know why I pray to you, it does me no good. You never help me. Thanks for nothing. Amen." Like you said, I think the child was having trouble seeing the context of this. I tried explaining it, but she was pretty adamant that it was against her religion. She's the child I gave permission to switch.
     
  17. TeacherNY

    TeacherNY Phenom

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    Ok, at least you can use the same activities. If the others are enjoying the books then they should read them.
     
  18. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    Seriously?? Come on... there's a perfect example of why I'm not cut out for elementary school. For something as innocuous as that, I would tell my high schoolers to just deal with it.
     
  19. catnfiddle

    catnfiddle Moderator

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    I've dealt with this often with my high school students. At least two of my girls need alternative reading and writing assignments when I deal with issues that go against their faith. Thankfully, because of how I teach, I already have a full arsenal of alternative assignments AND can implement them without the rest of the class knowing about it.
     
  20. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    I have a few thoughts...

    First, this could be a case of the "tissues"...similar to when one student needs a tissue, suddenly all of them do.

    Second, the religion...what exactly is "against" a religion? That phrase is not blasphemous. I think "against my religion" is a catch all for "I don't like that".

    Third, I think I would definitely involve the parents. Come at it with a help-me-help-you frame of mind. Tell them that you want to be respectful towards the students' beliefs, but you need guidance as to what that is. I tend to agree with a2z, but I also am anti-censorship too. Those two thoughts are hard to marry sometimes.

    (I could be way wrong, but I would almost bet the religion girl is exaggerating.)
     
  21. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I can see how a young child (4th grade) may see that passage as horrible. That child may be taught you don't question God. You pray every day. God is the most important thing in life. This passage basically says God is worthless. Certainly, in the mind of a young person, telling the most important thing in life they aren't worth the effort is a terrible, terrible thing that is just not allowed. Thus, the jump is made to it being "against their religion" to deny God.

    I know we are saying similar things, but the way I am reading your comment (which I may be misreading) it seems the motivation is different. In the mind of a 4th grader that may be "against their religion" even if it isn't in the understanding of an adult. The fact she doesn't like it is the first signal it is wrong. The conclusion based on a not fully formed understanding may be "against her religion" compared to just not liking something so saying it is against her religion.

    I know, for me, there would have been things that I would have felt were against my religion as a child that I better understand now. I also know there are some books that my religion would have frowned up on that I had to read for college.
     
  22. Jerseygirlteach

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    Yes to all of this. If you go ahead and start making allowances, you can bet that other students will have "issues" too. You might have a tough time finding a book that doesn't offend someone. I'm not saying that if there's a blatantly inappropriate book, you should go ahead and make them read and they should just deal. Use your discretion.

    I had a situation a couple of weeks ago when I was reading aloud Through My Eyes which is a personal account of school integration by Ruby Bridges. Bridges refers to her race as black throughout the book. A couple of students were offended by the term "black". They said it was racist. I thought about it, but I said that I would not change the term in the book while reading aloud, although I'm sorry they were offended. Since I'm not the author, I shouldn't change the book to suit them and we don't all have to have the same opinions.
     
  23. kcjo13

    kcjo13 Phenom

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    Exactly...so involve the parents. Figure out if it's really "against" something. It could be. Then again, it could be a 4th grader who is exaggerating what she learned in church. I mean, I don't have any context to put that phrase in, but I'm going to guess that by the end of the book, the protagonist has solved his problem and probably doesn't hate God. So with the parents' assistance, help the girl figure out that nearly everyone struggles with their relationship with God at some point, let's see how this character deals with it.
     
  24. HistoryVA

    HistoryVA Devotee

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    Just out of curiosity, did you call the parents of these students who were "uncomfortable"? Did the parents agree that that passage was against their religion?
     
  25. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    No... I know the mom and know that they are a very religious family, so there may be some validity to what the girl is saying. I do think that the student is mainly looking for a reason to not read the book, but is there really a way to know that? I already told her she could read another book, but next time, I'd like to have some kind of policy in place. I might say that kids need a note from home if they want to be excused from reading a book.
     

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