The required reading material for one of Clinton High School’s honors classes is causing one parent concern and pushing him to request the board take some form of action to prevent such concern from happening in the future.
David Byrd, a parent of a student in the English II Honors Advanced class, spoke to the board during Monday night’s meeting, sharing his concern with the material and context of the book his daughter was assigned to read as part of the curriculum for the course.
The book, “Looking for Alaska,” by John Green, ranks among the top books on the “Most Challenged Book List” and has for four different years. Byrd said that ranking was for good reason.
“To be honest with you, I considered reading one of the most illicit passages publicly here tonight, but out of respect for decency and the ladies present, I felt it better to provide you later with a copy of that particular passage,” Byrd shared with the board.
The passage, like many others in the book, shared sexual content in great detail, as well as vulgar language throughout the entirety of the book.
“When I read the passage last week, the first thing that came to mind besides the embarrassment of reading it in front of my daughter, was that this type of material has been around for years,” Byrd explained. “It was available when I was in high school in the form of Penthouse Forum. The difference was then you had to go to the convenience store to get it and it was wrapped in brown paper and sold to those over the age of 18.”
Calling the material written pornography, Byrd said he could not understand how this type of novel compared in literary value to the types of literature that he read in high school.
“I understand that literature of all generations have contained questionable language and sexual innuendo,” Byrd continued. “But this author takes it over the top in the use of profanity and there is no innuendo concerning sex.”
Assigned readings are a local choice and not a mandate through the state education system. A local team of teachers and administrators adopt an approved reading list for each grade level, and assignments can be made from that list.
“Some who have defended this book in other school districts argue ‘that decisions about instructional materials should be based on sound educational grounds, not certain individual’s agreement of disagreement with the message or context of a particular book,” Byrd said. “I couldn’t agree more. But please demonstrate to me the overwhelming ‘sound educational grounds’ that would make Clinton City Schools disregard any standard of decency and choose this book over thousands of other options.”
Byrd wasn’t asking the board for censorship, but the adoption of a policy to notify parents of the expected reading selections and an opportunity to opt out of reading the assigned material.
The board’s policy during public meetings is to hear all public comments, and not make any motion, decision or statements regarding the concern, during the meeting, but rather give the board time to research the situation before an answer is given.
Byrd was contacted Tuesday morning by administration, who explained the steps necessary to address the concerns shared during the previous night’s meeting. Byrd was informed of the board’s policy No. 3210, Parental Inspection of and Objection to Instructional Materials, which is found on the district’s web page.
“We are working with the parent to address the concerns he shared and as indicated in the policy and the procedure, the first step in addressing the concern is at the school level,” Clinton City Schools superintendent Dr. Stuart Blount stated about Byrd’s concern and request.
Tuesday morning, Byrd said he felt his concern is “being proactively addressed” and he is “pleased with the response” he has received.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.