Challenging Books: Maryland Heights Parents Can Register Concerns
Throughout July, Maryland Heights Patch will publish articles that relate to the freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.
You can find Yankee Girl, by Mary Ann Rodman, in a Pattonville School District library. The novel deals with race issues and, in July 2009, the district received a complaint about the book’s inclusion.
Book challenges are not uncommon in the United States. The American Library Association (ALA) reported 53 texts were challenged, restricted, removed or banned between May 2009 and May 2010. The books range from classics such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird to comic books such as Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier.
You can read the entire list here.
Tim Pecoraro, Pattonville's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said library book and instructional material challenges are rare at Pattonville. The school district receives a challenge once every two or three years, he said. And challenges are usually against library books rather than instructional material.
Teachers in Maryland Heights schools have gone on record defending language in classic literature. Maryland Heights Patch previously reported on Pattonville High School teachers criticizing a censored version of Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Yankee Girl is the only book that's been challenged in Pattonville in the last four years.
The process of protest
Pecoraro said the district has a process parents can use to raise objections.
It starts with the Public Complaints About Instructional/Library Materials, which ask a number of questions:
- To what in the material do you object?
- What do you feel might be the result of the student's use of this material?
- For what age group would you recommend this material?
- Is there anything good about the material?
- Did you examine or read the material in its entirety? What parts did you view or read?
- Are you aware of the judgment of this material by literary critics or subject area specialists?
- What would you like your library staff or textbook committee to do about this material? (Selection includes "do not assign/lend it to my child," "withdraw it from all readers/students as well as my child" and "send it back to the staff selection committee for re-evaluation")
- In its place, what material would you recommend that would convey as valuable a picture and perspective of the subject treated?
The Pattonville School District has a committee composed of a school librarian, a teacher, the school principal and another community member. Books challenged in middle schools and the high school also have a student committee member.
The committee members read the material. While they conduct their review, the material remains in circulation.
The committee makes its recommendation to Pecoraro, who then communicates the results to the parent in writing. The objecting parent or parents can appeal the committee’s decision, at which time Pecoraro reviews the material.
The Parkway School District also has a process in place for complaints about instructional materials, but not specifically for library books. The district’s website indicates the person who complains should fill out District Complaint Form #107.
Language is an issue
In Pattonville, challenges are usually about a words and phrases in a particular book. For instance Pecoraro said the Yankee Girl objection was based on the "N-word" appearing in the text.
A Pelham, MA school district removed John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany from its summer reading list, the ALA website states, "after a parent complained about the novel’s objectionable language and sexuality."
Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees was challenged in a Saugus, CA school district "because the novel includes sexual scenes and vulgar language," the ALA website states.
Banned Book Week is scheduled for Sept. 24 to Oct. 1, the ALA website states.