11.25.2014

One Mad Momma Takes On Edmond School Board Over Sexually Explicit Books Assigned to Sophomores


We've been reading lately about two very courageous teachers in the Tulsa Public School system, Nikki Jones and Karen Hendron, and how they've chosen to stand up to Superintendent Keith Ballard in defense of their young students.

Yesterday, I received an email forwarded from our Secretary, Jo Joyce containing a letter from a courageous PARENT willing to stand up to her school's administration and Board over an issue that has her gravely concerned for her child. The letter was from a friend of Jo's, Stephanie Berland, who has a child in high school in the Edmond (Oklahoma) Public School system. Stephanie became aware that her Sophomore-aged student was assigned to read two books, The Kite Runner and The Glass Castle by the English department. Upon researching the books, Stephanie became very concerned and decided the material was not appropriate for her child - but she didn't stop with that action.

I have asked Stephanie to allow me to reproduce her correspondence regarding the books. Not only do I want you to be aware of the content of these books, I want to use Stephanie's response to show you a direct, well-researched and appropriate response to her school board and community regarding her concerns. Many times parents feel helpless to combat activities or situations occurring with their children in public (government) schools - not only are they unsure of the correct channels to follow to complain or protest, but they become afraid any action they take will result in some form of punishment for their student.

The first action Stephanie took, was to research the district's policies for reading material. She then wrote an email to educate other parents and solicit assistance. Here is the body of her email:
Dear Parents,
If you are a parent/guardian of a child in a high school in the Edmond Public School District, I ask you to please read this email. 
Currently, there are two books that are required to read and purchase in the English Department of high schools in Edmond, OK.  They are introduced in sophomore level English. The books are titled The Kite Runner and The Glass Castle.  Both of these books are on the American Library Association’s most challenged or banned book list due to their content.
The first book deals with aggravated sodomy and pedophiliac rape of both girls and boys and the latter with a racist mother sexually abusing her son and grandson, alleged molestation by an uncle to his niece, alcoholism, anti-Christianity overtones, and more adult topics.  
Please take time to research/read these books, and if you feel as a parent they are appropriate for your child, then that is your choice.  If you do not want your child to read these books, then I would ask you to call your principal and express your concern.  Currently, there is a choice to opt out, but again, I suggest that you understand what this looks like and why parents are required to opt out of something when most didn’t even know that they were enrolled.  
The Educational Board of Edmond Public Schools must abide by BP #3600 – Instructional Materials guidelines.   This criteria can be found on the EPS website, using this link http://www.edmondschools.net/AboutUs/SchoolBoard/PoliciesandProcedures/Instruction.  Parents can fill out form 3600F to have the school re-evaluate the choice.  However, I feel the district did not vet out these books by using their own established standards listed in BP #3600. 
You can also express your concern by emailing or contacting your elected board member by district.  To find out who your elected official is, refer to the attached map,http://www.edmondschools.net/Portals/0/docs/Board/BoardMemberMapDec2013.pdf
Lastly, I ask you to please forward this email to any parent/guardian you know that this may affect.  I don’t know any other way to get this important information out to parents.  
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.
Concerned Parent,Stephanie S. Berland
The next thing Stephanie and her husband did, was write a letter to her personal school board member asking for her concerns to be made an agenda item at the next Board meeting.  Here is a copy of that letter:
Mr. Cole,
I am respectfully asking the Board of Education to add an agenda item for the next meeting scheduled December 8th, 2014, at 6:00 PM, to re-evaluate and question the process in which the books The Kite Runnerand The Glass Castle were selected for required material in the sophomore English classes at all the high schools in Edmond.  Based on my understanding from the meeting on 11/21/14 at ENHS, Ms. Dana Stobbe and the committee did not take the proper steps in following BP Policy #3600, B2, Criteria for the selection of materials.  In particular, these following bullet points were not documented with factual data, but merely passed with opinion by Ms. Stobbe and an undisclosed committee:  
  • Appropriateness of content considering developmental stage of students 
  • Favorable reviews in standard selection sources 
  • Suitability of subject, style, and reading level for intended audience 
  • Varying points of view
I have extensive documentation and research for the above criteria to show that these book selections should have been rejected immediately based upon criteria set forth by the Edmond Board of Education adopted 9-2-97 and revised 6-4-12.
I am also asking that if these selection materials continue to be taught, that parents be made aware of what they contain.  This is not happening.  Currently, there is no coherent and uniform procedure in place to make parents aware of the content or the process to “opt out” of this required material.   In addition, it was noted and discussed in the meeting that the administrators were unaware that students are required not only to read, but buy these books.  Again, I have copies of this requirement.
I do at some point plan to file the 3600F.  However, I want to reiterate that these books were implemented unjustly and did not follow protocol set forth by the Board of Education of the Edmond Public School District.
Lastly, I encourage you to read these books.  There is this “glossing over” of pornographic content by Ms. Stobbe.  I read the rape by sodomy paragraph (the one I sent to you in an earlier email) in the meeting and I was met with Ms. Stobbe saying,  “Well, we don’t focus in on that.”  The entire book of The Kite Runner is centered on this rape and Amir trying to “redeem” himself because he did nothing.  Later, Hassan’s son, Sohrab, is dressed up as woman and raped by Hassan and finally Amir fights Assef and voila ……he is redeemed.  One final point and probably the most distressing to me is when I made MY  “critical thinking” judgment and told Ms. Stobbe that I found the book misguided on redemption and pornographic.  She was unaccepting of my opinion.  I was made to wonder,  just how are these children guided to “critically think?”  Critical thinking is what I was told to be the goal of this book.  However, my thoughts did not fit Ms. Stobbe’s narrative and I was told that I was filled with hate.    I replied it was not hate, but anger.  Anger at her arrogance.  I told her it is not her job to teach my child about these topics.  She went on to insinuate that I was naïve to think that my daughter doesn’t already know about rape and sodomy.  As a parent, this is NOT her job to teach my child about these topics.  We signed up for English.  Coincidentally, do the students come to the same judgment of the characters in this book?  If they do, that is very scary.
This book is not for high school students.  Most do not have the depth or breadth of knowledge on sex, the Bible, and knowledge of Afghanistan, to make solid analysis.  Moreover, they do not have their parents there.  There are many more suitable books to choose from to attain this “critical thinking” skill in English class.
I appreciate your attention to this matter and I made everyone aware at the meeting of my intention to notify as many parents as I could and to contact you to act as my voice.  I look forward to hearing from you soon. 
Sincerely,
Stephanie and Bob Berland
Stephanie's letter was concise, addressed to the proper individual, explained her concerns fully and demonstrated a knowledge of proper school board procedure. I have asked her to keep me informed of this situation so that I can post an update with the actions taken by the Board.

I hope Stephanie's actions empower parents reading this blog to learn school board procedure and speak out about concerns they have with activities in their school. The parental rights legislation passed this last session recognizes the right of parents to control the education of their children, so the law is on your side. Don't allow your child to take part in teaching methods, curricula or tests with which you disagree. It's YOUR system and YOUR children - make it work for YOU and YOUR children.

16 comments:

  1. So glad to hear other parents protesting these books as required reading. I read them in July 2013 and was shocked our schools would require our students to read this kind of material. I expressed my concern in a letter to school administration last year. Despite a lot of concern by parents, it remained in the syllabus for sophomores. I refuse to believe those reading selections are the best we can offer our children. I've met with many administrators and been 'dismissed repeatedly.' When my son was a sophomore he opted out of the reading. That's the year our family learned it is hard to stand up for what you believe -- but worth it. Kudos to Ms. Berland for speaking out. Character matters. I'd be happy to share my open letter to the administration that contains excerpts from the books if anyone wants to review further.

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  2. Keep fighting the good fight, parents. You have grandparents at your back.

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  3. Both of these books are excellent reads. If you do not agree with the content, then opt your child out. Do not attempt to dictate what other students read. If you do not feel your child is ready for the content, that is your choice. Most high schoolers are ready for these subjects. Both my daughters read these books, which sparked amazing conversations about these topics at home. If this is what this page is going to promote, censorship, then I am out.

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    1. Janet, I have written a followup blog to further explain and hopefully answer some of your questions at the same time.
      http://restoreoklahomapubliceducation.blogspot.com/2014/11/complaints-about-sexually-inappropriate.html

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  4. Anonymous9:31 PM

    I'm with Janet. You should simply opt your own child out of reading the book if it concerns you that much. These are really great books and I know for a fact any subjects of concern within are nothing 99.9% of high schoolers haven't heard/read/seen before. Heck, some have probably experienced it. Time for overbearing parents to grow up.

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    1. Why post anonymously? Are you afraid for people to know the true you.

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  5. Anonymous4:10 PM

    I have attended Edmond Public Schools for the past twelve years. All of the books that have been introduced to me in high school at Edmond have changed my life in many different ways. They have taught me love, compassion, and empathy. They have allowed me to think critically about myself, society, and the world around me. If you were to ban these two specific books from Memorial's reading list, you might as well ban all of the required reading for the entire four years. The majority of the classics we read have minor explicit material. It doesn't mean that the books contain pornography. Sex in books is most often not for the sake of sex. It is for the purpose of telling the story.
    The argument of banning these books to school curriculum would be valid if the students didn't have another option, but because they DO have a different book they (the STUDENT) can choose to read instead, taking away the books for every student would be ridiculous. Students at Edmond Public Schools will voice their opinion if the books are taken away from them. As Laurie Halse Anderson once said: "Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance."

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  6. I have to say that I disagree! The books in question are The Kite Runner and The Glass Castle…..both of which I and my 16 yr old son have read. First let me tackle The Kite Runner. YES there are some particularly disturbing events in the book BUT isn’t that the world we live in? By the time kids are in Highschool they are learning that evil does truly exist in our world. They are learning about the atrocities of World War II. Most know life isn’t a fairy tale. They could benefit from learning about the conflicts of the Middle East which is where this book takes place. I can see potential for learning. A high school teacher could compliment this book with units on Afghanistan, the Middle East, or Islam. Reading The Kite Runner could help high school students make sense of the headlines and video clips they see on the news. It could inspire appreciation for the stability and security we enjoy as Americans. Most of all, students could learn from Amir’s faults and vow not to repeat his mistakes. Amir’s father says: “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”
    A worthy sentiment to ponder in any country, at any time, don’t you agree?

    The Glass Castle is a memoir of Jeannette Walls life and growing up in a severely dysfunctional family. Yes horrible tragic events did occur but it is real life for many. Sex, rape, abuse, drugs and abortion are not uncommon in today’s world. These are harsh topics which may be uncomfortable, but if students are completely sheltered, they’ll be in for a rude awakening when they leave for college.
    Whether parents like it or not, their children will have to be introduced to the world outside of “the bubble,” eventually. It is better to learn about these topics in school than in the real world.

    I would certainly NOT recommend these books to a middle school children but as the mother of a 16yr old I feel that they are valid ways of learning about our world and society. We cannot protect our young adults from the atrocities of the world. We are getting ready to send them out in it on their own!

    It will spark some truly wonderful learning conversations between you and your children. BOTH books are brilliantly written and completely engulfing.

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    1. You said, "BUT isn’t that the world we live in? " Yes, sadly it is. Perhaps in part because we have become desensitized to this type thing.

      In the 50's, divorce was a word that was whispered and how different it's thought of today. I think the world would be a better place if we didn't think rape, divorce, hate, racism, etc. were no big deal.

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  7. I enjoyed reading the comments on the blog. One is apparently a student who describes his/her experience reading the books as part of the English class assignment. It's exhibit A for the argument AGAINST banning books. Meanwhile, the arrogance and ignorance of this mother is astounding. Her arguments reveal a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of studying literature. I wonder who HER HS English teacher was because he or she obviously didn't do their job. The question to ask is not "What is the content of this book?" Rather, "What is revealed about humanity in this book?" Trust the kids YOU raised. If they can't even THINK about anything you find offensive, what does that teach them? To be followers.

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  8. Anonymous8:02 PM

    Home school. Public school systems today are an American disgrace.

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  9. Anonymous11:12 PM

    Seriously. Santa Fe did this play last year and nobody said a thing
    http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3741
    THE STORY: Lucy is a four-year-old girl with a very active imagination. Unfortunately, her imaginary friend Mr. Marmalade doesn't have much time for her. Not to mention he beats up his personal assistant, has a cocaine addic-tion, and a penchant for pornography and very long dildos. Larry, her only real friend, is the youngest suicide attempt in the history of New Jersey. MR. MARMALADE is a savage black comedy about what it takes to grow up in these difficult times.

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  10. Anonymous2:14 PM

    You say, "This book is not for high school students. Most do not have the depth or breadth of knowledge on sex, the Bible, and knowledge of Afghanistan, to make solid analysis." First, to say any high school student doesn't have depth or breadth of knowledge on sex... well, that's hilarious and you are the most naïve human being I've ever met. Do you know how much sexual assault occurs among high school students? TOO MUCH, in the form of rape, sodomy, drugging girls, and in this day and age, videoing it and posting it on the internet for everybody to see until the girl commits suicide. But by all means, let's NOT TALK ABOUT IT!?!?!?! The only reason a high school student wouldn't be able to make a solid analysis in a guided classroom environment is because you won't let them. Read the book with them as they do. Talk to them about it. Ask them how they feel about it, what thoughts it brings to them, how it affects them. People are always screaming about not enough parental involvement in their kids' educations, but that involvement doesn't dictate what teachers are able to teach EVERY child because you have a closed mind with no ability to think of the abuse as abuse, as you label it sex and pornography, which is the most ludicrous thing I've ever heard. You need to read the book and learn a few things from it yourself if you label this as pornography. That's just sad. Yes, if you want your child to remain completely sheltered then you need to homeschool instead of trying to control the educational content of every child.

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    1. Anonymous6:31 PM

      First of all, let me just say that currently, there is a list of books you can choose to read from. You don't have to read these books. But, I think it is a valid argument to say this book is offensive and should not be required reading for children. I think it is better to not have it as a requirement, than to keep it in the system and still require kids to read it. Since you can opt out, then it's not as big problem. But these conversations need to be made at home, and let's all be reminded that you can read these books on your own time. Sex is not as prominent as many people think, and many of these incidents are in places where the schools are terrible, not places like Edmond; I do, however, know very well it could happen. I am not trying to shelter my kids and high school students from the problems of our time. We talk about. It's just that SCHOOL is not the place to talk about it. All of us understand that it happens. It just doesn't need to be in an sophomore English classroom. We already have to much controversy in our schools. Anyways, what happened to Animal Farm, and Lord of the Flies?

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  11. Anonymous1:16 PM

    If you want to take these books away from your kids, take the Internet away too. The content of the books is mild compared to what you can find on the World Wide Web. You might want to take away any pencils or blank notebooks, or else your children might express themselves. We can't have that.

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  12. Anonymous5:57 PM

    If a parent wants to "take the internet away" from their minor child, that is well within their rights to do so.
    With that said, much more of a concern is inappropriate, secretive correspondence going on between teachers/counselors and minor children at the high school level in the city of Edmond.

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