Tag Archives: curriculum

Book choices in the public schools – personal history (2)

Entirely by accident and quite to my surprise, I found (on my computer) the reply I received from my son’s teacher when I “intervened” in the matter of a book that my son was assigned to read for school. So now I know the details I left out of my post dated March 5, 2015.

Here’s some context: Due to a medical catastrophe, my son missed several months of school at the beginning of 7th grade. He resumed classes gradually, and I was at the school daily, since he couldn’t ride the bus. I was much more aware of his classroom experience than before. My heightened level of involvement continued for several years.

The book I challenged was Night by Elie Wiesel. I had not read it. I still have not read it.

It is described on Amazon.com as “a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps.” It includes “a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald”. There is nothing to suggest that this is a book for younger readers.

So… who decided this belonged in 7th grade, being read by 12 year olds? Is the average middle school teacher of language arts equipped to teach it? What kind of support does a 12 year old need when being introduced to the Holocaust? Any group of 12 year olds has vulnerable members, some not recognized as such. And, as I mentioned in my earlier post, local families were experiencing troop deployment, the early mobilization for the Iraq War.

My son’s teacher and her supervisor kindly substituted other reading matter for the class.

Another book had apparently triggered my watchful radar – Deathwatch by Robb White. At least it was intended for the Young Adult audience. It received an American Library Association award. Amazon describes it as “An exciting novel of suspense, based on a fight to the finish between an honest and courageous young man and a cynical business tycoon.” Even assuming that “finish” means death, at least the reader is spared perversion and sadism. It was selected for the Battle of the Books, an activity about which I remember nothing. Evidently I agreed my son could read the book, or perhaps he had already done so. I don’t recall any further discussion.

So… was I right to get involved when I did? I’m not big on censorship or banning books, but a 12 year old is not an adult. What do you think?

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Book choices in the public schools – personal history

Writing about Divergent and my reservations about its use in schools made me remember the one and only time I contacted a local school about a book on the curriculum. The details aren’t all that clear. It would help if I could remember which son, which grade and which school!

I think the book was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, which I admit to not having read. Holocaust fiction for Young Adults.

Part of the problem was timing – 2003. We had only begun to process September 11, 2001. The United States plunging into the Iraq war. A local National Guard unit was being deployed, and families were stressed. I couldn’t see trying to explain the Holocaust to early teens when they were also dealing with parents leaving to fight and newspaper reports about American casualties.

(So it must have been my younger son…)

The teacher I contacted accepted my logic. The curriculum allowed some choice on the part of teachers, and, in my son’s class, a collection of classical Greek myths (violent, some of them, but safely distant) was substituted.

I believe that “holocaust education” is required by the State of New Jersey, and some of this is accomplished through the use of fiction. This leads to my other problem with the Number the Stars.

WHY FICTION? Don’t the facts stand on their own? There is considerable documentation about the Holocaust. Couldn’t a true story be offered?

I’m a very literal person. Maybe too literal?

My advice to parents – read every book assigned to your child. You’ll find some to love, and maybe some to question. If you ever decided to attempt an intervention, I would really like to hear about it!