In Montgomery County this week some parents complained that certain novels contained foul language and cover topics — including sex, child abuse, suicide and drug abuse — unsuited for discussion in coed high school classes. The superintendent removed some of the books from the college preparatory classes where they were being employed.
I'm opposed to book banning and censorship of any kind.
But being responsible for the care of children in loco parentis does impose a responsibility on school officials to use proper judgment. That judgment extends to the discussion of topics that some individuals may find objectionable. High school students are in need of critical thinking skills and the mature topics that present themselves on television, in the news, and in everyday life are appropriate for discussion with students of high school age.
Keeping some books away from some children is appropriate in some cases. Discussing abortion, rape or other potentially disturbing topics of a sexual nature - like adultery - with kindergarteners is likely to be inappropriate at any time. It's one of several reasons why the Ten Commandments should not be posted in our schools.
Four of the books in question are:
Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Deadline, by Chris Crutcher
Lessons from a Dead Girl, by Jo Knowles
Unwind, by Neal Shusterman.
Superintendent Daniel Freeman has responded to the complaints by withdrawing about half a dozen of the challenged titles from classroom use. He was correct to do so, but not because the topics were objectionable to a few parents.
I haven't read any of the books in question so today in class, I asked my 103 students if they were familiar with the titles - and a few of them were. These college students laughed off the parents complaints as unnecessarily and overly protective. In fact, one student familiar with Montgomery County High School opined off-handedly that a typical student would run into worse in the hallways. But when I asked them about assiging these titles in a college preparatory class they laughed again.
Are they easy? Real easy.
Twisted has a lexile rating of 680L - or fourth grade text level !
Deadline's lexile rating is 880L - or sixth grade text level
Lessons from a Dead Girl's Lexile of 620L (third grade) is not likely to challenge any college bound student.
And Unwind's 740L is fourth grade difficulty.
Lexile text measurement is typically used by teachers to compare text readability with the ability range of their students. This allows teachers to forecast how well students will comprehend the particular text.
These texts were designed for reluctant readers. That usually means high interest level, low reading level. The books may well be appropriate for some high schoolers, particularly freshmen. But as a means to prepare students for the rigors of higher education, I think not.
Freeman was correct to remove the books; not for their content, but for the lack of rigor.