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There you go again… books under attack

Thoughts on Brookfield's repeating, periodic look at what books our students should be allowed to read.

As you may know, a small group of residents is engaging the Board of Education (BOE) and the public on whether or not a certain book should be used in the Brookfield Public Schools.

A bit of background.

First, we've been through this before.

When I was on the BOE, there was a similar flap over a few passages in John Gardner's Grendel — a retelling of the Beowulf myth from the monster's point of view. In its review of the book, the Christian Science Monitor said "It deserves a place on the same shelf as Lord of the Flies, Cat's Cradle and Catcher in the Rye." A Newsweek review called it "A marvelous novel — absolutely marvelous: witty, intelligent, delightful... a celebration and a conservation of what we most need in one of the greatest poetic myths we have... I cannot recommend it too highly." I read the book to get a fuller understanding of the issues being discussed. I have to say that I agreed with the reviews, and supported its inclusion in advanced level English classes — knowing that there was a review process in place and that there were always opt-out choices available.

The book now in question — The Bluest Eye — is by Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. Ms. Morrison has also been awarded the National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, as well as the National Humanities Medal. The New York Times' original review of The Bluest Eye says in part that it is "an inquiry into the reasons why beauty gets wasted in this country… with a prose so precise, so faithful to speech and so charged with pain and wonder that the novel becomes poetry." This is certainly not pornography, even though some have characterized it as such. Yes it has passages that are challenging. But in the context of the world we live in and the advanced level of the English class (it is only being offered at the Honors level), the option to read and discuss challenging art in an educational environment is something I applaud.

So Is there an appropriate review process in place? Absolutely.

The school administration and staff have a long standing practice of reviewing materials to be used in class before they are presented. Reading lists are provided up front, and parents are given the opportunity to opt their children out of reading individual books, and for these children other reading opportunities are provided. The BOE's role should be to make sure this process is working.

What has happened in this case is that the system has worked exactly as intended. A book with educational value that's been used successfully in our district for years was included in the course. Out of the 75 11th grade students taking Honors English, 4 have opted out of reading this individual book while the rest — the vast majority — continued to experience a powerful work by a highly recognized and highly acclaimed artist.

It's notable that this book has been used in Brookfield since at least 1995 with no complaints prior to this year.

So while I appreciate the individual choices and decisions that parents must make, I also firmly believe that we should be expanding the opportunities we offer parents and students, not limiting them. We currently have a system that is not broken, but is in fact working exactly as planned. While the issue makes great headlines (particularly in an election year), I hope that the community will take a breath and understand that the system works, the administration is aware of concerns and has followed procedure, and that Board of Education members continue to work for the benefit of all of our students and not just the few.

So let me be clear. I applaud parents who are engaged in their child's schoolwork and who get involved. Constructive dialogue is important. I do not, however, support efforts by the few to seriously limit educational opportunities of the many. Attempts at censorship and reduction in educational opportunities should not be taken lightly.

Based on what I've learned, I look forward to reading Toni Morrison's book.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Drew Turkenkopf October 12, 2011 at 04:00 PM
I agree. If I understand current trends, more appropriate for middle schoolers?
Steven DeVaux October 12, 2011 at 04:01 PM
I contacted the prior two superintendents who indicated to their knowledge it was not and they certainly would have counseled against using it with the BEA for age appropriateness had it ever come up. Mr. Jaffe's facts are flawed on the dates and I believe there are a number of former Board of Education chairmen that would agree with that. Why not post the excerpts here for the public view and form it's own independent opinions? They do not need the opinions of paid politicians to decide what they feel is best and age appropriate for their children, right?
Drew Turkenkopf October 12, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Lot and his daughters can tell them for me.
Howard Lasser October 12, 2011 at 04:17 PM
We have Drew saying he read it in high school which would put it at the latest the 98-99 school year. So the recollections of the superintendents seem to be faulty. If I had my choice, I would go with Ron’s recitation of the facts here. As to parents making their own assessment, that is exactly Ron’s point. There is no need to post quotes here, read the book. There is a process if parents read the book and find it not appropriate for their child they have that option. Seems to me the system works.
Concerned Brookfield Citizen October 12, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Loving Mom, you are right. This is not a court of law. But I need a little more explanation on why you say that nobody is trying to ban this book. It appears to me that there are some people that are trying to keep this book out of the Brookfield High School. How is this not banning? Are you trying to tell me that you want it out of the classroom but it is acceptable in the BHS library? If it is not, please tell me where in BHS this book would be permitted. If you don't want it anywhere, then this duck smells like a ban (IMHO).
Steven DeVaux October 12, 2011 at 05:14 PM
I wouldn't as he has been factually challenged on numerous occassions already and recanted saying "well it was his opinion". Opinions are tricky, especially when they get in the way of facts as you well know.
Linda Taylor October 12, 2011 at 05:39 PM
Where do you draw the line on what is inappropriate..that is the question here. If someone chooses to read something on their own that is one thing but to have something objectionable as required reading is a different story. Trends have changed, morals have changed..people have become de-sensitized so "anything goes"..can we turn this around? Drew makes a good point..does this go to middle schoolers next?
Concerned Brookfield Citizen October 12, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Linda, I appreciate your point. But this is not a required book. It is on a list that was handed to the parents at the beginning of the year. It is NOT required reading for all of the students in the 11th grader honors humanities class and it is not on the list for non-honors students. Therefore, if the honors students' parents are reviewing the list, they can prevent their kids from reading it. I agree that this should be an issue about choice. And it appears that the teachers have structured the list in such a way. Have you heard of anybody directly associated with the school system suggesting that this be brought to the middle school? If not, can we please leave that red herring out of this thread?
Rob Gianazza October 12, 2011 at 06:01 PM
There is a huge difference between censorship, book-banning and required reading. I do not, and will not, support book-banning or censorship. That being said, I find it curious why this book and books containing similar extreme and graphic adult content are required reading. I have heard numerous excuses over the years and frankly I'm disappointed that anyone responsible for the education of children can justify the use of such graphic adult content within a classroom situation. Opinions may vary, but I hardly consider "opt-out" an acceptable solution. That is merely a weak position offered by a progressive "anything goes" minority. Please feel free to go to the school library, the public library or your favorite source for literature and choose the material of your preference, but please don't require children to read graphic adult material as part of their educational experience.
Ben Lasser October 12, 2011 at 07:24 PM
We're all concerned over the potentially pornographic nature of "The Bluest Eye," written by a Nobel winning author. But I believe we're overlooking the most important issue here. What are we doing about all that porn your 15 year old has hidden on their hard drive?
Rob Gianazza October 12, 2011 at 09:58 PM
I gotta be honest, the Nobel committee has lost a bit of their credibility with their recent choices, so winning a prize from them doesn't impress me. And if the said fifteen year old has or does not have porn isn't the issue. The issue is having graphic adult content recommended by the educational community. Let's try to keep our eye on the subject.
Linda Taylor October 12, 2011 at 11:20 PM
Excellent point, Rob..and to Concerned Brookfield Citizen: No one is suggesting this book be made available to middle schoolers. I believe Drew was commenting on the possibility of that being next..(probably said with tongue in cheek) And to all: what a wonderful, spirited debate this has been..in the long run I think we are all on the same page...we all want what's best for our children and maybe we ALL should be a little more aware of what our children our reading in AND out of the schools!
Drew Turkenkopf October 13, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Actually I was suggesting that it is likely that for a good number of middle school students, such 'offensive' subject matter is nothing they haven't already heard about. albeit, (slightly) tongue in cheek, if only to protect some versions of reality
Ben Lasser October 13, 2011 at 03:49 AM
I would be terribly disappointed in our educational community if they chose not to challenge an honors English class with work that challenged them on many levels. I read The Bluest Eye when I was in high school, and I find it insulting that there are supposedly "mature" individuals suggesting that students at the age of 15 or 16 are incapable of handling the subject matter tackled in that book. I've turned out just fine, and I say without prejudice that the English classes I took at Brookfield High were some of the best classes I took. Why are you so afraid of exposing your supposedly advanced students to advanced literature?
Linda Taylor October 13, 2011 at 10:17 AM
Ben, it's NOT the subject matter so much as it is the crude way it is described. You have been desensitized..and Drew you are correct.. many "middle schoolers' have heard this language before but do want our educational system to promote this?
Rob Gianazza October 13, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Ben, I'm concerned you are missing the point. You are free to choose the literature of your choice. No one is questioning that. The concern being expressed is that the educational community should not be suggesting or requiring material of extreme graphic adult nature. I'm sure that as a teen you were exposed to alcohol and tobacco products too, but I would hardly suggest that the educational community encourage you to try them.
Ben Lasser October 13, 2011 at 05:39 PM
I don't think you're in any position to say whether I'm desensitized or not. Now if you'll excuse me, this baby isn't skinning itself.
Mark October 14, 2011 at 10:28 PM
I've read, "The Bluest Eye" and personally pornography was the last thought that would have ever occurred to me. The value that this brook brings to a classroom has nothing to do with the description of the sexual events, it has to do with the broadening of the reader's understanding of what it was to be black in a white world. It seems that the book is only being offered to a small percentage of students and only if their parents agree. Insisting that is not acceptable seems like censorship on a pretty basic level. As a graduate of the this same school system some 20 years ago, I personally would consider that a step backwards in terms of quality of education. I'm not a big fan of dumbing down my kid's education to make a few people more comfortable. That's my opinion for what it's worth.
Drew Turkenkopf October 15, 2011 at 01:54 AM
To use something or talk about something does not mean promoting it. School is to prepare children for the real world (a simplification,) Denying things helps no one. As for the crudeness of the language, that goes towards the author's intent.
Steven DeVaux October 16, 2011 at 10:21 AM
Drew, I you believed that then the whole bullying agenda in schools should be eliminated since the day after they graduate high school they run into the real world where bullying is a fact of life.
Palin Smith October 18, 2011 at 06:17 PM
There are 357,000 more appropriate books. Selecting trash as required reading is a reflection of the impure intellect of teachers!
Palin Smith October 18, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Forcing students to indulge in sleaze is the worst kind of bullying, mental cruelty.
Johnny Toto October 31, 2011 at 11:25 PM
As a BHS alum and a current student at Western Connecticut State University I almost fell off my chair when I heard that a book was being banned from the high school. Did I hear that right? A book? And the reason behind the banning is because it's too sexually explicit? Wow. Let's just say that reading a book should be the least of BHS's worries with their students. The funniest thing about this whole debate is the stance Chris Delia took before reading the book. We're supposed to vote for this guy??? How can you feel so strongly about something you don't know? That's like our President reading half a bill and trying to veto it. How can I call myself a republican with the joke of the town representing me? "What, I read the Cliff Notes!" And Chris, your little speeches at the board meetings are quite entertaining, the tough guy act is my favorite part. But let's not forget Pamela Kurtz who didn't even read the book. Probably too complicated, or maybe she was too busy. That sounds like a good candidate as well! Vote for Pamela and Chris! They read the Cliff Notes! (At least one of them has)
Hale October 31, 2011 at 11:48 PM
Banning a book in Brookfield because it has a rape scene in it? Looks like it's that time of year again when there's nothing better going on after church... Grab your torches and pitchforks, it's off to town hall!
Rob Gianazza November 01, 2011 at 12:18 AM
You people are embarrassing. You critize others for speaking out against graphic adult content, yet follow the News-Times article which is non-factual. Read it if you chose, but don't usurp parents rights. That's the real measure of freedom.
Johnny Toto November 01, 2011 at 12:36 AM
Come on Rob! We read the book unlike your golden boy Delia. This is not about parents rights, it's about students rights. At 16 - 17 years old they can see rated R movies, play graphic video games, and listen to music about sex, drugs, and money, but can't read a book that is highly praised by almost everyone in the literary community? At 16 parents should let their children start making their own decisions about BOOKS. Because, at SIXTEEN, they aren't "children" anymore at all. Maybe we should teach our young adults to use their own minds and develop their own opinions. So Rob, what's embarrassing is you telling 16 year old kids not to read about subjects THEY could teach a class on! Only in Brookfield, only with people like this. Instead of wondering why kids are buying and selling oxy's and dealing drugs and committing sexual acts IN SCHOOL you're talking about a BOOK. Thank GOD your time on the board is up! Now you can pull Delia's strings!
Rob Gianazza November 01, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Thank you so much for making my point. You should have the choice to read the book, or not. I'm embarrassed that you fail to think for yourself, and instead choose to be manupulated by your peers. I'm embarrassed you to poke fun at a man who served our country as a Marine, so you could have the freedom of speech you enjoy. It's too bad you cannot respect another's right to choose for themselves.
Johnny Toto November 01, 2011 at 03:03 AM
Rob just stop, come on. Chris did our country a great deed! I am thankful for all he has done and continue to support our troops! What that has to do with how misinformed he is about the topic of this book is what I'm trying to figure out. But let's go back to your word of choice for the night, "embarrassing." What's embarrassing is how a grown man like yourself is acting when he is faced with someone who disagrees with him. You are a man who serves the community Rob. This is not how someone who serves the community should be speaking. But, regardless of all this side conversation that means nothing, you have continuously avoided the subject at hand. Uninformed people shouldn't be making decisions or be placed into a position to make decisions. Plus I believe you are misunderstanding me. The STUDENTS should be able to choose. There should not be an opt IN policy. You have a reputation for contradicting yourself which you did again tonight. Let's see if you change your stance this time. And let me also clear something up, I'm not manipulated by anyone. Maybe it's hard for you to comprehend that someone is standing up for what they believe in, but these are my beliefs. You should be thanking me for my concern Mr. Board member. And let me guess the next comment, I am embarrassing for disagreeing with you?
Aaron Boyd (Editor) November 01, 2011 at 03:44 AM
Guys, please keep the comments about the topics at hand, not about each other.
Alec D November 02, 2011 at 07:38 PM
As a BHS alum and seasonal resident of Brookfield and a huge supporter of the arts, I believe this is absolutely absurd to try to ban this book. Brookfield needs more influence from the arts and the expression of people like the author of this book. Not because of the content of the book in question but the fact that he is such a well known and established artist I believe he has the right, as well as our students, to enjoy what he has made for us. Maybe we can LEARN something from this book... and I do mean the book, not the cliff notes. Unless some of the "Board Members" have Noble Prizes that some of us don't know about, I think its a good idea to go ahead and trust that this book is appropriate for our students. Again as a previous student of BHS I know what its like to be in high school at that age... and Brookfield has more to worry about than the contents of a book written by a highly praised author. If the parents consider this "pornographic" material then why don't they check the search history on their kids computers to refresh their memories of what the definition of "pornography" really is... Let the kids make the decision to read the book and stop hindering the education of our high school students. A book? Really? revert your focus "Board Members"!

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