The Brookfield Board of Education (BOE) policy subcommittee has been working to draft a new policy for reviewing textbooks and receiving and handling complaints about instructional materials included in the curriculum. The subcommittee is still reviewing draft proposals and language from neighboring school districts and may have a draft policy ready to present to the BOE by June of this year.
The impetus for creating a new review policy sprung from . A group of parents and then-candidates for the BOE lobbied for the book to be removed from the curriculum, most notably for its portrayal of sexual themes, including incest and rape.
“The Bluest Eye” is considered “instructional material” and not a “textbook” as defined by the Brookfield school district, in that it is incorporated in the curriculum but used less than 50 percent of the time. Under the current policy, the Curriculum Academic and Program Evaluation (CAPE) subcommittee does not evaluate instructional materials, a policy that will probably remain unchanged, according to Policy Chairman and BOE Vice Chair Jane Miller.
“We have a superintendent and curriculum advisors and they come up with the curriculum,” Miller explained. “They look for books and material that would enhance the lesson,” which could include magazines, websites or any other medium.
Due to the breadth of what could be used as part of a lesson, Miller asserted that it would be impossible for the CAPE committee to review every piece of instructional material used throughout the curriculum.
“We have people who are trained to consider these things,” Miller said, adding that the new policy will have an explicit method for managing and answering complaints from parents about specific material.
One consideration would be to have a questionnaire on file that would ask parents whether they had read or viewed the material and what they objected to. From there, the complaint would go to a committee of administrators and teachers familiar with the subject before being presented to the superintendent for consideration.
BOE member Harry Shaker, who first broached the subject of “The Bluest Eye” before the board in the fall, would like to see a policy that includes an automatic review of every book on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of controversial books, whether it’s being used as a textbook or instructional material.
[Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” is number 15 on the ALA’s 2000-2009 100 Most Banned/Challenged Books, behind “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (14), “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (6) and the Harry Potter series (1). Morrison also has two other books on the list: “Beloved” (26) and “Song of Solomon” (72).]
“We need something standard in place, to draw some sort of line,” Shaker explained, adding that materials should be reviewed for more than just sexual content.
“It could be too violent, it could be a book that’s just too deep philosophically for the kids at that age level,” he said. “These children are not adults,” and the content of what they are being taught should be age-appropriate.
Parents and students do have the option to “opt-out” of reading materials they don’t deem appropriate (an option used by 11 of 77 students asked to read “The Bluest Eye” during the fall semester), however Shaker argued that this could be detrimental to students’ education, as they are separated from the class and asked to work independently.
“They take a student out of the class, put them in the library and they do their work on their own,” he said. “That’s their version of equal opportunity?”
Shaker asserted that this was not an attempt at “book banning,” as it has been characterized, as books that don’t make the cut may still be available in the school library, just not as a part of the official curriculum.
Shaker also noted that this policy should extend to traditional textbooks, as well.
“You need learning material that is age-appropriate, whether it be math or Spanish or anything,” he said. “It’s no different than coming to the board with a chemistry book and saying it’s too advanced.”