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Book Review Policy Won't Include 'Instructional Materials'

New policy could be ready for Board of Ed review mid-summer.

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.”

Rob Gianazza March 07, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Interesting how the discussion always turns to book banning and censorship? Is that the only argument that can be made for choosing materials more wisely? Yes, some of the classics are on the list, perhaps that's because the "F" word is more acceptable than the "N" word? Not one person is seriously talking about censorship or book-banning. What many people are asking is why was this particular material selected? Couldn't less offensive material have been chosen instead? And most important, who's making the decisions to spend our tax dollars on questionable materials? I used the expression "feel good" for a reason. This topic comes up every few years, and every few years the BOE reviews the policy and states that the process will resolve the problem. Anybody else see a pattern here?
long time resident March 07, 2012 at 08:39 PM
WOW Ron, I am beginning to like your thinking. See what years on the BOE have opened your eyes to reality.
long time resident March 07, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Ron, it is the same BOE member that brings up the reading material.
JM March 08, 2012 at 12:07 AM
Ron how do you decide what is questionable material. you could apply that term to of alot of things
Kevin O'Connor March 08, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Wait, according to Shaker we need a place to draw the line. Surely the the ALA list of most controversial books it a good place to start. You know, considering that it's based on the number of people challenging it, not the actual content and true meaning of the actual literature. If Harry Potter is the most challenged book then it must be the case that it cannot be used in classrooms. Is that seriously the ideology? Yes, i know it's not book banning, merely a review of books. Has anyone considered the fact that behind the controversial reasons for a book there is a deeper meaning? Do you think that The Bluest Eye is a widely renowned novel because it talks about rape and incest? I don't care if you hated the book and then read it when people told you to. That doesn't make your point valid. You read the book with a predefined bias and assumption. The basic principles of any research apply: you can't form a conclusion to a hypothesis and then perform an experiment to prove it. Perhaps read some literary criticisms of the novel and read flat out what you missed while you were counting the number of times something sexually explicit happened. I read the book, I have read many of the books on the most controversial list, sure they have explicit content but they have meaning. Huckleberry Finn is always called racist but is the polar opposite without outright saying it. People miss that when they're counting the time a word it used.

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