Challenging Books

Education Week recently had an article about challenged books (subscription only).  I have never had any problems with parents disagreeing with reading selections I ask their child to read.  One thing that seems clear to me after reading the article is that it might not be a bad idea for our department to come up with a procedure for challenging books, just in case a parent ever does have objections.  I have to say that my experience of parents of my students at Weber is that they are well-educated, thoughtful, and want their children to be exposed to divergent thinking.  They are open-minded and intelligent.  I could be mistaken, and someone will surely correct this notion if I am, but it seems to be common in Jewish culture to test, to question, to learn, to expose one’s self to other viewpoints.  Thus, I have not found that they concern themselves with challenging book choices; rather, they seem to embrace our curriculum, as they embrace their children’s intellectual freedom.  At least, that is how it seems to me.

The article recounts an incident involving a school library and a concerned parent in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The parent apparently objected to a large number of books, most of which were not described in the article.  The book she seems to be most upset about is It’s Perfectly Natural by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley.  The article seems to imply that the parent, Laurie Taylor, only wanted to prevent her own children from being able to check out the book, as well as the other books on her list; however, a quick glance at Laurie Taylor’s website tells another story — what she really wanted was to remove the books.

I have always felt that it is the parent’s prerogative to decide whether or not their children should read certain books.  My mother often read books she had concerns about, but I can only remember her telling me once that she didn’t want me to read something, and to be fair, it was a romance novel that was too old for me at the time I wanted to read it.  On the other hand, I am vehemently opposed to removing books from a library because one or even the majority of parents feel the books are not appropriate for their own children.  If this is the case, they have every right to ask that the library put some sort of block on the child’s library card.  I do not think this is an unreasonable request at all.  They do not have the right to tell other parents that certain books are not appropriate for the children of those other parents.

We all have different levels of tolerance for what we consider appropriate.  I think Taylor’s labelling of the books as “pornography” is taking things too far, and she was apparently unhappy enough with the school system’s ultimate decision to remove her children from the school system and enroll them in a private Christian school.  In the end, Fayetteville schools determined they needed a procedure in place for parents to challenge material:

Parents must first read the entire book, discuss it with a teacher or librarian, and outline their concerns in a written “request for reconsideration.” If the principal cannot resolve the parent’s concerns, the complaint works its way through the district administration, and could eventually be turned over to a review committee selected by the superintendent.

I think this is fair.  One of the biggest problems I have with many parents who challenge books is that they haven’t read them, except for, of course, passages with which they have some objection.  A perfect example is a local case involving Gwinnett County Public Schools and Laura Mallory, who wanted the Harry Potter books removed from GCPS libraries.  The district decided against Mallory, who is appealing to the Georgia Department of Education.  Mallory has not read the books herself; in her defense against the charge of wanting to ban something she doesn’t really even know much about, Mallory contended:

They’re [the Harry Potter books] really very long and I have four kids. I’ve put a lot of work into what I’ve studied and read. I think it would be hypocritical for me to read all the books, honestly. I don’t agree with what’s in them. I don’t have to read an entire pornographic magazine to know it’s obscene.

I’m not sure what I can add to that, except to say she has proven my point.

The State of Georgia will hear Mallory’s appeal on Tuesday, October 3.

GISA Confusion

As I have previously mentioned, I am presenting a session on using blogs and wikis in the classroom at the GISA conference this fall.  I was reading through the descriptions of the afternoon sessions (mine is a morning session) so I could decide what to take, and I was more than a little dismayed to discover someone else is doing pretty much exactly the same session as I am doing in the afternoon.  I am not upset at the other presenter at all.  In fact, I think it’s great that so many teachers are using blogs and wikis and want to show other teachers how.  I do, however, think it is redundant to have two sessions on the same topic, even if they’re at different times.  I think it may take participants away from both of us.  I wonder how it is that GISA managed to make this mistake.  If the other teacher’s proposal arrived before mine, they should have told me they already had a session on that topic, thank you very much, or vice versa.

Well, here’s hoping we will both still have success.

Wiki Update

I mentioned some time ago that my 9th graders were going to create hypertext writing assignments based on The Bean Trees. They have revised and edited essays about an important place. You can read their work if you visit our Bean Trees Wiki and click on their pages. You will find they have chosen four quotes that illustrate place, characters, metaphor/theme, and the essence of the novel. If you click their links to place, you can read their descriptions. If you would like to leave comments on their work, you can address them to the students here. For security reasons, I prefer not to have our password available to folks outside our school community. I will share any comments you make with the students.

By the way, my five-year-old daughter Maggie is blogging.  Check her out!

My Classroom

I took some pictures of my classroom in our new building.

This is the view outside my window:

Outside View

As you can see, we still have some construction going on.  You can see a piece of the baseball field.  The building is our gym, which is still under construction.  It doesn’t look as pretty through my camera as it does when I look out, but I have pretty view of the hills and trees.

This is my desk:

My Desk

I was lesson planning.  Ms. George, can you see my Jim Burke Teacher’s Daybook under the curriculum unit book?

This is the view toward the front of the room from my desk.  You can see my projection screen, which is pulled down over my SMART Board.

Front of Room

This last picture is a view of the back of the room, including my then-empty bulletin board, student desks, and book shelves.  This was is kind of blurry.

Back of Room

Isn’t everything shiny?

In the Swing

First of all, I want to thank the folks who link to me in spite of the fact that I don’t update as much as I’d like.  I did what some might consider a foolish thing and compartmentalized several of my interests across four different blogs, and the end result is no single one of them gets updated enough.

That said, We have been back at school for a week now, and I’m getting in the the swing of things again.  I love the new building we have.  It is the realization of a dream and a lot of hard work that others did, but I am glad to reap some of the benefit.  On Friday, contractors set up my projector, so now I always have a way to show what’s on the computer.  I just need to figure out how to use the SMART Board I asked for and we’re set.

I really like my classes this year, and on Monday I have to remember to thank my principal for her infinite wisdom in seeing that I needed to teach more 9th grade than 10th grade this year.  Not that there is anything wrong with the 10th graders, but I’m enjoying my 9th graders so much that I’m happy to be their teacher.  They’ll get all embarrassed if they find this post, but I just want to pinch their little cheeks.  And that is not to say I am not enjoying the seniors and sophomores that I am teaching this year, because I am.

We had Field Day on Friday, and I was on the Light Blue Team.  I did some things I shouldn’t have done, considering the shape I’m in, with the end result that I have been sore for two days, but I had a great deal of fun, and we WON!  Wooo!  Go Light Blue!  I would like to say that my successful shaving of a balloon clinched it, but really congratulations should go to my teammates who bravely won the pie-eating contest.  If someone has pictures, I’ll be sure to post.

Well, I have to get some things done for tomorrow.  Be sure to visit my personal blog, Much Madness is Divinest Sense tomorrow.  As a blogger for 2,996, my tribute to Eric Andrew Lehrfeld who perished at the World Trade Center on 9/11 will appear at 8:46 A.M.  I will post a reminder tomorrow.

Watch the Wiki

I wanted to invite my e-colleagues to watch my classroom wiki over the next couple of weeks as I implement this ReadWriteThink lesson plan in conjunction with a study of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees.  The page to watch is the Bean Trees wiki.  The students seemed excited about it, and I know that I am.

Moving In

The Atlanta Jewish Times has a nice article about my school’s new building and campus.  It’s hard to describe my excitement when I entered the building this morning.  The last time I toured the school, it was decidedly unfinished, and I think I halfway wondered how on earth it would be transformed into a school by our September 5 start date.  I grew more anxious as pre-planning started and we were unable to get into the building to work on our classrooms.  Of course, our administration apologized profusely, and I realize it wasn’t their fault.  We finally got in, and yes, in order to be ready for school on Tuesday, that means I’ll be working over my Labor Day weekend, but considering I was at home for much of pre-planning, I can’t complain.

Our campus is gorgeous.  If you click the link to article, you can view pictures of the building.  Everything is new.  I received a brand new teacher’s desk and chair, two file cabinets, two shelves, 22 new student desks and chairs and…. cue drumroll… a SMART Board!  I am beyond excited about having this wonderful technological tool for my classroom.

I am on the third floor, and clearly the stairs will take some getting used to.  There are still some tell-tales signs that construction continues.  However, when I saw that all of the furniture from our old campus fit in one tiny section of our basement, I realized how much more space we would have.  Our old campus was composed entirely of modular units, and one could walk across the campus in about a minute.  I actually got lost in our new building today.

We have a beautiful faculty dining room.  Previously, we tried to squeeze around one table in the faculty workroom in order to eat together, but now, we will all fit, and there shouldn’t be any scrambling for chairs.  The students also have a beautiful cafeteria with kosher kitchen.  The new media center is absolutely gorgeous.  Our Learning Lab has real study carrels.  We used to cram into a closet-sized room for Learning Lab.

We all have our OWN classrooms.  For the last two years, I have shared a classroom with a wonderful friend and teacher, and part of me will miss having so much interaction with her.  However, our floating teachers were most grateful for their own rooms, and I know having my own space will be nice.

This morning at our faculty meeting, we celebrated as our headmaster arrived, dressed in a tux (as was our Judaics head) and playing his accordian, and some of the braver teachers (not me) actually got up and participated in Israeli dancing through the media center.  It was so much fun to be a part of.  I felt kind of silly just sitting there, beaming (and clapping along with the accordian), but we were all so excited and happy.  I really enjoyed sharing that moment with my colleagues.

What is really going to be cool is when the students come on Tuesday and get their first look at their newly completed school.  I wouldn’t have missed today for the world, and I can’t wait to see what the students think on Tuesday.  I wish you all could have seen it.  It was just amazing.

P.S. Check out the award-winning video our students created.  That’s my principal in the green sweater.