A school district in the Dallas metropolitan area is taking flak after removing seven different books from the district’s reading list, from which assigned readings in the district are drawn.
The timing is inauspicious, as this week is Banned Books Week, an annual event where libraries and educators around the country highlight texts that have proven controversial.
The Highland Park Independent School District, which covers a wealthy Dallas suburb, placed the books under review following complaints by many parents in the district.
Pending the review’s completion, the books will remain in school libraries but cannot be used as classroom material. That will affect students in at least one of the district’s high school English classes, as they had just begun reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein and will now be forced to stop. Two additional books were scheduled to be taught in the coming spring.
In addition to Stein’s book, the other affected titles are “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison (President Obama’s favorite book), “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse, “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, and “The Working Poor: Invisible in America” by David Shipler.
Highland Park superintendent Dawson Orr said the decision to formally remove the titles from the classroom and recommended reading list was done following “hundreds of emails” from parents, and was a response to a coordinated effort rather than a knee-jerk reaction to a independent complaints.
Ironically, Jeannette Walls is scheduled to appear at the Highland Park Literary Festival next February. Walls told the Dallas Morning News she was deeply distressed that her book, a memoir of growing up in poverty with an alcoholic father, was removed from the reading list.
“My book has ugly elements to it, but it’s about hope and resilience, and I don’t know why that wouldn’t be an important message,” Walls said. She added that she had been approached by readers who said reading the book led them to report abusive relationships that existed in their own lives.
The primary objections from parents were over sexual content in the books. Several of the books have sex scenes of some kind, while “The Working Poor” contains an account of a young girl being raped as a grade-schooler and later getting an abortion in high school. Sex wasn’t the only factor in play, however. At a school board meeting that preceded the decision, one parent read a passage from one of the books that was described as “critical of capitalism.”
Some parents in the district are already organizing to try and have the bans revoked. One such parent, Laurie Steinberg, told the Morning News that she has organized about 40 parents to launch an email campaign protesting books’ suppression. Challenging content, she said, is essential for preparing students for college and beyond.
“These books could have the potential to make some people uncomfortable, but…our children need to be exposed to different ideas and ways of life for others. We”re doing a disservice to our students if we don’t broaden their minds and let them know more about the outside world,” said Steinberg.
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