Texas High School Requires Parental Permission For Students Reading Classic Literature

Eric Owens | Editor

A highly regarded school district in the Dallas area has been requiring students to obtain parental consent before they are allowed to read undisputed classic works of literature.

Earlier this month, teachers in the Highland Park Independent School District sent home permission slips for high school juniors in Advanced Placement English courses, The Dallas Morning News reports.

The 16-year-old and 17-year-old college-bound students needed permission to read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain — the quintessential American novel (for the first two-thirds) — as well as “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway.

All three books are unquestionably great.

The Guardian ranks “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as the No. 31 best novel ever written. The British paper rates “The Scarlet Letter” No. 20. The New York Times grades “A Farewell to Arms” as the 74th-best novel of the 20th century.

Each book has its adult themes — as great novels often do. “Huckleberry Finn” deals frankly with slavery and uses the n-word a couple hundred times, for example. “The Scarlet Letter” involves adultery and layers of hypocrisy. “A Farewell to Arms” is a tear-jerking, hopelessly depressing story of love, war and tragic death.

The issue, apparently, is that teachers are worried about a small group of parents who may become offended because, while they want their teenage children prepared for the rigors of college, they don’t want the teens reading bad words or reading about sex, rape or abuse.

A group of parents complained about certain books in September, according to Dallas area ABC affiliate WFAA.

It’s not clear exactly which titles the parents complained about.

At a meeting in early November, Highland Park High principal Walter Kelly said the point of the permission slips is to assess how many parents want to “opt out” of certain books for their nearly-adult kids.

In an October email, Kelly instructed English teachers to get parental permission for book-reading for any text if a parent in the district has ever complained about, or if it has landed on the American Library Association’s list of Frequently Challenged Books in the last decade or if the school district’s literary selection committee has flagged the title as potentially problematic.

The slew of books on the American Library Association’s last-decade list includes, just for example, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and the entire Harry Potter series.

Since Kelly sent his email, Highland school district superintendent Dawson Orr has indicated that English teachers don’t need to get explicit permission before high school juniors can read “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Scarlet Letter” or “A Farewell to Arms.”

“It’s great that [the teachers] chose to be that cautious, but I really don’t believe that they’d want a system that would really require them to have permission for The Scarlet Letter,” Orr told the Morning News. “That’s not a system that they want. It’s not one that we want for them.”

There are, however, six novels which parents must sign slips about before their children in Highland Park schools can read.

The six books are: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler.

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