Ignorance Wins in Middle School Book Controversy
Ignorance Wins in Middle School Book Controversy
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   06.13.13

On June 10, the Hadley Middle School Board of Education in Glen Ellyn reversed its prior decision to exclude the obscene and sexually graphic The Perks of Being a Wallflower from its independent reading program. This second vote was 6-1 in favor of retaining the book, with the lone wise and courageous opposing vote coming from school board president, Sam Black.

The school board voted to strengthen the parental notification letter that goes out to parents at the beginning of the year by adding a euphemistic caution, warning parents that particular books contain “mature” content. Yes, nothing says “maturity” quite like masturbating with a hot dog, homosexual sodomy between teenagers, and the use of obscene language.

For a parental notification letter to be meaningful, it should avoid vague and euphemistic language like “mature content.” Teachers should include clear and explicit descriptions of the “mature  content.” For example, in the case of Perks the notification should state that the book includes obscene language and depictions (in some cases graphic depictions) of masturbation, homosexual sodomy, heterosexual teen intercourse, incest, rape, and bestiality.

One aspect of the controversy that has received too little press are the actions of teachers who exploited their positions and power in the classroom to promote their views with little regard for how their political activity would affect students. It has been reported that the three teachers who spoke at prior school board meetings in favor of Perks and who expressed their views on the community controversy in class, Tina Booth,  Lynn Bruno, and Ali Tannenbaum, also  wore paraphernalia  with messages about  book banning or “FREADOM” during school activities.

There are far too many political activists/ “agents of change” masquerading as “educators” in American classrooms. They rely on their anonymity and autonomy to use their publicly subsidized positions to try to shape the moral and political views of other people’s children. They do it through curricula, through supplementary resources that are never reviewed by department chairs or curriculum review committees, and through their classroom comments and actions of which parents remain largely unaware. Community members should demand that school boards create policy to stop these abuses of power on the parts of teachers—most of whom hold “progressive” views.

One report on the school board meeting states that The Perks of Being a Wallflower  “will again be allowed for independent reading purposes for eighth graders, as will any other legal book that teachers choose to offer as an option for students.” Community members should ask what criteria teachers use in determining what they “choose to offer as an option for students.” 

Ever in thrall to celebrity, some students asked author Judy Blume to make a statement in opposition to “book banning.” Apparently, Blume’s status as celebrated author makes her an expert on educational philosophy, the use of public resources, the First Amendment, psychology, sociology, and ethics—all of which are relevant to this discussion. (What’s curious is that when IFI writes about a school issue, encouraging taxpayers to contact school board members, the press often describes IFI as an “outside” organization in an apparent attempt to delegitimize our efforts. I have yet to see any articles in which Florida-based author Blume is described as an “outsider.”)

These students  also wrote to Hollywood  actor and activist Anne Hathaway who promotes the normalization of homosexuality because her brother is homosexual; Chris Colfer, homosexual actor on dissolute teen television show Glee; and Logan Lerman one of the stars of The Perks of Being a Wallflower film. Perhaps they chose Hathaway and Colfer because these Hadley students understand that one of the goals of Perks is to normalize homosexuality.

The school board believes that as long as parents have the right to decide whether their child reads Perks, it’s legitimate to spend public funds to purchase and include it in the independent reading curriculum. This “solution” to the controversy ignores three critical questions:

  • Should public resources be spent on highly controversial books with language so obscene and sexual content so graphic and in some cases perverse that they couldn’t be read over the PA system or printed in newspapers? 
  • Is it the position of those teachers who support the acquisition and use of Perks that they never take into account the nature and extent of obscene language or sexual content when considering the purchase or use of books for school? If they do make the claim that they never take into account the nature and extent of obscene language or sexual content when selecting texts for purchase or use, they’re either lying or our schools have even bigger problems than it appears. If they say they do take into account obscene language and sexual content when making literary decisions, then they should be asked if they, therefore, engage in book-banning. 
  • Some defend the purchase and use of Perks in public schools because students are already familiar with the controversial content. This is another way of saying that curricula should reflect culture. If that is the educational philosophy of Hadley, what happens as culture continues to degenerate? Are there any objective standards regarding obscene language and sexual content that should be included in text-selection criteria? 

Conservatives need to be as tenacious in pursuing sound school policy as “progressives” are in undermining it. It should be unthinkable that any public school would have this book in its library or that any teacher would permit students to choose it for a class project. We have allowed the culture to desensitize us to vulgarity and perversion. We have allowed the ridicule of the “cool” people to silence us. And we have allowed the rationalization that minor concessions to an obscene culture and Leftist teachers are unimportant.

When in doubt about the wisdom, reasonableness, or truth of your position on a controversial issue, look to see who is on the other side. You should feel reassured that you’re on the right side when you see that most Hollywood actors and Neuqua Valley High School math teacher Hemant Mehta* (aka “The Friendly Atheist”) are on the other side.

*Click here and here to learn more about Neuqua Valley math teacher Hemant Mehta who has written on the Hadley controversy and oh so much more.


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Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins became the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Analyst in the fall of 2008. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High School’s...
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