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Westfield Parent Asks for Return to 'High Standards and Common Decency in Schools' in Letter

Resident discusses 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie as required reading for Westfield High School freshmen.

Some of you may be aware of a controversial book that has parents concerned in Westfield. This book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie can be found on our intermediate school library shelves and has become required reading for our freshmen high school students.

I am writing today not to stir the pot or finger point, nor to request a banning of this book, rather I would like to address what I feel is an even greater concern that we are facing today as parents and educators.

Most people would agree that our country’s film and music industry often, shall we say, “lacks etiquette.” It is not surprising that young adult fiction has rapidly followed suit. What is surprising is that many of our schools have succumbed to the influence by throwing their high standards to the wind and adopting these unsuitable works into their curricula. While it is apparent that the naïve and simple adolescent world of 'Nancy Drew' and 'The Hardy Boys' is virtually extinct, what has not been quite as evident is how far young adult fiction has descended from that world and has begun to infiltrate our schools.

These days if a novel happens to slip under a parent’s radar it could be a costly price for their child to pay, as the contents of many of these young adult novels deemed educational would distress any principled adult. It seems that the infliction of impropriety through the media has created an
overall deadening of the senses and has given way to the adaptation of an "anything goes" philosophy in many of our schools.

This new philosophy embraces the idea that an entertaining story that ends with a good message cancels out the fact that the young reader will be dragged through continuous perversities to arrive at that message. Any savvy parent or teacher should be able to recognize the futility of this objective. After all, we are dealing with kids who are not yet mature and tend to focus on the gross expletives and emulate them in writing. What you put into a child’s mind, he or she will gladly give back to you, as most children seek to please their parents and educators. This may seem like common sense but it is not a commonly shared philosophy in schools today.

On the contrary, schools are requiring that young children read these new age, graphic narratives filled with expletives. It is evident that they have not considered the potential devastation it will have over time on our children’s overall quality of learning, that is, if it hasn’t already. These books are replacing what could have been other great literary works of higher educational merit. Moreover, requiring children to read this style of writing within the walls of a school only validates the vulgarity they are constantly exposed to in the media, and gives credibility to the use of these expressions amongst their peers. This is precisely what parents are trying to counter on a daily basis, only to find that the schools are now working against them.

Furthermore, a story with a positive ending does not necessarily make for effective educative material, especially when minors are the recipients. For example, simply because a porn star is reformed doesn’t mean we should have children read the sordid details on his or her way to purity.

Simply because a prison mate has found religion doesn’t mean we should subject a child to reading how he beat his wife senseless on his way to his conversion. And just because a Native American took the initiative to leave a destitute reservation doesn’t mean a child should read about how he “sticks his d**k in trees” on the way out (p. 225 of Alexie’s Diary).

Adults who used to be responsible for the protection of a child’s exposure to indecency and vulgarity have become muddled by the age of insolence, and sadly, have become victims of it themselves. We have all become desensitized to some degree, but many have become so without even knowing it in view of the fact that they can’t see “dirt” even when they are shown.

Technology and the media’s lack of decorum may be largely to blame, but the time has come for parents and teachers to take a step back and seriously consider how far we’ve drifted and the direction we want for our schools. We are all trying to mold competent children of character and conscience, however no one feels more strongly about this than parents, and it behooves teachers to heed their advice, in more ways than one. 

Anna Githens

Westfield resident

Kerin February 26, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Tangerine, FL how about a grammar lesson. I not i. :)
Kerin February 26, 2012 at 07:33 PM
How about everyone realizes that school protocol was broken by not following the steps to add a new book to the required reading list mid year? Why does everyone overlook this very important oversight by all teachers and administrators involved in this discussion? Where is the Supervisor of Language Arts K-12 and teachers involved to explain the steps involved so this situation does not occur again. Was the syllabus for 9th Grade Language Arts updated and redistributed with a permission slip to the parents asking for their approval to introduce the text? Was the Supervisor approach with the idea and spoke to about the pro's and con's? All of this could have been avoided with style and grace.
Kerin February 26, 2012 at 07:39 PM
It would be lovely if all of the students taking the time to respond to this topic participated in class with such enthusiasm!
Michelle Maurer February 28, 2012 at 10:00 PM
I have read through Ms Githens letter a couple of times now. What's with all the attacks?? The poor woman wrote a sincere, well thought out opinion about her concerns as a parent and so many want to crucify her for it. You don't have to agree with her, but all the vitriol aimed her way makes me wonder if just maybe she is right! Michelle
karen egert October 01, 2012 at 11:54 AM
I just found this blog( 9 months later) . I am a liberal democrat and being offended by offensive material that your child reads as part of his English class isn't liberal or conservative-- it is common sense.So please don't generalize about "Democrats" I have very liberal and progressive political views, but do not allow my children to curse-- and I apply the same standards to myself. In fact, if I slip up , I give my kids a dollar if I use a curse word. Call me old fashioned that way-- but to me it is plain and simple -- manners With so much wonderful material to choose from , I think it is irresponsible to pick a book that pushes kids over the edge -- or in this case subjects them to unnecessary violence and sexual images if it is presented in a way that is over the top graphic. I do agree we have to be careful as not to throw that baby out with the bathwater, but as the mother of a high school junior, I appreciate that this mother expressed her views in an articulate and non- judgmental fashion. Now when we start banning books on Evolution like they want to do in some southern states-- then we certainly have problems. I don't let me 20 year old and his girlfriend sleep in the same room when she visits. To me , it is just respect-- and it has NOTHING to do with my political leanings. I agree with Anna Githens and would have said the same under those circumstances. .

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