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Fremont Joint Letter

Fremont Joint Letter

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Published by: ncacensorship on Jun 27, 2012
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06/27/2012

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 Wednesday, June 27, 2012Board of EducationFremont Unified School District4210 Technology DriveFremont, CA 94538Dear Members of the Fremont School Board,It is our understanding that the Board will soon be asked to approvecurricular materials for Advanced Placement English Classes in theFremont Unified School District for the 2012-2013 school year. Asorganizations concerned with the freedom to read, we urge you toapprove Dorothy Allison’s
 Bastard Out Of Carolina
(Plume) for 12
th
 grade AP English. The book was rejected two years ago and has onceagain been recommended by the Supplemental Instructional MaterialsReview committee. The upcoming vote provides an opportunity forthe Board to show its respect for the First Amendment, for theprofessional judgment of it educators, and for the education of its mostgifted and advanced students.
 Bastard Out of Carolina
is a critically-acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman growing up in SouthCarolina in the 1950s and her encounters with physical and sexualabuse. A 1992 National Book Award nominee, the text explores issuesof class, race and the struggles of women during that time. LibraryJournal said the work conveys “a rich sense of family and portrays thepsychology of a sexually abused child with sensitivity and insight.”Reprinted for its twentieth anniversary, the book is now considered amodern literary classic.In terms of content,
 Bastard 
Out of Carolina is not unlike many booksthat the Board has approved for classroom teaching in FUSD.
TheColor Purple
,
 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Waiting
and
WeWere the Mulvaneys
each deals with difficult subjects such as rape andviolence and all are being taught in district English classrooms. Thesebooks, as well as
 Bastard Out of Carolina
, are available for students toaccess independently in school libraries. If students can already readthese books in the library, why shouldn’t they be able to read themwith the informed guidance of a teacher?
 
 2After the board rejected the adoption of 
 Bastard 
in 2010, board members publiclyquestioned the merits of the book, objecting that the characters are not positive rolemodels. If books portraying loathsome characters or unfortunate circumstances are to beeliminated, few works of great literary merit would remain. Gone would be
The Great Gatsby, 1984, Wuthering Heights, Macbeth, King Lear 
and many other classics. As theSupreme Court has observed, attempts “to eliminate everything that is objectionable...willleave public schools in shreds. Nothing but educational confusion and a discrediting of the public school system can result....” McCollum v. Board of Educ. (1948) (Jackson, J.concurring).Confronting difficult themes through literature is part of the educational mission of publicschools in general and the AP program in particular. Indeed, the school district would putits students at a distinct educational disadvantage in college if it failed to prepare them toaddress literature of this sort. This concern is not insignificant, considering the fact thatvirtually all the students in AP English classes are college-bound, and many will attendhighly competitive and demanding schools with students who have read works like
 Bastard Out of Carolina
.Rejecting a book because some object to, or disapprove of, its content violates basicconstitutional principles. Government officials, including public school administrators,may not prohibit “the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson (1989); see also Board of Education, IslandTrees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico (1982) (“local school boards may notremove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained inthose books …”).The task of selecting curricular materials properly belongs to professional educators whoare charged with making pedagogically sound decisions. Those decisions are rarelyoverturned on First Amendment grounds when schools
include
material that haseducational value, even if it is controversial, whereas rejection of controversial materialmay make a school district vulnerable to legal challenge. See Monteiro v. Tempe UnionHigh School District (9th Cir. 1998) (recognizing the First Amendment right of studentsto read books selected for their “legitimate educational value”), Parker v. Hurley (1st Cir.2008) (rejecting effort to remove books that offend parents’ and students’ religiousbeliefs), Pratt v. Independent School Dist. No. 831 (8th Cir. 1982) (First Amendmentviolated when films removed because of hostility to content and message), and Case v.Unified School Dist. No. 233 (D. Kan. 1995) (First Amendment violated by removing abook from school library based on hostility to its ideas.)In May 2011 we wrote to oppose the board’s rejection of Tony Kushner’s award-winningplay
 Angels in America
. Both
 Angels
and
 Bastard 
were rejected by the board against therecommendation of the district’s Instructional Materials Review Committee. The authorsof these two works are both well-known and outspoken about their own sexualorientations, and Kushner’s work explicitly addresses the experiences of gay men dealingwith HIV/AIDS. Since other works with similarly mature subject matter are being taughtin the district, removing these two works raises the question whether they have beenexcluded because of hostility to works by and about gays or lesbians.
 
 3We hope that you will follow the guidance of the district Materials Review Committeeand approve adoption of the recommended 12th grade AP English curriculum. You mayalso want to consult theNational Council of Teachers of English’s Guidelines forSelection of Materials in English Language Arts Programsfor further guidance regardingsecondary textbook adoption procedures.Literature helps prepare students for the future by providing opportunities to exploredifficult issues they, or someone they know, may encounter in life. Individual freedom,democracy, and a good education all depend upon protecting the right to read, inquire,question and think for ourselves.If we can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.Sincerely,
Joan BertinExecutive DirectorNational Coalition Against Censorship19 Fulton Street, Suite 407New York, NY 10038(212) 807-6222 ext. 101Bertin@ncac.org Judith PlattDirector, Free Expression AdvocacyAssociation of American PublishersKent WilliamsonExecutive DirectorNational Council of Teachers of EnglishChris FinanPresidentAmerican Booksellers Foundation for FreeExpression19 Fulton Street, Suite 407New York, NY 10038(212) 587-4025 ext. 4chris@abffe.org Florrie KichlerPresidentThe Independent Book Publishers AssociationCharles BrownsteinExecutive DirectorComic Book Legal Defense Fund

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