Controversial Books vs High School Classrooms

Yesterday, I came across a story concerning a New Hampshire high school where honors students were assigned to read Jodi Picoult’s novel 19 Minutes. The book is centered around a school shooting, and also includes a graphic sex scene. When the school failed  to send home a notice informing parents about the controversial book before it was assigned to be read, which is school policy, many parents became outraged and questioned why a book with such a graphic scene was being taught to their children. Local news station WMUR reported that one parent was even arrested at a school board meeting discussing the book on Monday night for disorderly conduct when a police officer had to repeatedly tell the parent to leave and escort him out of the room.

The topic of controversial books is an ongoing battle in school systems across the nation. Banned books have been an issue in American schools since 1885 when Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned in a Massachusetts school, according to the Banned Books Week Website. The American Library Association also has a detailed timeline where you can read more about the progression of banned books in the U.S. over the past thirty years. 

What concerns me more than this one parent’s behavior is the idea that students should be so sheltered from books that discuss real life topics and give them a safe environment to discuss them in. While I agree that the school made a mistake in not notifying parents of the book before it was handed out to students, I do believe the book should still be used in the class. If a parent doesn’t want their child to study the book, that is their choice. However, with all the sexual content on TV shows, in films, on social media and nearly every other facet of our culture, it is unlikely that these students haven’t been exposed to some sort of questionable sexual content before reading this book. Education should not be aimed at simply helping students land the perfect job or become proficient at taking test, but rather, a well rounded education should teach students about the world around them and give them a safe environment to explore their ideas and raise questions about things that they encounter, both in real life and in fictional form.

As this is written, there has been no final decision on what the school will do about this reading assignment.

What would you do if your child was assigned a book with questionable content without your knowledge? Do you feel the parents are right to question what is taught to their children, or is the school allowed to set it’s curriculum without the consent of the parents?

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