Parents want book out of classroom
A handful of angry parents, incensed about the adult content of a novel being read by South Tahoe High School sophomores, attended this week’s board of education meeting in hopes of removing “The Power of One” from the curriculum.
Paula Jiru, a parent of a sophomore, started the outcry in August with a letter to the Lake Tahoe Unified School District objecting to the profanity, sexual references and violence laced throughout the softcover book’s 518 pages.
The book is being read by sophomores in honors English class.
“I don’t think any child of this age group should be discussing such violent and trashy situations, especially in an English class,” Jiru wrote in her letter. “By letting them think it is OK to read these types of books at this young age, we are actually lowering the bar on what we are saying is right and wrong and helping to cause the erosion and decline of moral behaviors.”
The book, written by Australian Bryce Courtenay, details the events of a boy born in South Africa who has an English background and whose development into an adult in the 1930s and 40s is in a land divided by racism and hatred. Peekay, the main character, ends up unifying African tribes and boxes with his enemy at the end.
After receiving Jiru’s letter, Barbara Davis, the assistant superintendent for the district, assembled a Challenge Committee consisting of teachers, parents and students to review the content and reasons why the book was being taught to 15- and 16-year-olds.
In the end, Davis felt the book didn’t warrant removal. Davis said the book has not received a complaint in the more than five years it has been on the summer reading list. Likewise, Davis said she has not received a complaint on a book in the six years she has been in the district.
The emphasis is on world history, world literature and cultural understanding, Davis said at the Tuesday night board meeting.
“Students who commented said they didn’t focus on violence, but on the coming-of-age” theme in the book, Davis said.
Jiru, who is off work while caring for twin boys, read the book in July before it was read by her 15-year-old daughter.
“I wasn’t crazy about it,” Jiru said. “I read one part, went to bed, woke up at 3 a.m. and decided this is not appropriate for kids to be reading.”
Jiru then questioned other parents and found she wasn’t alone in her concerns. Other parents were upset about the novel but Jiru is the only parent who didn’t allow her child to read the book. As an alternative, teachers provided a World War II romance novel called “Rumors of Peace.”
Richard Jiru, Paula’s husband, was equally upset their daughter has to be isolated from her classroom while she studies the alternate book.
“What’s the value of reading a book when there is no one else to discuss it with?” he asked. “She’s got to feel a little separated from the class.”
Colleen and Joe Winters allowed their 16-year-old daughter to read the book. The parents discussed the book’s theme and content with their daughter, who didn’t enjoy it.
“Why would we give them a book that would truly be rated R if it was word-for-word put on the screen?” Colleen Winters asked. “It’s a real struggle. They say they want parents to be involved but they don’t want our involvement.”
Students in honors English classes exhibit enough maturity and intelligence to read such books, said STHS English teacher Janna Gard.
“If there is no conflict, there is no story and it is the resolution of conflict that makes the story worth reading,” Gard said. “When you choose literature that is carefully chosen not to bother anything, it invokes no discussion or learning.”
For sophomore honors English, 800 pages must be read every quarter. Books are selected from a list for literary techniques, historical perspectives and symbolism. “The Power of One” was chosen because of the easiness to find the main themes which include loneliness, self-actualization, death and independence, said English teacher Gean Ann Conlon.
Conlon said she receives assignments from students that don’t target violence or sexual references.
“So far, nobody picked violence, because violence is not a motif — racism is,” Conlon said.
Lennie Schwartz, school board president, used the “c” word that angered the parents in attendance.
“Censorship is a very tough thing and as a body I think it’s tough to censor a book,” Schwartz said. “I don’t think as an elected body we should be going down that road.”
The parents said they were not out to censor a book, but to raise awareness of the book and possibly take it off the assigned reading list.
Richard Jiru felt he was wrongly labeled and was bothered he couldn’t rebuke Schwartz’s statement.
“I’m not saying the book shouldn’t be sold in the store,” Richard Jiru said. “I don’t think it should be used as a teaching tool. I don’t think that’s censorship. They put a label on me that I don’t think I deserved. I just hope we planted some seeds in their head.”
The board said on Tuesday night that it did not plan to take further action.
— Contact William Ferchland at email@example.com
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