By David Anderson
Recent articles posted here in this publication provided links to national headlines concerning a furor over the explicitly sexual nature of two books that are suggested reading for 11th graders in all 295 school districts in Washington as well as 44 other states, three territories and the District of Columbia all of which have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) – “a set of consistent state standards for proficiency in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12.”
Concern has been expressed by leaders within the Clover Park School District (CPSD) that readers here may have been misled into believing that these books were “required” reading which they are not.
Nor was that ever alleged.
“The Bluest Eye” and “Dreaming in Cuban” are suggested texts, as has always been maintained.
What should concern everyone – readers of this publication, citizens, parents, teachers, school administrators, etc. not only here locally, but also state-wide and nationally – is why these two books are suggested reading for 11th graders at all.
How is it that descriptions of “pedophilia, incest and graphic sex” and exposing “impressionable teenagers to illicit sex, sensual descriptions of nakedness and foreplay, violence toward women, anal sex, and total disrespect for the individual and raunchy language” – as revealed in excerpts from these two texts – can find their way into the Common Core Standards in the first place?
“The Bluest Eye” and “Dreaming in Cuban” are among books to be found in Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards where the section on “publisher’s criteria” introduces them as examples “of high-quality literary” works. As if for emphasis this commendation is repeated: “The quality of the suggested texts is high — they are worth reading closely and exhibit exceptional craft and thought or provide useful information.”
Protestations of the Clover Park School District to the contrary, there is no good-better-best evaluation in Appendix B of the books that are suggested reading. There are no grade equivalents, there are no value judgments made, nor are the suggested texts placed in low, medium and high categories as if to recommend one over against another.
And, most bothersome of all, there are no disclaimers.
And yet most invariably the national headlines that have virally excoriated the offending and controversial excerpted passages from these two books on Common Core’s Standard List for suggested reading by 11th graders in public schools across America have a similar disclaimer preceding what is about to be read warning of “mature content that may be offensive to some readers.”
One reviewing website went so far, given the adult content, as to require verification that the reader was over the age over 18 in order to peruse the offending passages.
Not so Common Core Standards that is suggesting these books to 16-17 year olds.
Common Care does not provide a disclaimer; does not mention anything related to the sexually explicit material that the books do in fact contain; does not provide a minimal rationale that addresses potential problems with the work as recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) thus enabling parents to proactively – not retroactively – respond; and consequently does not suggest that aninformed parental consent be considered prior to usage of the potentially offensive language to be found in the books that Common Core Standards are offering children – and 16-17 year olds are children – to read.
Common Core should have acknowledged – but did not; and should have provided, but did not – specific, clearly documented, and potentially objectionable material.
“At an absolute minimum there should be a clear, upfront, informed disclosure.”
But there was not.
And the fact that there were none of these disclaimer-related caveats is at best questionable, at worst deceitful.
And it is this – this lack of transparency on the part of those responsible for Common Core Standards – that should have every single school board member and administrator, locally and nationally, and parents, up in arms.
Why should a citizen, who has brought these concerns to the attention of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), be left himself to challenge the leadership of every school district in this state – all 295 of them for whom contacts were given him by OSPI – with their responsibility, when far more powerfully as representative of their respective communities, each school district individually and collectively should by virtue of the combined weight of their positions chastise Common Core for allowing vulgar obscenities to pass for “high quality literature”?
Whereas the State Superintendent of Schools in Arizona removed both the books which have come to his attention (“Dreaming in Cuban” and “The Bluest Eye”), the school districts in our state of Washington are left to fend for themselves.
So have at it.
Simply because an individual school district opts not to purchase these suggested books for required reading – if they are even aware of the offending and controversial nature which few if any book reviews provide – does not absolve them from a greater responsibility to fellow educators elsewhere, let alone students and parents in their own district by taking a proactive board position in support of virtue, respect, decency, transparency, etc. and thus declaring and committing themselves to a most-honorable position that upholds the highest in educational standards.
“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough,” is a proverb that here relates.
“Un-chastity, if once tolerated especially amid so licentious a population, would be but too likely to impregnate balefully the sentiment of the whole community.”
Since, after all, “the Standards are intended to be a living work: as new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly” as states Common Core, then: school districts and parents, let your voice be heard.