Committee to consider book ban to hold second meeting Wednesday

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PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks, foreground, welcomes the members of the Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee, from left, student members Jefry Gonzalez and Lydia Olinzak, community members Misty Von Behren and J. P. Hulgan, Perry Elementary School Associate Principal Morgan Rinker, community member Linda Kaufman and teacher librarian Mari Butler, to the first meeting. The eighth committee member, sixth grade reading teacher Amanda McDivitt, was absent.

The second meeting of the Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee, formed Sept. 7 in order to consider a complaint lodged against a book used in sophomore English classes at Perry High School, will be held Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 4:15 p.m. in the Brady Library at Perry High School.

The eight-member committee held its first meeting last week and elected a chairperson in Linda Kaufman, one of the three community members appointed by the Perry School Board. Kaufman taught English for many years at Perry High School before retirement.

The committee also used its first meeting to review the school district policies governing the reconsideration of instructional materials. The book up for reconsideration is “The Hate U Give,” a 2017 young adult novel by Angie Thomas. It was inspired by the 2009 death of Oscar Grant, 22, who was shot and killed by an Oakland transit police office who was later convicted of manslaughter.

According to Wikipedia, “The Hate U Give” is “narrated by Starr Carter, a 16-year-old African-American girl from a poor neighborhood who attends an elite private school in a predominantly white, affluent part of the city. Starr becomes entangled in a national news story after she witnesses a white police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend, Khalil. She speaks up about the shooting in increasingly public ways, and social tensions culminate in a riot after a grand jury decides not to indict the police officer for the shooting.”

The reconsideration committee also drew up an agenda for this week’s meeting. The committee plans to:

  • Discuss “reputable reviews and awards” of the book.
  • Hear from the complainant.
  • Hear from a representative of the Perry Police Department, invited by the complainant.
  • Hear from PHS English teachers, who will explain the lesson plan that includes the book.

Each item on the agenda will be followed by an opportunity for questions and comments from the committee.

According to the reconsideration request form, the complainant was asked, “To what in the item do you object?” and the complainant replied:

The main issue is the theme of the fictional book. Difficult to cite a theme but over 80 times the word “fuck” is used, such as “Fuck that cop, bruh” and “Flip that mothafucka!” against police as a riot ensues; Chapter 23 (Pages 388-402) is a good example of the negative theme of police and generalizing people on race. Story normalizes teen drug use, sex, racial slurs and rioting throughout. Fictional book is politically divisive at the moment and if this book is to be included in curriculum, then the alternative view should be presented with realistic aspects of the police. Only way to enable critical thinking is to present both sides of an issue, otherwise it’s a form of indoctrination. We object to using this book in a lit circle without a book with an opposing theme or at least an accurate portrayal of police officers risking their lives to protect the public.

The form also asked the complainant, “What harmful effects upon students might result from the use of this material?” The complainant replied:

Assuming police are systemically racist. Harmful to teach students to generalize people based on their skin color rather than their character. Many negative generalizations about both black and white people. Pushes a narrative that cops are specifically targeting to intentionally harm black people. When the media sensationalizes police brutality, it endangers the lives of police officers. Dangerous to put officers’ lives more on the line by perpetuating the lie that police want to hurt people, instead of protect the public.

The complaints appear to be common. “The Hate U Give” was number five on the American Library Association’s list of the top 10 most challenged books in 2021. The book was “banned and challenged for profanity, violence and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda.”

In an interview this week in Entertainment Weekly, Thomas, the author of “The Hate U Give,” addressed some of these issues:

“When you say ‘Black Lives Matter’ to three different people, you get 30 different reactions,” Thomas says. “There are so many misunderstandings. There’s the assumption that it’s an antipolice book, when the fact is it’s anti-police brutality.” She continues, in regard to the language: “There are books with way more curse words in them, for one. And two, there are 89 F-bombs in ‘The Hate U Give,’ but there were 800 people killed by police officers last year alone.” As to whether parents should feel concerned with teens encountering the book’s material? Thomas believes it’s too important to ignore, and reminds that the book is written for and targeted to an adolescent audience. “We have to have discussions about police brutality…. Honestly, there is a fear among some parents — I’ll just say it: white parents — who say, ‘I’m not sure my child is ready for this,’” Thomas explains. “The fact is, black parents are (needing) to have these conversations with their 9- and 10-year-olds about the subject matter in this book. I need white children to be aware of that.”

It is worth noting that the text of “The Hate U Give” contains 111,750 words. If the F-bomb is dropped 89 times, then it occurs once in every 1,256 words, which appears to be significantly less frequent than the word’s occurrence in evidence placed before the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

PHS Principal Dan Marburger said “The Hate U Give” is used in sophomore English classes in order to teach about theme in literature, and the book has proven effective in sparking interest in students who otherwise do not participate in class.

“Kids get fully engaged in that topic,” Marburger said. “Everybody seems to have an opinion. I think we’re presenting all sides of everything. We have to trust each other that we are teaching these kids how to think for themselves.”

At the end of the process, the Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee will make a final written recommendation. They can recommend one of three courses:

  1. Take no action.
  2. “Remove the challenged material from the total school environment.”
  3. Limit the educational use of the challenged material.

According to school board policy, “The sole criterion for the final recommendation is the appropriateness of the material for its intended educational use.”

The written final recommendation and its justification will be communicated to the Perry School Board, the complainant and the “appropriate attendance centers.”

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