'The Diary of Anne Frank' and parental book complaints
Culpeper County public school officials reacted quickly to negative publicity they received last week for a decision to remove from the eighth grade curriculum a version of Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s diary.
In a statement, schools officials said that they would continue teaching the definitive version of “The Diary of a Young Girl,” which contains some sexually explicit passages that drew a complaint from a parent.
I wrote about the complaint last week, quoting a local newspaper as saying that the books had been removed from the schools. Rather, a decision was made to stop teaching it in the eighth grade curriculum, though the books were not physically taken from the buildings. The decision was made without going through a process intended to be followed when curriculum is challenged.
The definitive version was published on the 50th anniversary of Frank’s death of typhus in a concentration camp and includes passages previously excluded from the widely read original edition published in 1947.
The diary describes the daily life of a Jewish girl who lived in hiding with her family in Amsterdam during World War II. Some passages in the newer version detail Frank’s emerging sexual desires.
According to the Star Exponent newspaper, the school system statement says that officials will convene a committee this spring to review the book and determine which version should be taught next fall.
The school system’s superintendent has now ordered the creation of a reading list in middle and high school English courses that ensures “students are exposed to a wide range of literature and also enable parents to review the list at the beginning of the course.” That way, parents can seek an alternative for their child if they deem fit.
The idea that a committee has to get together to decide whether the book is acceptable to eighth graders in Culpeper County is unsettling. The diary is the best known piece of Holocaust literature in the world and eighth graders should have been exposed to enough sex education to deal with the material.
What made the original decision upsetting to many people was that school officials had allowed the voice of a single parent to override a curriculum decision made by professional educators.
Can any parent complain about any part of the curriculum and be assured that a committee will be convened to review its suitability?
This can easily get out of hand, as it just did in the Menifee Union School District in California. In the 9,000-student K-8 district, officials pulled dictionaries off of school shelves after a parent complained that the word “oral sex” was one of the word entries.
A parent with a child in Oak Meadows Elementary School had complained that a child had found the definitions and thus all copies of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary were removed.
That didn’t last long; a few days later, district officials decided to allow the books back in, though parents could decide to keep them away from their own children. There is some concern in the district that a college-level dictionary is inappropriate for young children.
The dictionaries were purchased, according to the Press-Enterprise, to allow children who could use them look up words they didn’t know.
What an unusual use for a dictionary.
It is certainly true that not every book is appropriate for every student. That is why adult educators consider developmental stages when they design curriculum and lesson plans.
Parents can make decisions for their own children, but beyond that, they should leave it to the professionals.
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| February 1, 2010; 5:43 PM ET
Categories: Literature, Reading | Tags: book censorship
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