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Racy book attracts controversy at Arizona high school
September 14, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
When is a book too racy to be taught in a high school English class?
Apparently, a parent pulled her son out of a sophomore English class in Sierra Vista, Ariz., after the teacher had the class read aloud a sexually explicit passage from Cristina Garcia's award-winning book "Dreaming in Cuban."
I am familiar with neither the book nor the author, but a reader e-mailed me the passage in question, which is indeed sexually explicit and includes both rough language and references to mild S&M. She also emailed me a list showing the book on a Common Core State Standards Initiative book list for 11th graders.
When I spoke with the principal at Magic City Campus this week, he told me that local schools retain control over curriculum under the Common Core. A local committee also reads and makes recommendations about new books that are placed in the school library. That's quite likely the policy in other school districts across the state. I have my doubts that "Dreaming in Cuban" will ever be taught in a North Dakota high school, though apparently there are broader concerns that it is on a Common Core reading list for high school students and might be used in some schools without parents being aware of the content.
As I told the reader who first emailed me about the controversy, this sounds like the type of book that might be used by teachers in a contemporary literature class or those hoping to engage a class of immigrant students or perhaps students who have had difficult life experiences. The book was being used in a sophomore English class at the high school in Arizona, though it is listed as having an advanced reading level, so maybe it was being used in an honors English class.
Based on media reports, the high school administrator in the Arizona high school pulled the book after the parent raised objections and said the district would have required the teacher to offer an alternative option if they had known more about the content.
Garcia, the author, told the AP that Sierra Vista students shouldn't be deprived of a "broader, cultural experience" and she is willing to visit the school and answer any questions.
Personally, I think the author Garcia makes a good point. A good education should include the opportunity to read and discuss material that is challenging and unfamiliar, that makes students think about other points of view. Garcia's book, published 20 years ago, seems to hold literary merit, based on all the reviews. It may well be appropriate to use this book and others with sensitive content with mature high school juniors and seniors, many of whom I suspect have read far more explicit material on their own time.
What do you think of the controversy?
For those who might be curious, other "exemplars" on the 11th-12th grade Common Core "stories" reading list include: Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"; Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote"; Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"; Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"; Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"; Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"; Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment"; Sarah Orne Jewett's "A White Heron"; Herman Melville's "Billy Budd, Sailor"; Anton Chekhov's "Home"; F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"; William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying"; Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms"; Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"; Jorge Luis Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths"; Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March"; Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" and Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake."
Most on the list are pretty standard texts in an English classroom. In high school alone, I read at least a quarter of the books on the list and read several more as a college freshman. The list was compiled with consultation with teachers. No schools are actually required to teach the exemplars. To quote the standards: "The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with. Additionally, they are suggestive of the breadth of texts that students should encounter in the text types required by the Standards. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms. They expressly do not represent a partial or complete reading list."
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