I had Taco Bell today, and apparently it's given me wings. Wait, that's what Red Bull does. Well either way, I'm staying up far past my bedtime to paint you the next Mona Lisa. Just kidding. I'm here to talk about the shit show fiasco that is the core lit approval issue currently dominating headlines in the Conejo Valley.
What's going on AM? You ask. Either that, or you're reading this while secretly repeating in your head, "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you." Alas, life's mysteries!
Well let's go back. Back to June 6th. I was lying down in my bed bemoaning my heartburn, a favorite pastime of mine as of late, when low and behold my Twitter went *bling bling*. Twitter reporters Dawn and Kyle were tweeting back and forth about comments CVUSD school board president Mike Dunn had made in reference to a book that was on the agenda for approval. He had flipped to the first page, read the phrase "kicked him in the balls," shuddered with horror, and said he didn't think he'd feel comfortable with his children reading that. (His children are adults, by the way). They shared the clip on their twitter, and my eyes rolled so far back in my head I'm still searching for them. Yup, I'm typing this blind.
The book, "The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie, had been requested by the English Dept. to be added to their curriculum list in January. Now, after a twitter exchange with reporter Dawn from the Acorn today, she led with this information: January 4th was just the date the district received the request and it probably went to curriculum admins, not the board... therefore it is possible they really didn't have any idea about the book until it hit the agenda in June. Apparently, according to Dawn, who talks a lot to Heather, the communications coordinator for the district, standard procedure has always been that core lit approval is given a two-week agenda time frame in June to discuss. And if you're not aware, we have a curriculum committee that reviews the book to determine whether or not it's appropriate, age appropriate, etc. They did in fact approve the book!
Anywho, apparently we pick and choose when to trust our curriculum committee, comprised of credentialed and experienced educators selected for their education and ability to assess teaching material and its appropriateness for the classroom.
So back to June 6. Board president Dunn made his remarks, I rolled my eyes, and the item was scheduled for a vote at the next meeting, June 20th.
For reasons not first disclosed, the item was then removed from the 20th, with no discussion as to when it would be re-added to the agenda. Reporter Dawn said yesterday via Twitter that it was removed because former superintendent Dr. Bonitatibus had it removed so that the board had time to read the book. Today Reporter Dawn said on her Twitter that it was removed from the agenda because a board member started an opposition movement against Dunn on June 6th. I'm not sure where I would find this opposition movement.... the first time I see any reference to the topic posted on a board member's social media is June 11th, when Dr. Connolly expresses concern:
"In addition to the objections raised by Mr. Dunn on June 6th to "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian", the board has received what appear to be coordinated contacts from community members who raised objections to The Kite Runner, Catcher in the Rye and Snow Falling on Cedars. All are books that are already CVUSD approved. I'm concerned that a book banning push is on the way. Only you can prevent book banning!"
On June 14th, we are informed via Dr. Connolly that the item has been removed from the agenda. This obviously causes concern for those now invested in ensuring that a nationally acclaimed book, requested by the English Dept. get added to the curriculum. See, even though it was a UACT-approved book, the board still has to vote and approve the book to allow teachers to actually incorporate it into their curriculum. By not voting, or by voting no, they are essentially banning the book from classrooms. Now, to be clear, we're not that dense. We're not asserting that the book is also banned from libraries and book stores. However, last I checked, libraries and bookstore versions of the book didn't come home with students, complete with a teacher well-versed in the material, ready to offer guided, instructive conversation on the concepts and topics explored in the book.
The 20th came and went. The book was discussed again. It appeared there was consensus that because there is an opt-out option in place for those parents who wish not to subject their children to diverse literature, that the book was to be voted on for approval... yet there was no date set at that board meeting.
Soon after, the community finds out that it is a time-sensitive issue. Meaning... in order for teachers to be able to include in the 2017/18 school year, that book has to be approved ASAP. So the community wrote in to the board and requested that the book be added back to the agenda. We were informed that the process to request an agenda item is two weeks' notice, therefore, the earliest it could get put back on the agenda was August 15. Was it always going to be put back on the agenda, or was it only because we campaigned for it to happen? I don't know. Board members Everett and Phelps both expressed they were surprised to learn it was not on the June 27th agenda. Board president Dunn said that he and Dr. B. agreed on the June 27 agenda. Board member Phelps said she was told by Dr. B. that the book would be on the agenda for the 27th. And around and around we go.
Anywho, on twitter, the Acorn's Kyle Jorrey tweets that he thinks it's much ado about nothing. He asks Dr. Connolly to send him the emails the board received in opposition of the book (which in my own personal perception seemed slightly insinuating he didn't believe the emails existed. Just my take). Acorn Dawn says the book was never in jeopardy of not being approved.... although no one can seem to confirm if it would have reappeared on the agenda.
Here's the thing... even getting it on the agenda for Aug. 15 is late. Late enough that teachers may only be able to implement it in their second semester teachings. And, at the board meeting on the 27th, Mr. Iezza stressed it would be real time crunch as they haven't even ordered the book because they were waiting on board approval.
At the board meeting on the 27th, board president Dunn said that all he wants is for children to have to have permission slips signed to read the book. Permission slips are a natural deterrent obviously. Any teacher will tell you how much additional work that creates for them, the time delay it takes in getting back permission slips, and the fact that there's no guarantee permission slips even make it home. A permission slips is also a subtle way of suggesting or implying this book needs special permission... although it's approved literature. We don't ask students to have signed permission slips for every book they read in school, do we? So where do we draw the line? When is it appropriate to deem something controversial? And what's the point in having a curriculum committee if we don't trust their expertise and decision-making? It's wonderful to be informed, but let's not pretend that's what this delay has been all about. And no, it's not appropriate to compare literature to r-rated movies and that fact that kids under 17 have to have parent permission to see the movie. That's preposterous. Parents are required to attend movies with their children under 17 and act as their guidance during questionable scenes. Theaters don't accept a handwritten sticky note from a kid with their parent's permission, FFS.
Is it my opinion that children should have the opportunity to be exposed to age-appropriate and approved curriculum? It sure is! Some may argue (and some have) that the curriculum is already full of diverse material. In fact, so much so, that teachers don't have any room to add new books into the rotation. Well, BALLS. Authors... PACK IT IN. We're all set here on accepting new or challenging material with with to teach our students. We've done called it a day, and hit the cap, for like.... EVER.
No seriously. People are insisting that. Which is INSANE. But still, not the point. And then of course there's people who will refer to the book as pornographic or controversial... which brings us back to the opt-out option. It totally exists!
Now, board president Dunn has spoken up and claimed this is manufactured outrage... and I have to wonder how much of it he manufactured himself. I wonder who encouraged emails of opposition to be written to back his concern about this controversial book? Hmmmm. And while the Acorn, on their personal twitter pages also seems in line with the narrative that this is an overreaction, the Acorn has done nothing but feed select pieces of information to feed to the public regarding this topic, from the very start. Now, it's everyone's job to stay informed... to watch the board meetings, to get both sides of the story, but a lot of people seem to be making that very difficult.
I don't believe for a second that board members are upset that they continually make the front page of the local paper. Their lack of transparency and blame game tactics have done nothing but make it so this would happen, time and time again.
What I've been most fascinated by throughout this topic, is that for those who disagree with my opinion, they're literally irate that I'm working to keep informed on community and district policy and events. It drives them insane with anger that I dare watch and attend board meetings and ask questions. Are they worried that the questions challenge their own opinions? Are they threatened by those who have a vested interest in the district in which their children will attend? Are they just mad that people have different opinions? Most likely all of the above. But their attempt to hush and silence parents and community members expressing concern is humorous... considering we're talking about censorship here when it all boils down to it.
Lets be advocates for the children in our district. Allow them the opportunity to learn and engage in real world conversations. You can't make something disappear forever simply because it would mean some deep conversation has to take place. You learn when you're uncomfortable. You learn from the unfamiliar. Bubbles are only useful at children's birthday parties.