Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brave New World Indeed

There was a student at Hale who went to her parent with concerns over a book being used in her child's LA class. The book was Brave New World written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley. The parent and student are Native Americans. (Just to interject here; I mistakenly thought there was no Board policy attached to this review and I simply erred in not scrolling down the page. My apologies.)

Basically if a parent or guardian has an issue with instructional materials they are to go to the principal and staff member first. If that fails, any party at step 1 may request the administrator in Charge of Curriculum and Instruction meet with those involved to resolve the issue. After step 2, the principal shall furnish the party not in agreement with a copy of the "Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials" form. When that is received, a "Reconsideration Commitee, is formed to reconsider the material. (The committee is made up of a parent of a child at the grade level involved but not from the school involved, member of C&I department, 1 elementary/secondary principal but not from school involved, 2 elementary/secondary teachers (if class material) or librarians (if library material) but not from school involved.

The Committee considers and then reaches a decision and communicates that in writing to the complainant and the principal of the school affected. That decision can be appealed to the Superintendent or principal within 10 working days. Superintendent reviews and issues a written decision and that decision is final for supplementary materials/library materials. Basic instructional materials may be appealed to the Board. And that's where we end.

This all started in March of this year.

Hale's principal, Jill Hudson, did meet with the parent, Sarah Sense-Wilson. She had sent a letter of apology to Ms. Sense-Wilson. She also invited Ms. Sense-Wilson and other Native Americans to provide her staff with cultural sensitivity training and it took place at the school (this was in April 2010).

Ms. Sense-Wilson then went to the district about the issue. According to the timeline, Ms. Sense-Wilson asked "that it be removed as required curriculum and that an apology letter be published in the Nathan Hale newspaper." The Reconsideration Committee was formed but both parties wrote letters read to the Committee as the Nathan Hale teachers "opted" out of attending.

In May the Committee was scheduled to meet but one parent couldn't come. So another parent rep had to be secured and the meeting rescheduled. This dragged into June. The Committee met and reviewed the evidence. The vote was 3-2 in favor of removing the text from the adopted list for all schools. (This seems to not have been stated last night but I hasten to say that none of the participants spoke clearly into the microphone. I could have missed something.)

The day after staffer Holly Ferguson determined the Committee had overstepped its bounds and could only recommend its removal for Hale. (In reviewing the policy, it doesn't really say what the Committee can do except "reconsidering the material in question" and "reach a decision". )

The next day Ms. Sense-Wilson and the Committee were informed of this decision. The Committee met by phone a week later to reconsider their decision. Again, the vote was 3-2 in favor of removing it from Hale's reading list.

Then the timeline shows that Ms. Vasquez sent Ms. Sense-Wilson a letter, telling her of the outcome and apprising her of the right to appeal the decision. The official timeline ends there by obviously Ms. Sense-Wilson appealed; it is unclear.

There is a letter from Ms. Sense-Wilson from the initial complaint where she explains why her daughter was upset. She is careful to say she felt Hale was a "progressive, innovative and liberal school but now I am seeing another side of the oppressive nature of the academic culture at Nathan Hale." She acknowledges a good conversation and apology from who I believe is an LA teacher at Hale. She also points out that at Hale's diversity day there is no acknowledgment of Native Americans. (That seems almost impossible for where we live but there you are.)

Also included is Dr. Hudson's letter of apology from April where she says they never intentionally meant to hurt or offend. I think it is a fine letter.

The LA department at Hale also has a letter stating it will no longer feature Brave New World in their third quarter of LA. They state "We have come to understand that to correctly teach this book to a young audience involves challenges that are greater than we had formerly anticipated." They believe it is a good book for the integration of materials they are trying to teach but that the "cultural insensitivity embedded in this book makes it an inappropriate choice....".

There are minutes from the Committee. They note that the word "savage" is used 30+ times. They also state that they are there to determine if the text should be taught, NOT if NH staff mis-taught. One of the best questions asked was "Can we meet set of conditions needed to teach it?" Also there was concern over censorship. "What will mitigate majority of teaching force is white and dominant in K-12?"

There follows letters explaining the decision, the district's re-reading of the Board policy, the revote, the appeal to ban the book entirely from the reading list (not the school or summer optional reading list) and other supporting docs. Apparently the summer break stopped the process and so the letter from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is dated Sept. 8th. She stated she did not support the removal of the book from the approved list. She did offer that the district was working with LA teachers and to "identify texts that address complex cultural issues" as well as other steps they would take (but gave no timeline).

Then Ms. Sense-Wilson apparently contacted the principal at Ballard to ask how they handle the book. (I'm thinking her daughter may have transferred to Ballard which also uses BNW.) The letter, from Keven Wynkoop, is in the supporting materials. He states, "After meeting with Mr. Kelly and Ms Vasquez, I feel that it is important to consider the use of this book with greater nuance than whether it should or should not be taught at Ballard." He states that their department wants to take two sub days to work on the lessons to make this happen and that she can come and discuss these lessons.

Ms. Sense-Wilson answers that there are multiple concerns beyond the use of the book. Meaning, what is happening in US History and US Government that would support the use of the book?

The Board scheduled 30 minutes to address this and I knew it wouldn't work. Their work, whether a committee meeting or Work session, always seems rushed and this was no different. There was testimony by Ms. Sense-Wilson, her daughter and a couple of other Native American adults (who were not properly identified). Ms. Vasquez testified for the district.

My notes reflect that Ms. Sense-Wilson didn't want a ban but clearly she does for BNW's use in the SPS LA book list. Apparently most of the Board had read the review but none of them had read BNW. (No one even picked up the book and looked? Good grief.) Ms. Sense-Wilson said the NA woman who served on the adoption committee was not known within the NA community.

Her daughter mentioned other books that had the same theme that could be used. One of the NA adults mentioned that for NA teens these are very sensitive topics. He said NA have the highest suicide rate in the country (and a character in the book kills himself), the highest drop-out rate, highest unemployment rate and second highest incarceration rate.

There was also a teacher (but I don't know from what school) who had a list of statements from 11th and 12th graders in history class about Native Americans. It was very ignorant and appalling. I don't know if the students were trying to be funny or truly knew nothing but if this is what they know, then I can see the problem using Brave New World without some kind of context and guidance.

Ms. Vasquez went over how the adoption committee had done its work. (There are 74 texts vetted and approved, she stated.) She said that there were other challenging texts like Huck Finn, Bluest Eye and The Color Purple. (None of those are satire combined with complex themes.)

The head of the LA department at Ballard also spoke. He stated that in the past they had not done enough to put the book in context but wanted (is) ensuring the curriculum to do that.

Betty spoke of her concern over these issues as she is a person of color and has personally and with her children experienced these issues. She did ask why they didn't go to anyone who works for the district at the Native American Heritage school. No real answer.

Sherry asked if there were any satirical texts about white people and Ms. Vasquez cited the graphic novel, Maus. (Charlie and I were a bit startled as we do not know this book to be satire - it is the author's account of his father's history during WWII as a Jew. He does make all Jews mice and all Germans cats but that wasn't satire.) Sherry stated that a teacher might not know one word was upsetting to a student.

What I feel Ms. Vasquez did was shoot herself in the foot. She kept saying the curriculum mapping was "coming" but clearly, the work is not ready. And yet they keep using the text. Kay tried to give her an out, telling her maybe they could give the teachers a simple foundation to give context and nuance but Ms. Vasquez waved that off. She also made it sound like every school was creating its own curriculum map. She also stated that most of the LA teachers are white and may not have the background to make these adjustments.

Yes, and all the more reason to not use a text that you do not have the competency to teach.

I do not want to ban any book.

But if the district admits that some books are more challenging than others, admits the work is not done around the professional development to teach the more challenging books and admits the teachers may not have the cultural competency to teach it, well, then suspend its use until at least some of that is done.

I do not challenge teachers' ability to teach the text nor that somehow the wording used in BNW has eluded them. But clearly there are issues and if there is little awareness of who is sitting in their classes, then it's an issue. I also believe that despite the outward sophistication of our teens, they are still developing people who don't have the life experience and knowledge basis to grasp all that they are reading. If the teachers are not ready to guide them properly, then suspend the use of the book until they are.

Naturally, the Board ran out of time to deliberate and so set this aside without a statement of when they will announce their decision. (They may have told the parties privately but they didn't announce anything.)

53 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I was there for this exercise and I want to emphasize these critical points:

1) No one is trying to ban the book. It just wouldn't be one of the 75 books on the aligned curriculum list. There are only 75 books on that list, and no one is saying that the District has banned all of the others. Again, this is not an attempt at censorship or book banning.

2) The District was very clear that this is a challenging book to teach. The depiction of Native Americans in this book is intended as satire, not as any kind of realistic depiction. While an experienced adult might be able to read the book and see through the face value of the words, it is less clear that a 15- or 16-year-old student could, that the teen would have either the ear for satire, the experience as a reader, or the background knowledge of the real facts about Native American cultures to discern the satire from even normal fiction - let alone discern it from fact.

3) The District acknowledged that they do not provide teachers with any sort of support when teaching this book to remind them to emphasize the distance between the depictions in the book and the realities of Native American life. Moreover, the District acknowledged the need for such support. In fact, the reason for having a limited aligned curriculum text list is because they intend to support every book on the list and they can only support so many.

So here we have a situation in which the District pushes people out of the plane with the assurance that they are actively working on providing parachutes.

John said...

I can think of at least one satirical book about white people: "Brave New World." It's a dark look at humanity in general, but modern white/European culture gets especially skewered.

Patrick said...

It's really sad that the teacher didn't successfully teach what the book was about, including characters using inappropriate satire to make themselves less sympathetic. Brave New World is a superb book that every educated person should be exposed to. It's possibly the best critique of dominant consumer culture out there.

Anonymous said...

how did the committee use the cultural competancy sceening rubric? did they choose to use all of the criteria or only a select few (allowable as part of the process)? when vetted, were any of the potential issues created by the complexities of these texts brought to light and pd planned for such with the roll out?
Sounds like due diligence was not done to the extent it was needed, especially if vesquez cannot vouch for the cultural competancy of the teachers using the materials (yikes). seems a bit irresponsible from the top down.
Jill did the right thing. The other, yikers. They continue to set themselves up.
-cassandra

Charlie Mas said...

Am I alone in my shock and dismay when Ms Sense-Wilson asked for a show of hands and none of the Board members could say that they had read Brave New World?

I read it as a teenager - on my own, not as an assignment. I knew it was an important book so I wanted to read it.

dan dempsey said...

(1) The School Board abuses the public by its ongoning failure to make data based decisions.

(2) The BNW situation reminds me a lot of "Abusive Behavior". The abuser is not an accurate appraiser of what is abusive. The person abused is the one who makes a far more accurate determination of the abuse.

(3) Thank you Charlie for a complete description of what has happened and that this is NOT a book banning.

(4) Great job and thanks to Ms. Sense-Wilson for a job well done. This needed to be brought to the Board. There is no reason that a book so likely to put a lot more than one AIAN student in the situation her child experienced should on a list of likely required reading.

(5) Hats off to principal Jill Hudson of Hale for stepping up and responding with a comment on this Blog about the situation. Improved communication is a key to improved relationships and finding improvement. {more Board members should try it}

=============

Many conventional media outlets missed the major points in this issue and preferred to shout about book banning.

Note:
The Central Administration and Board once again botched dealing with this at the school board meeting in a way that was completed and made sense within the context of the meeting. As TfA demonstrates the ability to deal with much rationally continues to be a problem for the Board.

In spite of an occasional mention of "data based decision-making" this Board rarely makes a decision-based on evidence.

Now if only the Board would get there heads out of the sand and look at "Change in OSPI test scores", "k-12 math program", "Writer's Workshop", "etc".

The achievement gaps are not being addressed in any meaningful way .... but TfA is put forth as a solution. WHAT???? Where is the data? Looks like another ridiculous proposal from MGJ.

TfA was Rubber-Stamped 6-1.

(1) So which Board policies and procedures were violated with this move?

(2) Did this proposal violate State Laws?

(3) Will enacting this proposal violate Federal Laws?

Any wonder that the Superior Court and outside legal practices are seeing this Board's actions as an economic stimulus. The Court does not need more business but I am certain outside legal firms appreciate receiving their fees.

ArchStanton said...

I'll just move my short essay from the TFA/Board thread:

Having browsed through the record, I think that the fault probably does lie with SPS/Hale for their selection of texts and not approaching the text in a more sensitive manner. Sense-Wilson's first letter states that there are three non-fiction readings for the course (BNW, Othello, and Lord of the Flies) and that "all three make multiple references to Native or Indigenous peoples as 'Savages'". I haven't found any indication as to whether those are the only texts for the course, but the implication is that they are. If that's the case, I can agree that absent any sensitive treatment or analysis, the student could justifiably feel uncomfortable.

Still, I don't think it's justification for banning or removing BNW (or Lord of the Flies, or Othello) from reading lists. I can only guess that she would like to not have all three texts read, but recognized that she would have a difficult time battling Shakespeare or Golding. Again, the problem seems not to be so much the individual books as those books as a group - to the exclusion of other authors or perspectives. The list could certainly be said to suffer from old, dead, white, European, male author syndrome. Maybe I'm expecting too much (and this isn't intended to be a teacher bash), but I'd like to think that teachers in the twenty-first century, in one of the most literate cities in the US, would reach a little more broadly and seek a bit more diversity in a course reading list. If I felt that I had the capacity to be a teacher, this is the sort of thing I would love sinking my teeth into.

I think Sense-Wilson should have stuck to the cultural insensitivity argument. Claiming that BNW is obsolete and lacks relevance only weakens her argument, especially considering that it was part of a course titled "What is human nature? Can or should it be changed?" that paralleled a course on genetics and biotechnology. Sure, the novel is flawed and some of language is dated, but many of the concepts and questions explored by Huxley are quite relevant today. Depending on your criteria, it would be easy to argue that just about anything written a few decades ago is irrelevant and obsolete. Just because a book is old, flawed, contains errors of fact or prediction, or contains stereotypes of the era in which it was written, doesn't render it valueless.

Anyway, I'm glad Goodloe-Johnson showed some good sense in this case. I hope that the book can be restored as a class text option, but if they can't teach it better, better that they not teach it.

11/18/10 2:29 PM

hschinske said...

I would like to mention, as a footnote, that some of the news articles and blogs on this issue have attracted comments that have just ripped into Ms. Sense-Wilson in the nastiest way, and I think it stinks. I'm thankful the discourse here has stuck pretty much to the intellectual issues.

Incidentally, Ms. Sense-Wilson, as a member of the Urban American Indian/Alaska Native Educational Alliance, also spoke out against the mismanagement of the Huchoosedah Indian Education Program. Kudos to her for that.

Helen Schinske

Chris said...

Melissa you can be forgiven for not knowing about the policy. It was recently "updated" coming thru the C & I committee meetings in July and October. I'm guessing it was approved at either the second Oct board meeting or the Nov. 3.

What is interesting is that the policy update occurred after this case was initiated. I'm not saying the change wasn't appropriate, but it is true a)the rules were changed during the game and b)the staff and the board had this situation in mind as they crafted the solution. Not sure if the second is good or bad, but the first sure is fishy.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Chris, interesting that it changed. What I read, which is their official review record, doesn't seem to reflect a change. (Maybe I need to read yet again.)

What is the public record should reflect what they are using to make a judgment.

Anonymous said...

I have to say I was kind of surprised to see this book on a required reading list for highs school kids - not even because of racial issues, but because of the sex, drugs & suicide in the book. I certainly think it would be fine for many kids that age to read independantly they are interested, or as one book in a long list (if there were in fact 75, not 3 as it appeasr in that particular class. However, but when you are dealing with a pool of a couple of thousand kids in each grade of high school, there is such a wide range of maturity, comprehension, family background & values, etc., it does not make sense assign books that may not be unsuitable for or offensive to some of them. There are a lot of grewat works of literature that are less controversial!

Mom of 4

Patrick said...

Charlie, I agree. How can none of a group of seven presumably educated adults have read BNW?

I read it first as a high school sophomore or junior. It wasn't a book the whole class was assigned, but it was one of a long list of choices.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous above. The subject matter is mature and difficult. I don't think it is appropriate for mandatory reading. It should be in the library and available to those wanting to read it.
Jean in Bryant

rascal said...

What grade read the book? Was it a Freshman LA class with 14/15 year olds? Or a senior class with 17/18 year olds? Maturity plays a large role, and where a 14 year old might not be ready for such a complex book, an 18 year old might be more than ready.

Dorothy Neville said...

I sat there never expecting to side with the parent. But her presentation and information were so far more thoughtful and reasonable than the district's. And if you haven't read the book, note that it is the main character, the Savage, who cannot conform, does not fit in, and ultimately commits suicide.

What is more deeply troubling, and seemed to be troubling to at least some of the board, is how this shows the entire HS LA adoption was a house of cards. We had to align the curriculum so that every student (no matter their zip code) would be taught with high expectations. Therefore we needed to follow a prescribed list of books to use in the classroom. However, HS LA is all about building skills, not reading specific works of literature. The argument back was that yes, by having a set of books that all classes will read, the district will be able to provide targeted professional development using those texts to build skills. Because lord help us, highly qualified high school language arts teachers cannot discuss and share ideas on how to teach a satiric novel without all using the same book. Well, given that Vasquez misidentified Maus as satire, we can understand a bit of the district's problem. (and, btw, she did point out that BNW was also a satire about white people.)

We already know that this adoption ended up choosing novels and nothing else, so that LA teachers, who are also supposed to teach poetry, non-fiction, short stories, rhetoric, writing will have no texts for those. They will have no money to purchase their own texts so no matter what, all those items that should be part of a rich and complete LA curriculum will not be aligned, not one whit.

Now we are seeing how well this professional development is working for the limited alignment of novels. It's not. I found Vasquez bordering on the incoherent with respect to the PD situation. They are coming out with curriculum maps? All the PD is voluntary.

Yes, after all that work for aligning HS LA, after insisting that they needed to limit the number of books on the allowable lists because they had to create lesson plans or curriculum maps or something for each one, now we are finding out that this is voluntary for teachers but that the material isn't even ready for the books that are supposed to be taught this semester.

Vasquez spoke again during the school board meeting as part of the superintendent updates on alignment, in particular the science alignment. Note how alignment is not scripting, but they are planning to get to the level of common assignments. Perhaps even common end of course assessments at some point.

So, whether or not you agree with the common assignments and common assessments, it is patently clear that the HS LA alignment dumped book list restrictions and books on teachers, without getting to the curriculum mapping level. I am not even sure they have reached the top level of common standards.

Eric B said...

It's not a book, but A Modest Proposal is certainly satirical and about white people. You could make an argument about whether the Irish were an oppressed minority at that time, though.

I have not read BNW, but I guess I should add it to my library hold list.

ParentofThree said...

"The District acknowledged that they do not provide teachers with any sort of support when teaching this book to remind them to emphasize the distance between the depictions in the book and the realities of Native American life."

Hellooooo....do we not pay $10 million a year for academic coaches?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Melissa for the great synopsis. I read Brave New World as a teenager and it is a tough read if you are not aware of the history, its revision, and the context of when it was written. As a parent (less importantly as a person of color), I don't mind students reading "controversial" book, but the teacher must be prepared to present it well and the students mature enough to handle the topic and discussion.

This is the stuff that can make education great, but it requires some courage, a lot of work, and open mindedness by all participants (teachers, students, and parents) to get there.

Hope we get there

Charlie Mas said...

Brave New World is one of the books on the aligned curriculum list for grade 10. The students are 15 or 16 years old.

The book is not assigned in every Language Arts 10 class in the District, but is on a list of about 15-20 books from which teachers must select four books to teach.

The only school in the District where Brave New World is assigned right now is Ballard.

Even if the appeal is successful, schools and teachers could still choose to have students read the book and could teach it. It just wouldn't be on the District-approved list anymore. It wouldn't count towards the "four books from this list" requirement imposed by the District.

This is a long, long way from banning the book. It would not remove it from libraries. It would not even prohibit teachers from assigning it.

Given how little is at stake for the District here, I don't see why they don't just let it go.

I suspect the reason that they don't let it go is that they don't want anyone second-guessing or overriding their decisions. It's all about pride. Not the good kind of pride, like pride of heritage or pride in acheivement, but the sinful kind of pride: hubris. Arrogance. Control.

The folks in the central office just hate the idea of anyone dictating to them. In their model for the proper order of the universe they dictate to others.

Rosie said...

Wow. So this is the exception to the general consensus on this blog that the District shouldn't tell teachers how to teach.

To jump to conclusions like "It's really sad that the teacher didn't successfully teach what the book was about, including characters using inappropriate satire to make themselves less sympathetic" appalls me. What do we know about how the book was taught? One student found parts of it offensive. Perhaps there was a healthy discussion in the classroom, that the student continued at home with her mom. Perhaps there wasn't. We have no way to know, but it's interesting that some posters here go immediately into "blame the teacher" mode.

I find it more than a little demeaning towards our literature teachers to think they need some form of special training on how to teach tough topics in books. Any book worth teachign has (or should have) tough topics. Do we want them teaching "Johnathan Livingstone Seagull" and "Make Way for Ducklings" in high school instead?

I wonder about anyone who thinks our high school kids can't handle tough topics. They read Maus, Persepolis, heck they read the newspaper. Not to mention what they read on the sites they frequent. They're young adults with good minds and opinions, who come to high school with deep thoughts already about issues as varied as child abuse, pedophilia, sexism, homophobia, racism, poverty, etc., as anyone who has spent time with them knows. Heck, my 7th grader wrote a play last year about sexual abuse by priests. And we're afraid to tell them that in the 1930s people held what we now properly understand to be racist attitudes toward native americans?


This topic came up on KUOW an hour ago. From my perspective, Knute, Joni and Eli were dead on correct.

Here it comes... said...

and

Charlie, I agree. How can none of a group of seven presumably educated adults have read BNW?

C'mon guys, let's not start down the literary snob path! ;-)

I'm sure as a teen I'd never even heard of this book, let alone had it suggested for high school reading. There are thousands of books teachers can choose from, and if your high school English teachers didn't assign it, most kids didn't read it. I'm sure I would have had no interest in reading this on my own as a teen or young adult. I'm somewhat interested in reading it now, but mostly due to curiosity raised by these conversations here.

FWIW, I'm a typical overly-educated Seattleite, and growing up I had strong interest in just about everything except classic literature; science, math, technology, music, business, language, you name it. I did read a lot, but fiction was not a big draw in general. There's nothing inherently wrong with that!

As for the appropriateness of the material itself, I suppose I'd have to read the entire book to be sure, but I just went and read a pretty detailed summary on Wikipedia, and this is not something I would want my mid-teen to be reading. There are lots of great alternative texts that don't involve this kind of promiscuous sex and drug use. And I'm far from a prude. I still don't think I've read what grade level this book was assigned to, but if it wasn't seniors, I'm happy it's been pulled from their list.

Here it comes... said...

Brave New World is one of the books on the aligned curriculum list for grade 10. The students are 15 or 16 years old.

Thanks for this info.

Again, I may have to read the entire book, but I don't like this for 15 year olds.

Just my opinion, I'm sure others will disagree. I'm not going to engage in a long debate about it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't blame any teacher nor did I state anything that may or may not have occurred in class.

What I am saying is the DISTRICT says it's a difficult book, the DISTRICT says the mapping isn't done for these challenging books and HALE's teachers said they didn't feel they were ready. The district hasn't done its job, not the teachers.

I said nothing about teachers except that I felt sure many DID know what they were doing but perhaps not all. Again, the district's fault.

I am going to post the KUOW show separately because it was fairly jaw-dropping in its assumptions and self-satisfying agreement.

Charlie Mas said...

Rosie raised a point that was a concern for me, so let me clarify.

I am not interested in dictating instructional strategy to teachers or having the District do it. I am, however, deeply interested in an aligned curriculum.

If I wore the tiara and held the sceptre, the aligned curriculum would list the knowledge and skills that teachers are supposed to teach and students are supposed to learn. In high school language arts, the content around novels could be things like characters, plot, setting, allegory, satire, conflict, sub-plotting, denoument, and such. This part of the curriculum - the knowledge and skills we expect students to acquire - is generaly independent of the materials (textbooks).

The District could provide some examples of age-appropriate texts with the right complexity and vocabulary for teen readers, and could say which of the GLEs were addressed by those texts. But teachers would still be free to choose their own.

With the aligned curriculum texts, the District is asking teachers to teach, at a minimum, four texts a year from each grade level's list. Teachers are free to teach more books than that, either from the list or off the list. In the case of Literature, the text can matter since we might expect students to not only know satire, we might also expect them to know "A Modest Proposal" by Swift. More than just knowing allegory, we might expect them to know Moby Dick.

When the District selects books it not only creates new expectations for the teachers, it also creates new expectations for the District. It is incumbent on the District to provide teachers with some guide - a single page would do - about how the book meets the Standards, and what key elements should not be missed when teaching it.

Independent of anything text-specific, if the District is directing teachers to introduce students to satire, they need to offer teachers with a little guidance there also.

This is more about what elements need to be included in lessons about satire, and among those elements is the idea that satire is not only an exagerration, but is often completely invention.

That's not scripting lessons or telling teachers what to teach anymore than the Standards and the Grade Level Expectations are.

Sam Carpenter said...

Wow. This thread fills me with despair.
Removing this book, one of the most important pieces of English language literature of the 20th century, from the reading list is a travesty.
As a Nathan Hale parent, I plan on fighting to have the book reinstated to the curriculum.

ttln said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ttln said...

The one page guides for the texts should also include information about potential issues with regard to race/language/status, etc. A few "be sure to..." pointers for those that may not have analyzed their "privilege" to the extent that other teachers have and therefore might not have the awareness needed to teach complex materials such as these.

wv says, "I hope there is snonso day." (read it out loud)

NE Mom said...

I'm with you, Sam Carpenter, I think many Nathan Hale parents would like to have the book reinstated to the curriculum list. So that when teachers are ready and willing they may *choose* to teach this book again. Jill and the staff bent over backwards to accommodate one parent and one child. That should have been the end of it. I am sad that it went to the Reconsideration Panel, and now is being pushed to the School Board. Thank you, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson for your response! Write to the School Board members to keep the book on the List.

Charlie Mas said...

Let's remember that having the book on The List doesn't mean that it will be taught. The only high school now assigning it is Ballard. In addition, keeping the book off The List doesn't prevent any teacher from teaching it.

If teachers want to assign the book, they will - whether it is on The List or off it.

If teachers don't want to assign the book they just won't - whether it is on The List or off it.

The book's presence on The List doesn't much influence whether it is assigned or not.

Sam Carpenter can agitate to have the book assigned whether it is on The List or not. But before you do, ask yourself "What other books should be assigned that aren't?"

Chris said...

I don't know what to think but I thank Sarah Sense-Wilson for educating me. I've requested the book from the library, and hopefully I can see it from the angle of a non-majority.

Rosie said...

Melissa, you moved into a defensive crouch pretty quickly in your 11:58 comment. I'm guessing, given the nature of your comments that, that you were reacting to me.

But I didn't comment on anything you said in your original post.say you said anything specific. I quoted specifically from one comment on the blog (Patrick @ 10:21) and alluded to others who were expressing concern that this book was too difficult or somehow inappropriate for high schoolers. So from my perspective, there wasn't a need for you to jump into that crouch.

Sue said...

I have to repectfully disagree with Melissa's idea to suspend the teaching of the book. Do we suspend teaching of all controversial subjects until we know all teachers are teaching them correctly?. (And I did listen to the KUOW story, and felt, while they certainly should have let you finish your sentence/thought, that their attitudes weren't that bad. But it is always easy to say that when I am not the one on the radio!)

My opinion is that every teacher I know asks one thing: to be treated as a professionals that they are. To trust them to implement the best learning and discussion for their students.

Telling them that we don't trust them to teach difficult or controversial subjects is kind of a slap in the face. And where does it stop? Do we suspend teaching of the holocaust? WWII internment camps? Slavery?

Now, does that mean I think the district is in the right? Not necessarily. Get the dang work done you said you would with that high priced LA consultant.

The board totally punted on this one. Keep the book on the list. If the teacher doesn't want to teach it- they clearly do not have to. At Hale it appears the teacher selected this and the other required books deliberately out of a number of choices. I presume this was all done with the principal's knowledge.

I am also sure that now this book has jumped to the top of the list for many many people to read and discuss with each other. Not a bad thing.

And thank you for this thoughtful discussion and summary. I thank you for the time you take in going to all these meetings and reporting on them.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Rosie, I'm 4'9" and I never crouch.

Sue, the Board didn't punt. They haven't made a decision yet.

I think I may write another thread based on the events of today. They certainly are food for thought (and good for a laugh).

leslie said...

a different point of view on this topic over at the slog: http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/11/19/i-cant-believe-were-talking-about-banning-brave-new-world-at-a-seattle-public-high-school-but-since-it-came-up-repeatedly-on-the-radio-this

Chris said...

Here's the procedure, adopted Nov 3, 2010. One of those consent agenda things, I guess.

rascal said...

I think it is ridiculous to consider suspending a book in an entire district because ONE families perspective.

hschinske said...

Just found this paper, which has a section with a very interesting critique of Huxley's treatment of the Indian characters:

http://nas.ucdavis.edu/Forbes/hwoh.html

"The reader's tragedy begins when he learns that Huxley's Malpais culture is a thoroughly distorted blend of Hopi, Zuni, New Mexican Penitente, and Victorian English notions, woven together in a strange fabric of sexual puritanism, hatred of the flesh, masochism, and racism.

"Huxley chooses to use some Zuni words and some briefly accurate local descriptions to disguise what is essentially a Victorian English middle-class view of human beings. Why?

"Why does he choose to ignore the radical sexual equality found among the Zuni and Hopi (a sharp contrast to his own Phallic-Utopia)?

"Why does he picture the Zuni as being color-prejudiced (a people who have adopted white people in the past)?

"Why does he take a Pueblo Indian culture with virtually a complete absence of negative attitudes towards sexual relations and the human body and transform it into a puritanical, flesh-guilty culture?

"Why does he give us a white "hero" (John), adopted and raised by the "savages" (and partially rejected by them) instead of a brown hero?

"Finally, why does he portray Indians as "insane" people - dirty, ignorant, dominated by "strange" customs - with no intellectual notions whatsoever? (John has to discover "wisdom" from an old battered copy of the works of Shakespeare.)

"We could, I suppose, analyze Huxley's connections with D. H. Lawrence and the latter's perceptions of Native American character.2 While valuable from a historical perspective, such analyses would only detract from the central issue, which is: Huxley could not, or did not want to, entertain the notion that traditional non-Western societies might, in fact, offer a viable alternative to European consumerism, fascism, and conformity, or that Native American "savages" could have an intellectual life giving expression to such alternatives.

"Huxley added to this the unforgivable sin of denigrating and insulting a living, breathing part of the human family by lying about them, by inventing false and derogatory values and ceremonies."

Helen Schinske

freef said...

I've shuffled through your poorly-written, seemingly pointless blog (unless you're the note taker at the school board meetings?) and I've failed to see any coherent, critical, sound-analytic thought. I might point out that I've failed, despite the fact that I'm a former educator at a university where many students from the Seattle School District eventually attend and have, on a regular basis in recent years, slogged through countless other poorly written narratives from under-educated, self-entitled 20-somethings who have been pampered in their youth and never challenged to develop any sense of accountability, duty to their education, or even excuse-free school work, much less critical thinking skills. Surely that would have prepared me to read your blog.

I find it discouraging, alarming, and downright appalling that high school teachers--those same teachers who are up in arms about the poor quality of Teach for America instructors and what unspeakable damage that corps might do to the educational system--admittedly don't know how to properly teach a novel with complex themes. As a society, we should forgive teachers and the school district simply because they acquiesce their incompetence? The satire in Brave New World and the themes that accompany it are not deeply encoded. This book does not require a Da Vinci Code to understand (hint: my use of The Davinci Code here is what us high-brow scholars call "irony." hint-hint: my use of "high-brow scholars" is also "irony."). This book requires basic reading comprehension skills and some thoughtful analysis.

If we take at face value that this is merely a temporary hold of sorts placed on the book in terms of the required reading list, it is still teetering very close to a dangerous line. This whole charade not only sets a bad precedent for other potentially controversial literature, but it teaches our children that self-entitlement gets you what you want and, even worse, it elevates one parent's and child's interpretation of the text above other students, and at a severe expense. What a wonderful classroom experience it could have been if the student had raised her interpretation of the book in class herself and prompted a thoughtful discussion among students. And just perhaps the un-prepared, ill-prepared teacher would have learned something.

Shame on Nathan Hale High School, shame on the school board, and shame on you for propogating the ridiculous excuse of "but we don't know how to teach this book." Shame, shame, shame.

rascal said...

Not really shame on Hale Freef. Did you read the letter from the principal to the Hale community?

Dear Community,

You may have heard stories recently about the use of the book Brave New World, by Aldus Huxley, at Nathan Hale High School. Recent news stories have been inaccurate about the actions we have taken with this book.

Brave New World has not been banned at Nathan Hale.

We believe strongly in the freedom to allow students to read what interests them, and are not in the habit of “banning” books.

Last spring, the Language Arts department at Nathan Hale worked together to select prospective texts from the newly adopted curriculum list for Seattle Public Schools. I am proud of our Language Arts department for selecting a variety of texts from authors of varying cultural and racial backgrounds. We selected texts that better represent not only the diverse student population we serve, but also the diverse population of the City of Seattle.

At the same time that we were selecting prospective texts, feedback came to us about Brave New World from our Native American community. Indigenous community leaders educated us about the hurtful connotation of the word “savage” and the unexamined stereotypical presentation of Native Americans in Brave New World. For this, we are grateful. We continue to work collaboratively with our community to understand culture, race and difference and how such a book and other books like it fit into that process.

Brave New World remains in our curriculum as one of the texts students may choose in Literature Circles. In Literature Circles, students choose their own reading material and meet in small groups with other students who are reading the same book. The teacher acts a facilitator. This context provides a better opportunity for critical thinking about the novel.

To ensure that our students graduate from Nathan Hale ready for college and careers, we must focus on texts that challenge them to think at deep levels about themselves and the society we live in. The texts we have selected have many controversial elements and we are continuing to engage in professional development that helps our entire staff to be more prepared to address culturally and racially charged issues. As staff we have come together to improve our ability to address the issues of equity and race. I am proud of our staff for engaging in the discourse and using their minds well as we hope to help our students learn to use their minds well.

Sincerely,

Jill

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I had a similar experience with a parent who was deeply offended by one of the texts I teach. She came to me after curriculum night and expressed her concern that this particular text reinforced negative stereotypes about African Americans.

My first reaction, honestly, was to brush her off. I had taught the unit for 2 years and it was very popular, engaging, and provided an excellent context for deep critical discussions about race and class in America.

I explained this to her and she was unyielding. She insisted that I not teach the book. I asked her to read over my unit plans and sit in on a class or two. If she still felt strongly about the book, we would design an independent study project for her daughter to complete during the unit.

She read the plans and offered some excellent suggestions like juxtaposing some text from Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Ida B Wells, and others into our reading. I did and it made the unit so much better. She did come in to observe twice, and offered to guest teach a lesson on Zora Neale Hurston which was fantastic.

In short, it worked out. I think the critical difference is that I chose this book and wrote the unit. It isn't on the district list.

We should be teaching challenging texts and we should be ready to handle the difficulties that they create. Real learning happens outside the comfort zone. If I wasn't 100% certain I could teach a book well, I wouldn't teach it. And I certainly wouldn't look to SPS to provide me with high quality professional development to make me ready, because I have yet to receive any quality pd from SPS in my 8 years in this district.

All of this follows the typical pattern. Implement something with grandiose intentions but starve it with lack of resources and follow through. This is what I see consistently in nearly everything the district does.

Increasingly Dismayed Teacher

dan dempsey said...

"And I certainly wouldn't look to SPS to provide me with high quality professional development to make me ready, because I have yet to receive any quality pd from SPS in my 8 years in this district."


You are not alone and it is not just PD for literature teachers. Likely your 8 years could have been 16 and the lack of a quality PD still missing.

$10+ million on coaching teachers ...

Sam Carpenter said...

I had a long response but alas, it was too long. 4096 characters? Really? Oh well.
There appears to have been some issue in the class, and from all accounts Principal Hudson and her staff handled it professionally and did exactly what they are supposed to do. It should have ended there.
Ms. Sense-Wilson is arguing from a specious point, and clearly has no understanding of the book nor any apparent desire to understand any subtext other than that she creates out of thin air.
Many of the points raised at the hearing are fine points on their own, but irrelevant to the issue at hand - Yes, there should be Native American representation on Diversity Day - separate issue. Yes, Native Americans suffer high rates of poverty, suicide and other issues: again, not in the least related to the book in question.
That the committee was unable to parse those issues and stay on topic is unfortunate. That Ms. Sense-Wilson is not able to see how the issues raised in the book are relevant to modern American society is also unfortunate, but ultimately also irrelevant. Punishing the rest of the student body for her lack of understanding is a travesty.
There is a process for challenging curriculum, ergo, (hopefully), there is a process for having this book re-instated to the reading list at Nathan Hale. Can anyone tell me what that process is so I can begin it?

Charlie Mas said...

Mr. Carpenter,

First, welcome to the conversation.

Second, to write a comment longer than 4096 characters you can cut it into sections and post them serially with "continued..." at the end of each and "...continued" a the start of the following sections.

Third, updates to the adopted texts for the aligned curriculum is scheduled to come only once every seven years. The District just completed the process for high school language arts last year and isn't expected to do it again until 2016. At least that's how I reckon it. Rather than relying on my interpretation of the process, I suggest that you contact Kathleen Vasquez or Cathy Thompson and ask them for more information on the process.

Fourth, in the interim you can definitely contact high school language arts teachers and encourage them to teach any book that you care to promote. I'm sure it would further your case by offering to pay - or to help pay - for the cost of the texts. Judging from the outrage expressed online over this, you shouldn't have any trouble raising money for the effort. For what it's worth, it appears that the teachers at Ballard are going to continue to assign the book.

Finally, I would like to say that I agree with the District and the superintendent, that the solution to the problem is professional development for teachers. The problem with that solution is that it isn't coming for a while. The District has a very bad habit of checking off tasks as done when all they have really done is "committed" to doing them. The actual professional development has to be completed before moving forward with the work that depends on it. The District has a nasty habit of pushing people out of airplanes and saying "Don't worry, we are actively working on providing parachutes."

Melissa Westbrook said...

"I've shuffled through your poorly-written, seemingly pointless blog (unless you're the note taker at the school board meetings?) and I've failed to see any coherent, critical, sound-analytic thought."

Freef, such a waste of your time and yet here you are.

"What a wonderful classroom experience it could have been if the student had raised her interpretation of the book in class herself and prompted a thoughtful discussion among students."

And that is true except when you were 15, did you have confidence to challenge your teacher? I didn't. And on something about your culture which probably no one else in the room shared? C'mon, that's not all that realistic.

Educators know there needs to be context and nuance and not just a straight "okay who are the main characters and what are their goals?" type of teaching. That the teachers themselves AND the district say they have not done enough to be prepared to teach the several books that are the most challenging on the list should tell you something.

"Implement something with grandiose intentions but starve it with lack of resources and follow through."

Bravo, Increasingly Dismayed.

Sam, we have a process in the district. Principals are not dictators who get to be the end of every matter (and I am glad for that). There should be no way to take anything beyond a school level? You would support that? If you don't like the process, you can go to the Board. Charlie's suggestion about going to Dr. Enfield or Ms. Vasquez is the right one for your concern.

I think this issue of "one child and one family" is troubling. If it were your child and your culture, you wouldn't speak up? You would fault an African-American parent or Jewish parent if there were something they felt wasn't being taught in context? I say this not to imply anyone is racist but Native Americans have taken it on the chin for decades and yet everyone just shrugs. The district screws up their federal grant and everyone shrugs. They have the highest drop-out rate but I guess if I were expected to sit in a class where my culture gets used in a satirical manner in a book taught with no context, I might just say "why bother?" and leave.

No one is being punished. If the use of Brave New World is suspended, it still can be taught at Hale after a teacher has taught 4 other books from the list. It's in the library. It can be used for a book report.

ArchStanton said...

@Helen re: critique,

While we can bash Huxley for owning the attitudes of the society of which he was a part, and criticize him for appropriating parts of Native American culture to create his contrasting society, I don't think it's fair to suggest that his "savages" were intended to represent any contemporary indigenous peoples. Remember, this story is set about 600 years in the future.

I'm in the middle of reading the book and just finished the section on the reservation. To me, the "savage" culture portrayed seems to be a post-apocalyptic mish-mash of religions and cultures. The people we are told about are Native-American, but any 'original' culture they once possessed has clearly been perverted by outside influences. (e.g. a ceremony where an eagle an Jesus are equally prominent)

On a related note; Christianity is faulted several times for holding back progress.

As to why John is white: one plot point is that John is the son of an upper-caste Director who left John's mother alone and pregnant on the reservation. The Director is shamed by the appearance of his son and son's mother in a society where such concepts are considered disgusting and pornographic. I suppose Huxley could have written the Director as having a liaison with 'savage', but the shame was greater for having an upper-caste woman give birth and be a mother. As to why John is male - see below.

While we are on the subject, when characters of African descent are presented, they are always lower-caste morons (though lower-caste white also exist). He uses the word Negro and octaroon. The society for all it's utopian aspirations also falls into common gender patterns - whether Huxley did this to show the difficulty of changing human nature or just fell into using the attitudes of his time, I cannot say.

Still, for all it's flaws, there's reason for it to be taught.

hschinske said...

Bernard says that the Indians have been living this way for five or six thousand years (referring largely to the squalor and unhealthiness of the pueblo, not to specific religious customs). Huxley himself calls their lifestyle "primitive." The implication is pretty clearly that these are descendants of the Pueblo Indians whom Huxley had seen in New Mexico himself, and that the conditions are similar to 20th-century ones and due to the Indians' own way of life. In three chapters, the Indians get almost no lines, no chance to explain their own thoughts -- they are described by whites, represented by whites, just as in most 20th-century books.

Several commenters have argued that the Indians are the heroes, but Huxley himself said that "the Savage is offered only two opportunities, an insane life in Utopia, or the life of a primitive in an Indian village, a life more human in some respects, but in others hardly less queer and abnormal. At the time this book was written, this idea, that human beings are given free will in order to choose between insanity on the one hand and lunacy on the other, was one that I found amusing and regarded as quite possibly true. For the sake, however, of dramatic effect, the Savage is often permitted to speak more rationally than his upbringing among the followers of a religion that is half fertility cult and half _Penitente_ ferocity would actually warrant."

Helen Schinske

Sam Carpenter said...

Charlie - My problem with the defense of this decision is that it rest on assumptions that I don't think are in evidence, namely that teachers (plural) are not prepared to teach the text. There is some indication that ONE teacher ran into difficulty teaching the text. Based on that one event, which from what I can tell was handled very thouroughly and professionally by Principal Hudson and her staff, we have now removed the book from curriculum.
Now if we are willing to say that teachers (plural) are not prepared to teach "brave New World", than they are also not prepared to teach A Clockwork Orange, The Basketball Diaries or any other of a number of books still on the list that i could mention. That is a far more dangerous path for the district to start down.
Melissa - Of course there should be avenues for appeal beyiond the school level. My point is that everything I have seen shows that in this instance the staff at Hale did a very professional job handling the situation. You seem to be asserting that the agrieved party has a right to a decision in their favor, not just the right to appeal.
Back to Charlie - the invitation to purchase books is a little odd. Would you suggest to Ms. Sense Wilson that she should purchase alternate literature for the classes? I'm not seeing the ppoint there.

hschinske said...

One thing I found really telling was how many people who'd read the book in their youth, even counted it as a major reading experience, had entirely forgotten that there were any Indian characters at all, or remembered the savages but thought they might not actually have been Indians. At least three of my friends reported such gaps in their memories of the book. If that's a halfway typical effect on non-NA readers, it's no wonder they don't immediately get what the fuss is about.

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sam, the letter from the Hale teachers indicates "we" can't meet these challenges that are greater than "we" had formerly anticipated. So either they are covering for one teacher or truly feel this way as a department.

Also, I didn't say the parent should keep going until she wins. She won at Hale and she won at both the Reconsideration Committee meetings. It is the district who seems to not be winning. I think what happened is after the parent realized that the book was to be removed only at Hale that she petitioned that it be removed from all schools lists. She was turned down by the Superintendent.

(Again, my perception is that this is only until the teachers have the professional development they need to teach the book. That certainly would be my stand.)

If the district does what IT says is necessary in order to teach the book, then the book should be on the list. The district has done its job. End of story.

ArchStanton said...

Helen, you can be in my virtual/imaginary book group. Or maybe that's too presumptive... Can I be in yours?

hschinske said...

Any time, Arch!

Helen Schinske

Jan said...

Helen and Arch: I want in. What do I have to do to prove worthiness?

ArchStanton said...

Bring cookies. ;)