I love nothing more than giving my students a fresh new book; preferably one with pages worn from use. I consider introducing the author’s background, the time period and their writing style among my favorite parts of the job. But every so often, a student will eye a book with suspicion. And sure enough, you get that dreaded call from the principal. This, my fellow teachers, is a true story about a challenged book in the classroom.
My principal called me with the news.
“Mrs. So-and-So doesn’t want their child reading the novel because it goes against their religious beliefs.”
The book in question was on the approved book list, and my students have been devouring it for years.
“I will contact the parent myself,” I told my principal, despite the fact that the mom had gone above my head. My philosophy when it comes to dealing with parents? Be like an x-ray. Open and honest communication is key. Plus, I scored huge brownie points for taking this one off my principal’s plate. He was more than happy to let me speak on his behalf.
I love e-mail because there is always proof of contact, but I had to pick up the phone for this one.
An electronic message would likely get lost in translation and I’d come off sounding preachy and judgmental (not my intention of course).
“I understand your beliefs,” I began.
From there, I respectfully assured the parent that I was not trying to convert her daughter to a new religion, but merely teach her about a time period in history where people were put on trial for their supposed beliefs. This piqued mom’s interest. She herself had experienced religious persecution which blocked her from listening to new ideas.
I asked the parent if she would like a copy of the book to preview first.
She responded with a resounding, “Why yes I would.” I think I caught her off guard, as this was an inquiry Mom had never heard before. Next, I offered to send her an email with some of the questions taken directly from my lesson plans. I made her part of the process and welcomed her into our classroom and made myself available for any further questions.
She previewed the book and decided that she and her daughter would read it together and discuss it at home. The student brought these discussion points back to the cooperative group lesson, which offered a varied perspective on the topic. There were a few questions she didn’t answer, but you have to pick and choose your battles. I allowed the child to generate her own questions and conduct research instead.
Many books are on the naughty list but still need to be read.
Perhaps they teach a necessary lesson on humanity or empathy or open-mindedness. People will always have beliefs that may be different from yours. I was happy I confronted this issue and didn’t simply give the kid a completely alternate assignment. I was able to stand by my convictions and rise to this challenge. In addition, I learned a little bit about a new religion. In fact I used some of this student’s questions the following year.
We are teachers….we reinvent and recycle.
Have you ever had a classroom book challenged? How did you handle it?