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How to Deal with Parental Objection/Alternate titles I'm wondering if anyone has...

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted April 29, 2010 at 12:21 PM via web

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How to Deal with Parental Objection/Alternate titles

I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions as to another text that would deal with the same thematic issues, appropriate for a sophomore honors class as studying Night and Maus I & II. I'm considering Hiroshima, Of Mice and Men, and The Joy Luck Club, but I'd love other suggestions. Also, if anyone has experience with teaching students reading alternate titles, I'd greatly appreciate the input.

I'm closing off the year in a sophomore honors class by studying Night and Maus I & II. Today (the day before we pick up the books), a student told me that her parents did not want her reading either of the books. I'm not in a position to fight this, although I have concerns about why someone would object to these particular texts. We've also read A Separate Peace, Frankenstein, Candide, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Things Fall Apart, all of which contain violence, sexuality, etc. (all the usual complaints), and there was no issue with any of them. Anyway, 

Also, if anyone has experience with teaching students reading alternate titles, I'd greatly appreciate your input. The student says her parents don't mind her being in class while we discuss-they just don't want her actually reading the books. Thanks!

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 29, 2010 at 1:06 PM (Answer #2)

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The objection to Night surprises me, especially since the parents didn't mind the other works.  Personally, I would stay away from Of Mice and Men with that student because that is the one book that I have had parents object to.

Of the three that you suggested, Hiroshima seems like it would be the most effective.  If you prefer a memoir, you could suggest Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, which follows her experience during the Rwandan genocide.  It doesn't quite have the depth of Elie Wiesel's writing, but it possesses the same themes and personal journey motif.

In regards to teaching alternate works, I've used two-sided journals before with students, and they work quite well.  I've also borrowed quizzes and tests from other teachers who have taught the alternate books. Since you teach a tenth-grade honors class and are most likely preparing students for AP English, you could consider using an AP English Lit. writing prompt from AP Central as a basis for essay questions.  Their FRQ essays can easily be tailored for any work of fiction.

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besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted April 29, 2010 at 3:13 PM (Answer #3)

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I agree with the previous posts. I do not understand why they would object to that book this late in the year, especially since they have read the other books you mentioned.

I would consider reading The Joy Luck Club.

I would definitely talk to other teachers in the building and see if they have any materials you can borrow for alternate reading.

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booksnmore | College Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted April 29, 2010 at 6:53 PM (Answer #4)

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It sounds like you've only talked to the student? Not the parents? I'd give them a call. Not to argue, but to clarify. Maybe they don't understand the content of the books. Or maybe the student is losing something while acting as a go-between. I find it especially odd that she can stay in class but not read the book...she loses me right there. I don't understand what the point would be. If they are truly offended by the content, they are going to be offended by the discussion. Aren't they?

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:14 AM (Answer #5)

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As I understand, these are highly fundamentalist Christian parents, which leads me to believe that the objection is of a religious nature. I offered Hiroshima as the alternate, and that was accepted by both student and parents. So I'm thinking that there is some objection to a Jewish perspective on WWII, or perhaps even (although I hope in my heart it's not) an issue of denying the Holocaust.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:18 AM (Answer #6)

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I know you say you're not in a position to fight this, but you should be.

I was too cowardly to fight a book challenge too.  One student objected to one page of James Alexander Thom's Follow the River that depicted a husband fantasizing about his wife sexually.

He took it to the school board with the following flawed logic: if this were a movie it would be rated R, and since I am not allowed to watch rated R movies at school, I should not have to read this book.

Not only did they not make him read the book, but they took it out of the curriculum altogether.

I should have stood up for the book.  It's the thing I regret most in my teaching career.

So, my advice, and it sounds idealistic and hopelessly romantic: don't open the door of censorship. Please, for the sake of other teachers, for the Constitution, for the sake of books themselves, don't give an inch.  Your fellow teachers, or the union, or parents, or authors, or God in his heavenly library will support you for this.

There are no ratings for books and there never will be.  Don't set a precedent.

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z14 | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:32 AM (Answer #7)

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Wow--the objection to Night floors me, especially since the parents didn't mind the other works.  Personally, I would stay away from Of Mice and Men with that student because that is the one book that I have had parents object to.

Of the three that you suggested, Hiroshima seems like it would be the most effective.  If you prefer a memoir, you could suggest Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza, which follows her experience during the Rwandan genocide.  It doesn't quite have the depth of Elie Wiesel's writing, but it possesses the same themes and personal journey motif.

In regards to teaching alternate works, I've used two-sided journals before with students, and they work quite well.  I've also borrowed quizzes and tests from other teachers who have taught the alternate books. Since you teach a tenth-grade honors class and are most likely preparing students for AP English, you could consider using an AP English Lit. writing prompt from AP Central as a basis for essay questions.  Their FRQ essays can easily be tailored for any work of fiction.

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted May 3, 2010 at 6:53 AM (Answer #8)

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If these parents are comfortable with the other selections you mentioned, then Night should be the least of their concerns. If you have a supportive administration, ask them to back you on it. If your principal and the others at the top basically cower to parents, as many do, then you may need to think of another avenue to use. I'm with previous posters on this one: Fight. Fight to the death. "Go to the mattresses," to quote the Godfather.

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted May 4, 2010 at 10:52 AM (Answer #9)

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Thank you for all your suggestions. I think I may have been unclear in my explanation however, in that these parents are not objecting to my teaching the novels to the class as a whole, nor asking for them to be removed from the curriculum. They're not even requesting that their daughter be removed from discussion. They simply want an alternate assignment for her. The reason I've chosen not to argue that, is probably the same reason they've chosen not to argue the right of every other student in the class to read the books. They're making the choice for their own child. Now, I personally think everyone should read these texts (Maus especially, as an introduction to what comics can offer as literature), but I'm not going to fight against a family that's made a decision which only affects their own daughter. If they were questioning the placement in the curriculum, or asking for the entire class to read something else, then it would be a different issue. You'd better believe I'd be going to the mat then. Again, thanks for all your input and suggestions.

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted May 10, 2010 at 4:51 PM (Answer #10)

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It is not too hard to understand a parent's objections if you look at people all having different value systems. The parent might not have objected to others because they might not even know what was in those books, but decided to look at the last one, thus objecting to it. I usually ran the classes as an after school workshop and seminar so that I could actually manage the two situations. Running it as a seminar can take a great deal of the work off your shoulders and place it on the student's.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 25, 2010 at 10:41 AM (Answer #11)

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Parents object for many different reasons, and truthfully, I think we as a nation have become way too lax in what is acceptable in our society.  Too many times I've heard that profanity is the "new black".  Poppycock.  Profanity for the sake of profanity is absurd.  However, profanity in a book like Killer Angels is perfectly understandable and tolerable for the circumstances.

As teachers, we need to be sure we are choosing books that are meaningful and teaching about real life--I can't believe that Night would be contested, and I still am dumbfounded that Huck Finn is contested.  These books are an important window into the human condition, and when presented this way, surely parents will understand.  If they do not, an alternative assignment should be part of the backup plan.

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swimma-logan | Student, College Freshman | Valedictorian

Posted May 26, 2010 at 4:34 AM (Answer #12)

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How to Deal with Parental Objection/Alternate titles

I'm closing off the year in a sophomore honors class by studying Night and Maus I & II. Today (the day before we pick up the books), a student told me that her parents did not want her reading either of the books. I'm not in a position to fight this, although I have concerns about why someone would object to these particular texts. We've also read A Separate Peace, Frankenstein, Candide, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Things Fall Apart, all of which contain violence, sexuality, etc. (all the usual complaints), and there was no issue with any of them. Anyway, I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions as to another text that would deal with the same thematic issues, appropriate for a sophomore honors class. I'm considering Hiroshima, Of Mice and Men, and The Joy Luck Club, but I'd love other suggestions.

Also, if anyone has experience with teaching students reading alternate titles, I'd greatly appreciate your input. The student says her parents don't mind her being in class while we discuss-they just don't want her actually reading the books. Thanks!

The Joy Luck Clubwas an excellent book, and some parents are just like that. As a student, with "those parents" I can tell you some people just object to cause trouble. They'll find something silly, and just go on a tyrade. I've yet to have a school employee successfully deal with my parents. Sometimes parents are just difficult for the sake of it.

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dmclaren2 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 20, 2010 at 4:29 PM (Answer #13)

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I had a parent object to How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents because of the sexual content. As in the case of the original post, the parents were objecting only to their son reading the book, not my right to teach it. My school's policy is that they will generally back the teacher. However, if there is an alternate text that will offer similar themes the studnet can use that book instead as long as it does not cause undue hardship for the teacher. In my case, I had the student read When I Was Puerto Rican as an alternative text. Since we did not have a copy of the book, the family was responsible for securing a copy for their son. Because I taught my units with choices built in, he was able to use most of the same assignments with the alternate text. The final assessment was project-based, so, again, he was able to complete the unit without a lot of extra work on my part.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 26, 2010 at 2:41 PM (Answer #14)

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Is there any way in which students in this situation can study a similar book and participate in discussion in class? For example, there are many books out there on the holocaust which could be used as alternatives to any texts that might be considered offensive. Depending on your aims of teaching the book it would still allow them to contribute to discussion and the big issues that such texts confront.

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mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted March 3, 2013 at 3:01 PM (Answer #15)

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This answer is way after your question was asked, but I had the choice for 8th graders to read Maus as part of their outside reading for WWII. Even then I had parents ask why I had my students reading a comic book for credit. My standard answer was that I asked the parent to read the book and then we would talk whether or not it was a worthy choice. Every single time, the parent would call back with the whole family reading the book. Maybe if you ask the parent to read Maus, you might get the same response. I love the choices you have made.

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