Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 696
Language arts texts in schools traditionally harkened back to the days of “Dick and Jane” readers. Such material was greatly simplified, repetitious, and—many educators felt—dull and boring. Modern reading texts are meant to inspire and encourage reading by providing beginning readers with creative literature chosen from classic and modern children’s writers. Impressions series, for example, has used works by C. S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rudyard Kipling, A. A. Milne, Dr. Seuss, Jan Slepian, Katherine Paterson, and other classic and award-winning authors and illustrators. The series, which was created in Canada, has taught reading and writing through exposure to poetry, myth, folklore, song, fiction, and nonfiction stories.
Impressions has been a popular series among both teachers and students. After years of close evaluation, the set was adopted by fifteen hundred schools in thirty-four states and most of Canada’s provinces. Teachers who have used the series have called Impressions a great advance over the many instructional texts that had been systematically “dumbed down” for many years, thereby causing children not to care about reading.
Despite the praise and popularity received by Impressions, protests against its use began to be made as early as 1987. These attacks spread and escalated without abatement. During the 1987-1988 school year, parents in several small communities in Washington and Oregon protested that the Impressions books contained traces of witchcraft, mysticism, and fantasy, as well as themes encouraging rebellion against parents and authority figures. Some American parents objected to the books’ occasional use of Canadian spellings. Parents in Oak Harbor, Washington, claimed that the texts were filled with morbid and frightening imagery, and that the books promote Eastern and other religions to the exclusion of Christianity. The protests began on the West Coast, but quickly spread east. At the Talent Elementary School in Phoenix, Arizona, a national organization called Citizens for Excellence in Education reportedly accused the series of promoting secular humanism and witchcraft. In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, parents claimed that there were too many halloween-type themes in the series. In Fairbanks, Alaska, a parent read from an article in the Citizen, a newsletter published by the Christian group Focus on the Family, which stated that “nightmarish textbooks await your kids—concerned parents says Impressions’ violent and occult content torments even happy, well-adjusted children.” In an Atlanta, Georgia, elementary school, parents used an article by the Reverend James Dobson in the Citizen to give point-by-point guidelines on how to fight the series.
During 1989-1990 alone more than two dozen challenges were made against the series. This increased to forty-five school districts during the following school year. A member of the Parent Teacher Association in Winters, California, replied to a challenge there by criticizing those who wanted to ban the materials, commenting that, “this is not a group of local parents, but a nationwide group seeking censorship.” In fact, there have been a number of national groups involved. The American Family Association, for example, brought suit against Impressions in California. Other groups such as the Christian Educators Association International, Citizens for Excellence in Education, the Traditional Values Coalition, and a Canadian group, Parents for Quality Education, also joined in the attack.
In most cases, district school boards reviewed the series and decided to keep the books. However, so much time, energy, and expense went into defending the books that there was little doubt that some districts were discouraged from using the books because of the controversy. In other cases Impressions was removed from the schools after originally being approved in some districts. Lawsuits were filed over the use of Impressions in districts in California, Ohio, Illinois, and Nevada after they had responded to challenges by retaining the series. None of these suits was successful, however, and the courts have not been inclined toward the views of the censors. One judge said that there was no evidence that the Impressions books had been adopted or retained because of “hostility toward Christianity or fealty to any Wiccan or Neo-Paganist credo . . . far from preferring one religion over another, Impressions materials were chosen in part to reflect the cultural diversity of North American society.” Meanwhile, organized attacks on Impressions continued.
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