Keller ISD has landed in the national spotlight for providing a terrible example of how to answer a question arising around the country: How do we handle sensitive or offensive material in schools?
A graphic novel depicting Anne Frank’s powerful story of her short life during the Holocaust has been flagged for review. Someone also tagged the Bible — the highest-selling and most-read book in all of history — for a committee to consider for removal.
Keller ISD has opted to separate wholesale any “challenged” books until a further review can take its place. That knee-jerk policy is the wrong tack. It opens the district to mockery and leads to overreaction taking the place of common-sense judgment.
Previously, the district had been doing a lengthy review of challenged works after a Texas Education Agency investigation uncovered books in Keller ISD libraries that had sexually explicit material.
On Tuesday, Jennifer Price, the district’s curriculum director, told staff in an email to quickly pull all titles flagged for review from libraries and classrooms, regardless of what recommendations had already been made.
It’s a classic bureaucratic decision — overly cautious, unnecessarily duplicative and ignoring the inevitable unintended consequences.
It’s also been blown out of proportion among national news sources.
In a written statement Thursday, Keller Superintendent Rick Westfall clarified that the challenged books are removed and in a “Parental Consent Area” and that he anticipates “that books like the Bible, Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation, and other titles will be on shelves very soon.”
Due to the national exposure, even the U.S. Holocaust Museum appeared to weigh in on someone flagging the Anne Frank graphic novel, writing on Twitter: tweeting “Anne Frank is among the most well-known of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. For many students around the world, her diary is the first encounter they have with the history of Nazi Germany’s attempt to murder all the Jews of Europe during World War II.”
There are offensive books and inappropriate books, and then there are people making a political statement via books. Flagging the Bible, an Anne Frank book or Uncle Tom’s Cabin (as an example), is one way to send a message and frankly, waste the time of people paid on the taxpayer’s dime to teach our children.
It’s unclear yet who flagged these books — parents or community members — but it seems clear from the book titles they are making an obvious political point: If this offends you, well then this offends me. Sorry, but we highly doubt anyone has a genuine issue with Anne Frank’s story, in any depiction.
We agree with and understand the need for parents to be involved in their children’s education. They have every right to object to curriculum or material that seems too mature, graphic, or unsuitable for them. This is especially true of elementary and middle school-aged children.
But we also presume teachers, librarians and other staff have jobs to do, and tediously removing and reviewing any book that’s flagged is a waste of time. It also loses the point of education altogether, which is to expand a child’s knowledge of the world in which he lives.
At this point, especially given the wide range of availability of these books elsewhere — at the public library, online, or in various apps such as Audible — school administrators need to ask themselves: What’s this really about? Is there a better way to handle this?
Administrators in Keller and other districts should listen to the community — and that includes voters and taxpayers, not just parents. They should make distinctions between explicit content and that which merely induces provocative thinking.
If a particular book is flagged, it should be reviewed while still available in libraries. As for books used in curriculum, parents should be informed ahead of time of the list of books their children will be reading in English or literature classes. Families should be allowed to decline or opt their children out of reading any book that they deem inappropriate.
If a handful of parents object to a certain title, naturally, a teacher or administrator may want to reconsider teaching that particular book.
Books are powerful tools for broadening a child’s mind. Some are age-inappropriate for children, but some are incredible. Parents should be let into this process without being given the ability to make political statements through book-flagging and wasting staff time to review every grievance.