Before cracking the cover of A Farewell to Arms, The Scarlet Letter, or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for English classes at Highland Park High School, a group of 11th graders handed their parents a permission slip.
It read: “Some literary selections possess mature content that some individuals may find objectionable.”
Teachers in Highland Park don’t want to take any risk of offending parents.
“Those are three books that have never required parental permission in our district, and they will not require it in the future,” superintendent Dawson Orr said. The teachers weren’t following some new district policy, he said, but “went above and beyond any administrative directive about getting parent permission.”
In fact, the Highland Park High principal visited those teachers to explain that the permission slips don’t have to be signed.
Teachers have reason to ask their students to warn their parents that the classics are full of sex and violence, racism and misogyny. Their lessons plans were thrown into chaos when the district suspend seven books and then reversed the decision in September. Orr is actually working on a new policy on books right now, and will propose it next month.
Orr says the feedback he’s gotten for and against the books has been “passionate.”
“We’ve been involved in an intensive community discussion now for the better part of three months around literature selections and the process by which that takes place,” he said.
A committee of parents, staff and students is now reviewing one of the original seven suspended books, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
During a recent interview on KUT, the Austin public radio station, the author confessed that he still doesn’t understand “what they object to. There’s a reference to a couple, but it’s really glossed over. People have missed it, in fact.”
So, kids looking for the dirty passages in his book with a flashlight under their covers might be disappointed.
His book is still in the curriculum for this school year, while the grownups argue about what’s appropriate for teenagers.