|8:00 PM, Sunday, October 13th, 2013 - Posted by John Wilson|
Parental Complaint Spurs Suspension of Book's Use at Alamogordo High School
Neil Gaiman s book Neverwhere is the subject of some controversy among a group of parents of children in the Alamogordo Public School system. ( John Bear/Daily News)
Alamogordo Public Schools has "temporarily removed" a book from its English curriculum because of what one parent calls "inappropriate content."
The 386-page book, titled "Neverwhere" by New York Times No. 1 bestselling British author Neil Gaiman, has been used in Alamogordo High School's 10th-grade English curriculum since 2004.
The book has a 4 1/2-star rating on both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. The science fiction/fantasy story follows Richard Mayhew, an Englishman who helps a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From there, he is drawn into an alternate reality of London's abandoned subway system and sewer tunnels, and finds a world far stranger and more dangerous than the one above. Mayhew has fallen through the cracks of reality and landed somewhere different, somewhere that is called "Neverwhere."
But a particular passage on Page 86 grabbed the attention of Nancy Wilmott, whose teenage daughter at Alamogordo High School was reading the book as part of an assignment. The four-paragraph passage graphically describes an adulterous sexual encounter between a married man and a single woman in which the F-word is used three times, along with a brief description of groping of one's anatomy.
"I really think that the school needs to let the parents know what their students are going to read beforehand, not the day before or after," Wilmott wrote in an e-mail to the Daily News. "I am not a closed-minded parent that thinks my kids should hear no evil. Just not something with such graphic detail -- a intimate situation between two adults."
Even though the passage is the only one of its kind being singled out, Alamogordo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. George Straface said the book has been "temporarily removed from usage" until it can be reviewed.
"I reviewed the language personally. I can see where it could be considered offensive," he said. "The F-word is used. There is a description of a sexual encounter that is pretty descriptive, and it's between a married man and a single woman. Although kids can probably see that on TV anytime they want, we are a public school using taxpayer dollars.
"On that basis, we have decided to temporarily remove the book until we can review it with our panels and make a decision."
That doesn't sit well with Pam Thorp, an English teacher at AHS, who is vehemently opposed to what she says amounts to censorship.
"I cannot and will not condone the censorship this parent is promoting," she said. "The implication that we are careless or irresponsible simply is not true. Presenting challenging material of merit that may contain some foul language or mature situations, in a sensitive and academic manner, is part of our responsibility to our students in order to engage them in evaluating the human condition. I take that responsibility very seriously and strive every day to encourage my students to think ... about the world, about their community, about their friends and about themselves. Censorship is the opposite of that."
Straface said a process will begin next week to form a panel that will review complaints about books the school system uses in its curriculum. He added that "three or four" parents have complained about the material contained within "Neverwhere."
Straface said there currently is a process by which parents are informed of possible controversial material via a letter sent home with students. He said it gives parents the opportunity to opt their child out of an assignment in favor of a similar assignment.
Wilmott said she received no such letter.
"There was no book waiver until (Wednesday) night after they had been reading for well over a week," she said. "I was upset that parents were not notified that the book was being read. If a movie is PG-13 or higher, a parent must sign a waiver before a student can watch. The same should have happened with such a book as this."
According to an e-mail sent at 12:27 p.m. Thursday and obtained by the Daily News, AHS Principal Darian Jaramillo, who was not accepting inquiries from the media, informed several teachers and staff that she "would like the book pulled from the shelves and not used in classes."
"From here forward, if you are reading any material that has a controversial issues [sic] or adult language/content, please send a letter home to parents about that specific book and what the content is," she wrote.
Because the school system has suspended use of the book, Straface said he is also hearing from First Amendment advocates."I'm also hearing from the other side that says we shouldn't have done that because, while the language that's there may be objectionable, they hear much worse in the student commons area," he said. "That may be true -- and it probably is -- but I don't support it."
The book was recommended for use in Alamogordo in 2004, long before Straface became superintendent in 2011. But he said it was recommended by the publishers of a textbook the school currently uses.
"That is not unusual," he said. "Textbook publishers always provide a list of books to use as supplements to lessons we are trying to teach."
But Straface said a recent check of that recommended list no longer contains "Neverwhere."
Thorp said Wilmott never approached the English teacher, but instead went directly to administration officials more than one week ago with her concerns about the book.
The teacher, who will not be named, assigned the student an alternate book once she learned through the proverbial grapevine that there was a problem, Thorp said.
"This happened more than a week ago," she said. "We thought things had calmed down and then it all blew up again because she's promoting this agenda. (The parent) hasn't been in contact with the teacher throughout this whole process. That is something that she has completely bypassed to get what she wants, which is to have this book completely taken out of the school.
"It's not about her child, specifically, anymore. It's about censorship."
He emphasized that "Neverwhere" has not been banned -- yet.
"But it may be," he said. "If it becomes so, my rationale would be that after a review, it was our judgment that this was not appropriate for 10th graders. It is our prerogative to do that in the literature that we teach.
"Some people may call that censorship -- and I would say, 'Yes, it is.'"
Source: Alamogordo News
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