November 07, 2007
Parents Demand Removal Of "Pornography"
s it common sense – or censorship?
The question has sparked a firestorm of discontent that threatens to divide the Westhampton Beach Union Free School district as battle lines are drawn over an issue which some feel threaten First Amendment rights and others believe puts children at risk.
At the heart of the controversy are two books, The 10th Circle, by Jodi Picoult and Cradle and All, by James Patterson. Parents who have read the books deem certain sections in Picoult's book that deal with topics such as oral sex and sexual party games among teenagers as unfit for a school's "select" reading list. A scene in Patterson's book, which portrays a teenage girl having sex with a number of men, has sparked similar outrage. Some parents are asking that the books be removed from the reading list; other parents believe such a move constitutes censorship.
A group of incensed parents appeared before the WHB school district's board of education at their meeting on Monday night to discuss the heated topic and offer solutions.
Remsenburg parent Georgia Joyce said she was shocked to find Picoult's book on the list. "It made me feel sick, reading it. I thought, 'This will not end up in kids' hands, because it's so disgusting. Most of us agree that this is pornographic material."
She added that parents are concerned that the school has not been listening to their concerns; a formal complaint was filed against the two books. One parent said that if he were to send the passage from the book, he would be arrested for exposing students to pornography.
Joyce handed the board petitions, one with 25 signatures, and another with 52, and said more signatures from parents are being collected.
"These books teach your children how to perform sexual acts on each other at parties," she said.
Joyce said the sexual games described in the book include daisy chaining, "meaning having sex like a conga line," stoneface, "where a bunch of guys sit at a table with their pants pulled down" while a girl performs sexual acts on them under a table, and rainbow, where girls wear different colored lipsticks while engaging in oral sex with boys. "The boy at the end who sports the most colors is the winner."
Joyce said that she has no problem with discussing social issues such as date rape but thinks some books handle it better and less graphically. "I'm not opposed to books that deal with controversial issues. I am opposed to giving children pornography."
Remsenburg parent Sylvia Baker said as the working mother of four children she did not have the time to read every book on the children's select reading list and asked for a ratings system similar to that used for movies so that parents can have an idea of whether there are sexually explicit topics or graphic violence in a book.
Baker said she was speaking for her own children, and was not asking for the books to be removed or commenting on another parent's decision to let a child read the books. "I don't object to Playboy being sold but I don't want my kids to go and buy it."
Jean Crawford, whose daughter had read the book before she learned of its content, agreed with Joyce. "It is porn – it's rated X."
In an exclusive interview with The Independent, author Jodi Picoult spoke out about charges that content in her book is pornographic.
"As a parent myself, I heartily endorse knowing what one's child is reading," she said. "However, The Tenth Circle is not pornography, but a sensitive exploration of the issues surrounding a date rape. Over 70 percent of high school and college age girls report either being the victim of a date rape, or having a close call with one. My intent in writing the book was not to shock but to educate: to put forth a thought-provoking story that parents would read with their children, and then discuss – a conversation all of us would rather have with our kids too early than too late."
"If books are removed from the list based on parental complaints about content, it is, in essence, censorship," said Terry Lucas, a parent and owner of The Open Book in Westhampton Beach.
"As for banning The Tenth Circle it's my belief that the banning of a book, is a disservice to the students and to the teachers of the school," Picoult said.
"This isn't censorship," said Joyce. "We have a right to protect our children from things they're not emotionally prepared to read."
Beverly Rood, a Remsenburg parent, said when books are removed from a list, "it's a slippery slope," and advised caution before proceeding in such a direction.
Cheryl Dorskind, whose husband teaches English in the district, warned against removing books from the list and said if that happens, other books about the Holocaust or other issues might be next. "Where does it end?" she asked.
East Quogue parent Kathy Tureski reminded that the books are on a "select" list and not required. "Parents should know what their children are reading," she said. "Freedom of choice – it's the First Amendment."
Jim Hulme, WHB BOE president, suggested parents read the whole book rather than take certain paragraphs out of context. He said it was the first time while working at the school that such a situation had arisen but that the board hopes to resolve the situation quickly. A four-person committee was appointed at Monday's meeting to work toward a resolution regarding the two books; the first meeting of the committee was expected to be held yesterday.
Lucas urged the board against censorship. "As Thomas Jefferson so wisely stated, 'Censorship represents a tyranny over the mind and is harmful whenever it occurs.'"