Newburgh New York school district yanked a ninth grade book considered by teachers to be “pornographic.” An Arizona mother launched an avalanche of protest that forced Arizona schools to pull an eleventh grade book that portrays teens in a sado-masochistic relationship. A Catholic school superintendent admits there were two first grade books about families—that included pictures of homosexual pairs—listed on the Common Core Catholic Identity Initiative website, a resource for Catholic schools nationwide. These “family” books—The Family Book and Who’s in a Family—were removed from the website after parental protest.
Across the nation, in public and Catholic schools, parents and teachers have found sexually inappropriate materials in the exemplars recommended by Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In some cases the offending material is removed. In others, parents are offered “opt out” choices for their children. However, the question that looms large is, why has so much disturbing material been systematically built into the CCSS recommended texts? Should a small cadre of unelected ideologues have nationwide power to decide that American first graders should be exposed to homosexual “families,” or, that ninth graders be given pornography in the guise of literature? These questions and the examples outlined below shout for parental scrutiny and a return to local control of school districts.
Under New York State’s Common Core requirements, excerpts from the book, Black Swan Green, are required reading for ninth graders. Black Swan Green features a 13-year-old boy as the narrator who graphically describes his father’s genitals and a sex act. It has been suggested that because all of the excerpts do not contain explicitly sexual material some students would read only the required portions of the book. Others scoff at the idea that once the books are in a student’s possession that the sexually graphic material would be skipped over. Indeed, CCSS itself directs teachers to the full texts: “When excerpts appear, they serve only as stand-ins for the full text. The Standards require that students engage with appropriately complex literary and informational works; such complexity is best found in whole texts rather than passages from such texts.
Jen Costabile, an English teacher in the Newburgh school district pointed out that this issue is not limited to a single troublesome book. “At least three of the books listed on the modules [curriculums] contain passages using inappropriate language and visual imagery that most people would consider pornographic,” said Costabile. Other teachers noted that this and similar situations are an example of systemic flaws in the Common Core aligned curriculums. The school district hopes to return a $6,000 shipment of the books.
The most alarming CCSS selection by far is the novel, The Bluest Eye, by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Toni Morrison. Bluest Eye, now banned from several school districts, is an explicit depiction of rape, incest, sexual violence and pedophilia. The pedophile, named Soaphead Church, claims God as his inspiration, “I work only through the Lord. He sometimes uses me to help people.”
Worse, however, is that the novel is written with sympathy for the pedophile. Morrison defends her character, and reportedly wrote the story so the reader becomes a “co-conspirator” with the pedophile. According to Macey France, co-founder of Stop Common Core Oregon, Morrison, “says she wanted the reader to feel as though they are a ‘co-conspirator’ with the rapist. She took pains to make sure she never portrayed the actions as wrong in order to show how everyone has their own problems. She even goes as far as to describe the pedophilia, rape, and incest ‘friendly,’ ‘innocent,’ and ‘tender.”
How are such texts chosen? From the Common Core State Standards website:
Selecting Text Exemplars
The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with. Additionally, they are suggestive of the breadth of texts that students should encounter in the text types required by the Standards. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms.
No parent or teacher group opposes reading material that includes complexity and quality. The issue with the Common Core selected exemplars concerns “range” and age appropriate material, as well as proper context.
The (NY) Council for School Supervisors and Administrators, who reviewed a recommended text, Make Lemonade, were disturbed by the book’s “sexually explicit language and content.” The young adult novel is part of the eighth-grade Scholastic CODEX curriculum that some (New York) city schools listed this year as part of their compliance with CCSS. Some passages “worried union members, including discussions of sex and drugs,” said spokeswoman, Antoinette Isable-Jones. Isable-Jones also said the principals union sought more information on who and how the city selected the materials recommended to schools.
Members were told that “Make Lemonade,” is an optional selection and that parents were free to express their concerns to their respective principals. “The novel has been highly recommended for middle school grades and is just one of many novels that teachers can choose among for reading material,” noted Erin Hughes, spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education.
Across the country, Buena High School in Sierra Vista, Arizona, acknowledged parental pressure and removed the sexually explicit novel, Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia. Dreaming includes teen sado-masochism passages. The novel is also an “exemplar text” in the Common Core State Standards. Furthermore, in conjunction with the study of this novel, teachers and students are sent to a website that features an interview with Garcia about her newest book—found by parents to be even more disturbing.
Garcia’s book is among several where school officials suggest parents simply submit “opt out” forms for their students if they object to the selection. But few parents are so naïve as to think that a school approved book that depicts violent sex among teens will have no affect on the wider school environment. One father observed, “My daughter will mix socially with her peers who have absorbed this book, even if she has not read it. How is she protected from that book’s influence on her friends?” Still others worry about the increased reports of teacher student sex and the effect such erotic “educational” material may have on students.
Schools, especially public schools, are already high-risk environments in some communities that are struggling to contain drugs, bullying, and violence. Do such texts increase violence, teen pregnancy and drug use among susceptible, vulnerable children? Can such novels be understood as educational? One shocked parent noted that material in Dreaming in Cuban, if filmed, would be rated R-17, but if it’s listed by CCSS, it is used in schools as “lessons” for 15 year olds.
According to a September Associated Press story, Barbara Hansen, a former Sierra Vista elementary school teacher, described the book to the school officials as “child pornography.” “We’re bludgeoning their souls with this kind of material. It’s debauchery, and it’s just not worthy of our students,” Hansen said.
School Superintendent, Kriss Hagerl, explained that had the district known of the book’s content, they’d have asked teachers choose an alternative. “We’ve learned a lesson in this, and we’ll make sure to put those steps in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Hagerl said.
But, it does happen. Parents and concerned teachers see a pattern. When graphic, offensive material is brought to school officials, often the material is removed. More often, however, an attempt is made to “educate” the parent by officials who defend the choice as part of a “broad” literary foundation intended to introduce students to Nobel Prize winners (Morrison) or multicultural perspectives (Latino and Black). And some school officials themselves feel pressured to defend CCSS exemplars as part of their professional identity.
The deep flaws of the Common Core system of standards and accompanying “exemplars” serves to remind citizens of the wisdom of the Tenth Amendment. Education belongs to the States; to the local community where community standards are best decided by the people who know their fellow citizens.
A faceless, unaccountable, centralized national CCSS does not know our children. It proceeds upon an unproven theory of reform and social experimentation. Its goal is a standardized American worker—A plug and play worker unit. Our goal is a thinking person, an educated citizen.