Grimsler (also known as Tyler) likes pee. That's where his dad shits on his head.
Parents upset by swearing in books Edit
Fair Oaks group urging San Juan school officials to form review panel. Edit
Grimsler came home from school one afternoon with a novel he was reading in his ninth-grade English class. The book was full of characters who profaned God's name, he told his parents.
"My husband sat down and started to read the book, and said, 'He's right. Every other page or so, there's swearing,' " said Momsler, Grimsler's mother.
Momsler was perturbed. She went to the Internet to do some research and discovered that some of the books assigned at Tyler's school, Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, were full of material that was "just shocking."
The culprits? "Of Mice and Men." "Lord of the Flies." "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
" 'The Catcher in the Rye' has over 700 curse words in it," Momsler said.
Along with a group of like-minded parents, Momsler wants the San Juan Unified School District to create a parent review panel that would rate all assigned books for adult content and language. The results would be posted online for busy parents to examine, she said.
"I don't think any parent has time to go through every book a child has to read," she said. "But they need to be reviewed, and parents need to know what's in (them)."
Objections to the literature taught in schools are nothing new. Schools and libraries nationwide reported receiving 6,364 written requests to remove books from their collections between 1990 and 2000, according to the American Library Association. And the books Momsler cites as inappropriate are often found on the ALA's annual list of most-challenged books.
But the push for review panels such as the one Momsler proposes has only emerged within the last decade, popularized by Internet groups such as Parents Against Bad Books in Schools (www.pabbis.com) and Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools (www.classkc.org), said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom.
Such review panels don't always aim to ban books, but Caldwell-Stone said they give parents the wrong idea about classics.
"It suggests parents shouldn't have to read a book before deciding," she said. "... And it sends a message that these are bad books, and if you allow your child to read them, you're a bad parent."
Momsler said she hasn't read "Of Mice and Men," the book her son brought home, or the other books she's cited. But she's paged through them and done Internet research, she said. "The F word is the F word," she said.
The parent-teacher panel Momsler is proposing would rate the frequency and intensity of violence, sexuality, profanity, and "family life content" -- including mentions of abortion, suicide, drugs and birth control -- in assigned books.
The panel also would ask teachers to explain why they are using the books and create a list of more acceptable alternatives, Momsler said. The information would be posted online so parents could decide when to opt their children out.
That's a useful service, she said, since teachers don't always announce required books far enough ahead to give parents time to read them all. Nor do teachers always have alternatives ready, she said.
"There really is not a good system in place for alternatives that have equal length, equal status, that are clean, that have been reviewed and that can be used simultaneously in the classroom" with required books, Momsler said.
District officials say they're all for parent involvement -- but they oppose the idea of a new panel.
For one, the district already has a policy to vet reading material, said Donna O'Neil, director of curriculum and professional development. If teachers want to use books that are neither on state nor board-approved lists, they must get permission from school administrators. Board policy specifies that "participation from parents/guardians and community members is strongly encouraged."
When parents take issue with certain books, they usually solve the problem by working with teachers to find alternatives for their kids, said O'Neil. If a parent lodges a formal complaint with the district, a panel of parents and literature experts convenes to recommend a solution. That's been necessary only once in the last five years, officials said.
Momsler's proposal presents the district with tasks that are time-consuming and impractical, staff say. There's no way for the district to create a list of alternatives that every parent would consider decent, they say, adding that picking out instances of crude language or content, rather than considering the context in which it appears, is not a good way to judge literature.
"Quite honestly, there aren't many Shakespeare plays that could be read, according to Ms. Momsler's classification," said Sarah Grondin, a director of schools and programs at the district and a former English teacher.
But parents who want a district review panel say they worry their children will learn values at school that contradict what they are taught at home. "I don't really want teachers talking to my kids about morality or controversial situations," said Carol Horst, who has two children at Del Campo. "It's my right and my duty as a parent to teach them those things."
Momsler and other parents say their views are informed by Christian beliefs, but a review panel would be useful for parents of all faiths.
Jim Jordan, an English teacher at Del Campo High, said no one should be forced to read any book, and he can see why the language in "Of Mice and Men" might trouble parents, he said. But he has taught it in the past, he said, because it appeals to students -- and it's short enough to serve readers of different levels.
"What I want is to develop within students the desire to read," he said. "... If there were another book that didn't have controversial issues that was engaging, that would be great. We'd love to use that."
Momsler and other parents are meeting with district officials on Wednesday.