I read with dismay "Outrage over PCHS summer reading: School board faces criticism from concerned parents." To the Board of Education who vowed to make sure Superintendent Conley takes the necessary steps to "appease upset parents" I say, Please don't.
This is the latest in a long list of utterly unbelievable Utah responses to public education, and to spend any more time addressing the concerns of the "several" parents who raised them detracts from what could otherwise be a tremendous learning opportunity for all involved.
To call real-world issues such as alcoholism, bullying, profanity and - yes - even masturbation "provocative" or "explicit" is laughable. By this definition, high school itself would be explicit. Four years worth. Do parents really think that these issues - if not assigned in a summer reading book - are ones their high school students wouldn't face? Guess what? They do. They happen whether parents are comfortable or not. In fact, for the sake of uncomfortable parents alone, I argue assigning topics such as these is imperative. For some high school students, it may be the only chance they get to discuss them with interested and caring adults without being shamed for broaching the subject.
One could read Sherman Alexie's book in question "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" and focus on profanity and masturbation. One could focus instead on Alexie's amazing ability to relate painful, personal memories in a way that informs rather than shames; or the beauty of his writing; or the amazing journey of a starving boy with no hope for a bright future who chiseled one out of words; or his courage and humor; or the shameful history our country tries to forget - or worse, erase - with regard to its treatment of Indians; or relationships. Alexie's book is more about relationships between male friends, parents and children, and even romantic relationships than it is about any of those other things.
For those parents who read the assigned book and didn't see any of that I say, What are you so afraid of?
"Diary" is an English teacher's dream come true. There's something in it for every student in the class to relate to: love, diversity; culture; discrimination; what it takes to become a good writer; hate; bigotry; acceptance; empathy; difference; the prevalence of alcoholism and AIDS on reservations in our country. The list is endless. To ignore all of those and turn the conversation into yet another sideshow of fear and ignorance is depressing at best.
It's commendable Superintendent Conley and the Board are taking the complaints seriously by revamping printed information and parental consent forms. I believe improving communication is always a good thing. However, despite the complainants' request for more information I have to wonder if they aren't actually asking for more one-way communication; by knowing more up front, aren't they just hoping to be able to shut the communication down? The irony is startling and is why I sincerely hope that Faculty and Administrators don't do too much appeasing.
Finally, I think Ms. Yeates (the English teacher who encouraged parents to become involved if they have concerns) nailed it. As parents it is our responsibility to be engaged in our kids' lives. As parents, we need to strive to discuss rather than silence, no matter the topic. We need to seize opportunities to have conversations with our students in which we share our thoughts, especially when it's hard. We need to value education and literature and difference and encourage our kids to do the same. When all else fails, we need to tell them it's hard for us to discuss some things with them, but they're so important to us that some discomfort is worth it. Wouldn't that be a far more productive conversation than trying not to have any conversation at all?
Allyson McGuire is a Park City resident and mother of three elementary school-aged children. She holds a Master of Science degree in Counseling and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.