Parents of Hamilton County School Board vote on explicit language and themes in children’s books

Parents and members of the Hamilton County School Board weighed in on explicit language in young adult library books at a board of education meeting Thursday.

The discussion came in response to public comments made at a board meeting in August on four young adult books, as well as an opinion piece written last week by board member Rhonda. Thurman of Hixson in which she raised questions about books that contain adult themes and language and their process for approving their curriculum.

“I don’t care about the context. If these names, these words come out of my grandchildren’s mouths, I don’t care about the context, someone’s in serious trouble,” she said Thursday.

School principal Neelie Parker explained the book approval process and told the board that the books fall into two categories: teaching materials taught by teachers to students in the classroom and select readings found in libraries. .

Karitsa Jones, a board member for Chattanooga, said she doesn’t always agree with the language in books or on TV, but libraries do offer options. Plus, she said, performance counts in the books.

“My point is that libraries give you a choice, and for every book a parent doesn’t want their child to read, there’s another parent who’s okay with that,” Jones said. “So what I’m saying is you can’t censor when it’s uncomfortable for you, because it’s just life. Life is uncomfortable.”

The four books Thurman referenced were “Far from the Tree” by Robin Benway, “More Than We Can Tell” by Brigid Kemmerer, and “On the Come Up” and “The Hate U Give”, both by Angie Thomas. None of the books are used in the Hamilton County Schools program, school officials told The Times Free Press last week.

Thurman also said on Thursday that classics like “To Kill a Mockingbird” had been pulled from school libraries. Chattanooga council member Jenny Hill asked district officials if this was true. The book is part of the ninth grade curriculum taught to students in the “American Voices” unit, Parker said.

Hixson board member Joe Smith told the board that a librarian he knows well recommended that he read “Far from the Tree” and that he enjoyed the book, but wished he could. that it does not contain explicit language.

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Left to right, Taylor Lyons and Mari Smith, co-founders of Moms for Social Justice, talk about books used in Hamilton County public schools. The Hamilton County School Board held its monthly meeting on the Hickory Valley Road campus on Thursday evening.

Young adult books targeted by Thurman address multiple social issues, including adoption and foster care, childhood abuse and trauma, poverty, racial inequality and police brutality targeting Afro people. – Americans, as described on the Goodreads book review site.

Members of Chattanooga Moms for Social Justice spoke out on social media last week against attempts to remove the four books from the school system’s libraries. Member Taylor Lyons told The Times Free Press ahead of the board meeting that the group believes it is important for children to see themselves reflected in the literature they read.

“We definitely know, study after study, that when kids see themselves in the books they read, it has a positive impact on the quality and quantity of reading they read, and it consistently increases test scores. It gives us huge predictors for them to thrive in their future, ”Lyons said.

“It is therefore important that children have access to culturally relevant, diverse and inclusive reading choices. Every child deserves to be seen in the books they read.”

The group began creating classroom libraries in 2018 to engage students in reading and provide access to books in which students see themselves reflected. There are 15 classroom libraries and six more are planned, Moms for Social Justice member Mari Smith told The Times Free Press on Thursday.

During public comments, parent Jamie Hall said she and parent group Moms for Liberty wanted books with “dark themes” removed or rewritten without explicit language.

“We find repetitive messages and messages about parents – who are described as antagonistic, generally stupid, frequently drunk and often abusing their children – and I understand that there are situations and children living in these households.” , Hall said.

“However, after working 25 years with students in the ministry, I have learned that these students need a safe environment with a promising outcome and better treatment than they receive at home and higher standards. bred for what they see at home. “

Edna Varner, a retired Hamilton County educator speaking on behalf of the NAACP, said the group is working with individual educators and the district needs more education, not censorship.

“Everyone has always had the option of not viewing a library book, you have that option, and we can’t go into banning books for all because some people find them offensive,” Varner said. .

Parent Lauren Sloan came to the board and said she struggled to read growing up, but reading books she could relate to helped her learn to read.

“When my husband, a Hamilton County teacher, heard the latest discussions at the board meeting, his first comment was, ‘Shouldn’t we just be happy that kids are reading these days? ? “”

(READ MORE: Signal Mountain teacher removes two books with African American perspective from reading list)

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at [email protected] or 423-757-6592.


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