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Racy book attracts controversy at Arizona high school

September 14, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
When is a book too racy to be taught in a high school English class?

Apparently, a parent pulled her son out of a sophomore English class in Sierra Vista, Ariz., after the teacher had the class read aloud a sexually explicit passage from Cristina Garcia's award-winning book "Dreaming in Cuban."

I am familiar with neither the book nor the author, but a reader e-mailed me the passage in question, which is indeed sexually explicit and includes both rough language and references to mild S&M. She also emailed me a list showing the book on a Common Core State Standards Initiative book list for 11th graders.

When I spoke with the principal at Magic City Campus this week, he told me that local schools retain control over curriculum under the Common Core. A local committee also reads and makes recommendations about new books that are placed in the school library. That's quite likely the policy in other school districts across the state. I have my doubts that "Dreaming in Cuban" will ever be taught in a North Dakota high school, though apparently there are broader concerns that it is on a Common Core reading list for high school students and might be used in some schools without parents being aware of the content.

As I told the reader who first emailed me about the controversy, this sounds like the type of book that might be used by teachers in a contemporary literature class or those hoping to engage a class of immigrant students or perhaps students who have had difficult life experiences. The book was being used in a sophomore English class at the high school in Arizona, though it is listed as having an advanced reading level, so maybe it was being used in an honors English class.

Based on media reports, the high school administrator in the Arizona high school pulled the book after the parent raised objections and said the district would have required the teacher to offer an alternative option if they had known more about the content.

Garcia, the author, told the AP that Sierra Vista students shouldn't be deprived of a "broader, cultural experience" and she is willing to visit the school and answer any questions.

Personally, I think the author Garcia makes a good point. A good education should include the opportunity to read and discuss material that is challenging and unfamiliar, that makes students think about other points of view. Garcia's book, published 20 years ago, seems to hold literary merit, based on all the reviews. It may well be appropriate to use this book and others with sensitive content with mature high school juniors and seniors, many of whom I suspect have read far more explicit material on their own time.

What do you think of the controversy?

Update

For those who might be curious, other "exemplars" on the 11th-12th grade Common Core "stories" reading list include: Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"; Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote"; Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"; Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"; Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre"; Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"; Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment"; Sarah Orne Jewett's "A White Heron"; Herman Melville's "Billy Budd, Sailor"; Anton Chekhov's "Home"; F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"; William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying"; Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms"; Zora Neale Hurston's "Their Eyes Were Watching God"; Jorge Luis Borges' "The Garden of Forking Paths"; Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March"; Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" and Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake."

Most on the list are pretty standard texts in an English classroom. In high school alone, I read at least a quarter of the books on the list and read several more as a college freshman. The list was compiled with consultation with teachers. No schools are actually required to teach the exemplars. To quote the standards: "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. They expressly do not represent a partial or complete reading list."

 
 

Article Comments

(55)

jefferzbooboo

Sep-16-13 5:32 AM

This is also the same state where if you don't believe in science you can send your kid to a religious school on a voucher paid by the taxpayers. This shouldn't surprise you.

Sep-15-13 11:49 PM

You raise a good point, Andrea, which makes me wonder how the experts have decided that this is grade 11 text. What would prompt an expert with Common Core to decide that "Dreaming in Cuban" is an 11th grade level book? What criteria is used is a question I am curious about.

By grade 11 should students be expected to know what sado-masochistic sex is, for example? Should 11 graders be versed in sexual positions such as the ones mentioned in the passages objected to in Texas by the 11th grade? Common Core experts have obviously decided that normalizing sexual sado-masochistic acts is suitable for 11th graders. Essentially, the Common Core experts are promoting sexual violence among teens. But why? Common Core experts should not be foisting this content on unsuspecting young people. Many young students I know have traditional values and would be offended by these scenarios.

Given the thousands of novels in circulation that do have literary merit, why choose*****for our ch

AndreaJohnson

Sep-15-13 8:34 AM

It's also possible that "exemplary" means the book is an example of a certain reading level on the list.

Moorhead

Sep-14-13 5:36 PM

As a former North Dakotan and teacher, I'm surprised and dismayed that the DPI might embrace a book simply because it was recommended by Common Core. I have read the passage in question; it normalizes misogynist sexual activity in a way that is neither literary or appropriate for impressionable young people.

Sep-14-13 3:04 PM

I am interested in this topic and would suggest that readers Google "Dreaming in Cuban" and add the words "Texas controversy" or "Texas school board" and read the passages that are considered racy and objectionable. I see no course objectives for North Dakota high school students that should include explicit graphicscenes of sado-masochistic sex. This book is listed as an "exemplary" book by the Department of Public Instruction, which means they highly recommend the teaching of this book as prescribed by the new Common Core standards. I would love to hear from readers once you've read the passages. I hope you will post your responses.

 
 

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