Thursday, May 8, 2014

Teens, Required Reading and Sex. When is too much too much?
I recently read an article about high school students being required to read graphic content as part of their English grade. The story went viral after the father of a freshman was arrested at a local school board meeting. You can read the article here. 

The controversy centers around Jodi Piccoult's book, Nineteen Minutes,  which is about a fictional high school shooting and the after affects. While I have not read the book, nor do I wish to comment on the subject matter, I would like to explore the subject of required reading.

Apparently, this book has been part of New Hampshire's Gilford High School reading curriculum list since 2007 as part of the advanced freshmen English curriculum.

According to the latest brain research, our mind processes stories as it does real life.

"The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated." ~NY Times                                                   

This is why when our beloved characters die we grieve. When our hero slays the dragon we cheer, or when the guy finally gets the girl we swoon. Our brain processes the information as if it were real.

But our mind does not distinguish between an innocent wizarding world or one that is riddled in bullets and rape.

Our brain processes all stories in the same manner.

Now knowing this, put an extremely graphic and disturbing story in the hands of a fourteen-year-old child, one that finds themselves in a school of over 2,000 students, all from different walks of life. Then require that child to not only read explicit subject matter but discuss it in class, write about it, even read it out loud.

Makes me wonder if young minds can actually go through Post Traumatic Stress. Seriously.

Most parents don't monitor what their children are required to read. The basic understanding is that reading is good, and the schools have already assured the reading material is appropriate.

I don't believe in banning books. But I also don't believe in assigning books that have explicit material either.

 So here's the question of the day: Who makes the required reading list, and how do high schools determine which book is appropriate for students to read and discuss in class? And, most importantly, how are students affected when they read graphic content at such a young age?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, either. I did read the objected to scene and wondered whether it was more graphic than required for the content of the story. My feeling was that the school very definitely went wrong by not providing notification to the parents and obtaining their permission prior to having the students read the book.

    In my junior year, one of the required readings was Catch-22, but the school sent letters home which had to be returned signed by a parent advising whether they approved of the reading. Some parents disagreed and another book was assigned to those students.

    We don't lack for literature to choose from to teach the lesson, so if handled correctly, there should have been no issue. I don't agree with banning books, but I do say that not every reader is ready for every book.

    A case in point, in the 8th grade, we were assigned to read The Count Of Monte Cristo. I was not ready to read certain of the content in the book, and wound up bluffing my way through sections of it. I tried to get past the issues, but the response to the reading was so visceral I was unable to. Fortunately, I had a mother who understood. The same year, for an elective book, I read The Last Picture Show, which was banned from the school shortly after I had read it. I was ready to meet the content of The Last Picture Show, but not that of The Count of Monte Cristo.

    Is it too much to have an alternate selection for required reading?

    1. I completely agree. What really gets me is this is required reading for freshmen, That's waaaay to young for this. As an educator, I'd love to know just how this book was being implemented with the new core. I had a friend whose daughter was assigned Perfect Chemistry as a freshman. I liked the book, but no way would I want my 14 year old discussing it in class. What made it worse was the fact that they were reading the book just to read it ... no parallel between Romeo and Juliet, no in-depth discussion on the social norm and how it's changed, or even if the stereotypes in the book could be considered valid in today's society. The children simply were to read the book, discuss it, and then write a paper about it. If that's the case there are a myriad of books out there that don't have such explicit content and can fill this brief easily.

  2. Hard question. I agree that parents should know, and maybe given a warning to skip that chapter and give the overview. While school shootings are important to discuss and have awareness of... As is rape... Are freshmen ready for such an emotional, tragic and explicit book? Seniors, maybe?

    1. That was my first thought. Why freshman? There's a big difference between fourteen and eighteen.