From the Archives: Parental Challenge of Book Resolved

Editor’s note: This article by Zanab Hussain and Alex Louis was published in volume 4, issue 1 of the Granite Bay Gazette on Sept. 19, 2000. If anything, the story illustrates how debates over parental involvement in education and the maturity of literature in the classroom are far from new. Even 23 years after its publication, the subject of this article (literature being challenged) is still relevant. RJUHSD is currently in the midst of redefining the process of approving content in the curriculum. The article below has been transcribed from the original print.


Parental Challenge of Book Resolved

GBHS’s senior Jojo Antler loves The Chocolate War, a novel on the freshman supplemental reading list.

“Some of the issues that this book deals with are happening to students at this time in their life,” Antler said. “It makes them more aware that it happens to other people, too. It’s almost reassuring.”

Despite the perspective of Antler and other students, however, the book has come under fire at Granite Bay High School.

In August, a GBHS parent filed a formal request that the book be removed from the school’s supplemental reading list. Earlier this month, however, the dispute was resolved in a meeting between the parent, principal Ron Severson and English department coordinator Ramona Slack.

In the meeting, the school agreed to:

  • Provide more detailed descriptions of books on the school’s supplemental reading lists
  • Add more titles to the supplemental reading lists
  • Require parent signatures for each book read.

One of the key arguments in the complaint was that the only indication the book dealt with adult themes was the very brief English department description of the book. All it said was “strong language,” and the parent didn’t feel that description did justice to the numerous sexual situations and strong language in the book.

Slack said the English department agreed that the book’s description was too vague, and that the English teachers will be writing more detailed descriptions of some of the books on the supplemental reading lists.

“The complaint was valid in that the description did not accurately depict the content of the book, and that (will be) rectified,” Slack said.

In her complaint, the parent noted six specific passages that contained what she considered to be objectionable sexual content, and more than 50 different uses of profanity.

Had the parent and the school not been able to reach agreement, the process could have eventually removed The Chocolate War from the school district’s supplemental reading list.

This is not the first time that the content of The Chocolate War has been called into question in American schools. The book has been banned in schools all over the country, from Broken Arrow, Okla, to the Riverside Unified School District in southern California.

But not every challenge of The Chocolate War has been successful – the book was challenged in East Stroudsburg, Penn, but remained in the curriculum after teachers, parents and students spoke out in its favor.

Some of the students at GBHS who have read the book have also been surprised by the explicit content.

“I just read a page, and it did have something that was a little shocking,” said freshman Monica Padilla.

The Chocolate War also has its share of fans at GBHS.

“I just like it because it was about teenagers and kids our age,” freshman Tyler Johns said. “Even though it was set in a  different time, it was something you could relate to.”

Freshman Erin Boone also said the book was better than others she’s read because it’s “not all fantasy and fake.”

“You could hear people saying all of the stuff and all of it happening,” said Boone, who, like many other GBHS students, said she appreciated having the choice of which books to read.

“I’ve already recommended it to friends,” Boone said.

Slack shares Boone’s perspective.

“The Chocolate War has received a great deal of recognition,” Slack said. “It reflects the experiences of young people accurately, and does it differently than many other books of quality. It holds a place in the classroom.”

Because the book features a protagonist who doesn’t always succeed, many felt it sends the wrong message to students.

Freshman English teacher Kay Bacharach said that despite the controversial content, the book had merit. According to Bacharach, most freshmen are mature enough to handle the brief references to sexuality. 

“We send the letter home so that the students can share it with their parents and choose the books that they are going to read together,” Bacharach said. “By giving the annotation, we’re hoping that if parents really don’t want their children to read this that they’ll steer them to another book.”

Still, for some students and teachers, the complaint at GBHS about The Chocolate War is a small part of a more significant issue: censorship.

“(The Chocolate War) has issues that are in the world today,” said Antler, the GBHS senior. “I don’t know why it would be a big shock to hear about them. It’s not a required reading book. Students have the choice to read it.”

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