In an impressive expansion of the term “pornographic,” a Northville, Michigan woman, Gail Horalek asked that Anne Frank: The Diary Of A Young Girl (The Definitive Edition) be removed from the school’s curriculum because: “It’s pretty graphic, and it’s pretty pornographic for seventh-grade boys and girls to be reading. It’s inappropriate for a teacher to be giving this material out to the kids when its really the parents’ job to give the students this information.” The passages that she’s dubbed “pornographic” are actually more anatomical, given that they discuss Frank attempting to learn more about her own body, than they are “designed to arouse lust,” the conventional meaning of pornographic.
But rather than quibble over the definition, in rendering a verdict on Horalek’s complaint, Robert Behnke, the assistant superintendent for Instructional Services in Northville, stood by the inclusion of the edition of the book in the seventh-grade curriculum on the grounds of its relevance to the unit on courage in which it was taught. And he reminded Horalek that existing school regulations mean she can get pretty much what she wanted. The full email he sent to parents, posted by one of them on a message board, reminds the community:
The committee also suggested the district take steps to further communicate information about the units of study within the middle school literature courses, and where possible, provide booklists to parents with the notation that reading selections can always be reviewed by parents prior to making a literature selection. As always, in the event that a concern surfaces during a unit and is brought to the teacher’s attention, adjustments can be made to move the student to another literature selection and/or an alternative assignments can be discussed.
A communication regarding the seventh grade English Language Arts units of study and booklists is being created and will be shared with parents in the near future. Communication on units of study and booklists from other grades also will be forthcoming.
At Northville Public Schools we are proud of the partnerships we have forged with parents in the best interest of all students. Keeping in mind that families within the Northville community have varying perspectives, and that our students have varying levels of sensitivity and maturity — which are often best accommodated by their parents — the district strives to provide choices for parents and students where appropriate and possible when it comes to programming and courses. As a school district, we also encourage parents to use supplemental learning activities and books that reflect their own family’s values and perspectives to support reading and literature analysis taking place in the classroom.
If Horalek wants to be the person responsible for introducing her daughter to issues of sexuality, the Northville Public Schools give her every right to do so. If she’d Googled the book when her daughter’s syllabus came out, she would have found references to the removal of the Definitive Edition from the curriculum in the Culpeper County, Virginia school system on some of the same grounds she complained about. If she’d searched the text of the diary on either Google Books or through Amazon, she would have seen the passages that made her uncomfortable before her daughter even started reading the book. Maybe Horalek couldn’t have predicted what might have made her daughter uncomfortable in a classroom setting, but if she thinks there are certain subjects that should be reserved for parental instruction, there were any number of ways Horalek could have checked the book to see if it threw up red flags for her.
I’m not opposed to the idea that parents should play a role in their children’s education, or that parents have some sense of what makes their children comfortable or uncomfortable—though I don’t think that knowledge is complete. But it seems to serve the interests of the most people to give those parents and those children appropriate exits from the mainstream curriculum, and resources to help them supplement the curriculum they want to opt out of.