VICTORY! Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes is safe -- in this school, for now.
In September of
2010, Lori Beil's Belleville High School freshman son was asked to read SFFSB. Although district policy allows for students to read an
alternative book if they object to the primary selection, that solution
didn't satisfy Ms. Beil. She wanted the book removed from the school's reading list.
A reconsideration committee suggested the book be retained, but Beil appealed their decision. Superintendent
Randy Freese considered his options, wondering if the district could
find a "better book." But educated professionals selected the book for
carefully considered reasons. Eventually, community members spoke for and against the book, then the
school board voted to retain the book.
Many thanks to those who supported SFFSB, especially those who wore "KEEP THE BOOK"
stickers -- especially students at Belleville High. For more about the vote, check out THIS ARTICLE (and this one HERE). Read more about this challenge HERE. Read Crutcher's response to this challenge below.
In September of 2010, Lori Beil complained that her freshman son was being forced to read pornography at Belleville High School -- STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES. District policy allowed for Beil's son to read an alternative title, but she's not content with that solution. She wanted the book removed.
So relentless was her belief, she appealed a book reconsideration committee's decision to retain the book, and took her cause to the district school board.Other parents in the district are not happy with Beil's attempt to control all freshman readers at BHS. But Superintendent Dr. Randy Freese insists he's studying his options -- wondering if he can find a "better book." Teachers trained to find powerful books for their language arts students have already determined that STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES is an effective tool.
Does Dr. Freese really want to undermine his educators -- just to pander to one parent already offered a fair alternative? We hope not. We hope Dr. Freese will defer to the teachers hired by his district and let them get on with their already challenging job -- teaching young people how to read and how to think for themselves.
Read local coverage of the challenge below.
Contact Dr. Freese at the School District of Belleville 625 W. Church St. Belleville, Wisconsin 53508 Phone (608) 424-3315 FAX (608) 424-3486
Chris Crutcher's Response
To the Citizens, Students and Educators of Belleville,
I understand your school is going through a challenge of my book Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes. You probably won't be surprised to hear this isn't the first time that's happened to this particular book. I could go into the First Amendment arguments we have over and over and put you to sleep without changing any minds one way or the other. Philosophical arguments tend to end with that result. But what seems to have happened is, the story offended a parent, not a student. I have no problem with that parent asking that her child be allowed to read another book, and if it seems prudent, to have the school exclude him from class discussions about it, though that presents its own isolating problems. I do have a problem with a parent saying her sensibilities are right for the entire class. I also have a problem with a teacher's expertise being put on the same plane with a parent's expertise when it comes to curriculum selection. However, I don't live there, so that's up to the folks in charge.
It's interesting to me that part of the complaint is focused on the story's portrayal of Christianity, yet that complaint targets only half of what the story presents. Mark Brittain, the inflexible character, is a Christian but it is not his Christianity that does him in; rather it's his inflexibility. Steve Ellerby, also a Christian and the son of a minister is as much a representative of that religion as is Brittain and in fact has several lines to which most Christians seem to warm up, if my email is any indication. I could, and would be more than happy to, flood you with letters from students across the country who have had extremely positive emotional and academic response to this particular story. I would also be happy to have my assistant dig up the more negative letters, but I'm conservative in saying the positive outnumbers the negative by at least a hundred to one. (I am aware that more people who enjoy the book are likely to write.) I have never received a letter from a parent or a child saying the book caused anyone to go out and get an abortion, or leave their faith or start using more "bad" language. I believe that argument is hugely ill-informed.
The character in the book who does have an abortion is not at all satisfied with her decision. She had no help in making it and she is haunted by whether or not she made the right decision. The language in the story is tame compared to what one hears walking down the halls of any public middle or high school in this country; I know, I visit scores of both each year.
When I read that the complainant wants the school to use a "better" book, I read that as her wanting the school to use a book that doesn't offend her. Frankly that sounds hugely arrogant to me. I wonder if she has any idea the number of books a good school teacher reads to pick the ones he or she thinks will excite students to read.
You know, if a significant group of students gets together and tells a teacher "this book sucks and we want something different," I have no problem with the teacher finding something different that they might be more interested in. Students are why we're here; it's easy to lose perspective when other issues cloud that truth out.
From a more "citizen" point of view, I think you might want to reconsider the practice of temporarily removing a book when a complaint is lodged. That practice alone allows any one parent to disrupt the educational process of an entire class until such time as a decision is made. It smacks of "guilty until proven innocent," and quite frankly, makes the district appear as if it doesn't know its curriculum.
I'm not a person who believes all books are worthwhile. There are lots of books I wouldn't recommend. But I'm only smart enough to choose for myself, not for everyone. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, one of the tough things about standing up against censorship is some of the (crap) you have to stand up for. (And yes, I edited myself - or Mr. Vonnegut - in deference to the complainant.) But I have been an educator and I have been a therapist for families in particularly tough circumstances and the characters and situations in this book come from real places. When we ban books about kids who feel marginalized and diminished, we ban the kids themselves. We say, "Your life is not worth examining, not worth being brought into the light. You don't matter." I would want to think long and hard before allowing my school to be perceived in that way.
In the end, this isn't about me and it isn't about my book. It's about you and the trust you have in your teachers and the courage you have to let your kids face real dilemmas in literature.
Thank you for taking time to read this.
Belleville High School Reviwing Book Following Book Complaint
Book Is Required Reading For Ninth-Grade Students Updated: 9:55 am CDT October 22, 2010
BELLEVILLE, Wis. -- The Belleville School District superintendent is currently deciding whether a book being read by high school freshmen should continue to be a part of the curriculum.
It comes following a complaint from a parent who wants the book banned from class.
The process started in September and a decision has still not been made.The concerned parent said she believes the book is offensive enough to affect other students and she wants it replaced as required reading.
"This is the first complaint we've had on it," said Superintendent Randy Freese.For more than eight years, "Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes" by Chris Crutcher has been the first book ninth-grade students at Belleville High School read.
The book, which follows two friends in high school, discusses some controversial topics, WISC-TV reported. "The religious stuff, the abortion, the profanity -- the theme underneath it all is it's a bullying situation and how people respond to that," said Freese.
These topics have one concerned parent asking the book be removed from the classroom.
Lori Beil declined an on-camera interview with WISC-TV, but she did release a statement to explain her stance.
"I am just one mom that cares what her son is reading at school. This is a required book in a required class," Beil said in the statement. "There is pornographic and other sexual content on several pages. There are at least 52 pages where the Lord's name is taken in vain or there are swear words and other vulgar words. Also characters "portrayed as Christians" are sometimes ridiculed or portrayed in a negative way. This would not be allowed if the characters were Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, or any other religion. This book is not required by the state of Wisconsin and is not being used at all Wisconsin schools. I believe the Belleville School District could choose a better book."
Beil is appealing a school district committee decision several weeks ago that supported use of the book.
"The committee certainly felt that those topics are relevant to kids and those are the things that exist in their lives, and they think it should continue to be used," said Freese.
The school district said parents can opt their child out of a particular assignment if they don't agree with it.A teacher would then have to provide an equivalent assignment. Some believe, in this case, that should be enough.
"I don't see that it needs to be completely banned, that one or two parents can decide, for an entire community, a book that's banned or not in school," said Shannon Lancaster, a parent of five.
The superintendent said he is currently researching how other schools use the book and hopes to make a decision soon.
"Ultimately, the question is probably not 'good book, bad book.' It's probably a case of might we find something better. There's a 'maybe so' component, like maybe we can find something better," said Freese.
Freese said he has more work to do before making a decision on the matter.If he supports the book, the request to remove it from class could go to the school board.Before anyone takes a side on the issue, Freese asked that they be informed and read the book first.
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