You’re probably against banning books in Park City Schools, but you should listen to this KPCW interview
You are probably against banning books in our schools. If you are like me, you like to think of yourself as as an enlightened person who believes our children should have even more enlightening experiences in school. Those experiences will push our students beyond areas where they are comfortable to become well-rounded adults.
Yet, this morning parents Kathy Pratchett and Diane Livingston were interviewed by KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher. Ms. Pratchett and Diane Livingston were interviewed about parents’ choice over what their children are required to read in Park City Schools. They appear to have an opposite view. They posit the question, “How can teachers ask students to read pornography in our schools?”. They made great arguments. Ms. Pratchett and Ms. Livingston argued:
- That some Park City School District teachers are choosing books that are pornographic in nature.
- That the term ‘pornographic’ is specifically defined by Utah law and PCSD is using pornographic material. The state of Utah has defined pornography as showing or writing about masturbation, sex, or touching.
- That PCSD’s own technology filters prevent accessing information about some of the books prescribed by teachers because the technology filters deem the books as pornographic.
- Students/Parents aren’t always presented with alternative books before their students can access the material.
It’s a tough question. Years ago, we argued over censoring books like J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. For 30 years, it was the most censored book in America due to its “foul language,” “filthiness,” and sexual content. Yet, twenty years later, is anyone really worried it uses the word “goddamn”? As I look at the top five books censored today, they are:
- Gender Queer
- Lawn Boy
- All Boys Aren’t Blue
- Out of Darkness
- The Hate you Give
I can see how some people would be concerned if their child brought home these books (based on the title). Just like I could see how some people would be concerned when their 1960 child brought home Catcher in the Rye. We are a product of our time and how we want to raise our children.
Just because the school district is fine with books about masturbation, that doesn’t mean a parent is. If you don’t quite get the nuance, I will encourage you to watch the movie “The People Versus Larry Flynt.” Could a teacher decide Hustler is art?
However, like most things in Utah, in reality, it comes down to the fact you live in Utah. Don’t want your Park City property taxes sent to other Utah schools? Don’t live here (or change the law). Want wine shipped to your house? Don’t live here (or change the law). Don’t like the definition of pornography? Don’t live here (or change the law).
Utah has laws, and they aren’t always the ones we want.
Back to reality. The Park City School District’s primary problem is that they haven’t provided a process in which parents can effectively and easily opt out for their children. If parents could understand the curriculum for the year, down to the book, and then have a “clean” alternative, that would meet the need of most parents.
I believe that most parents who are concerned about their children reading pornographic material in our schools would be OK if there was a proper process in place to let the parent opt-out for their family. If some other parent’s kid wanted their child to read about sex, masturbation, etc. they are OK with that for the other kid.
That said, there isn’t going to be some massive book-banning event on Main Street. That’s not what this is about.
What it should be about is providing a simple process for parents to opt out — even if you and I would probably never do that. That will enable us as a community to wade the fine line between porn, art, Utah law, and Park City.
Karens at work
I heard Kathy and Diane’s interview and thought they presented a very cogent assessment. I also went to ratedbooks.org and searched for the book Fun Home that I have been told is in the TMJH library.
From the Amazon description, I’d be in favor of this graphic novel for older kids, say 15+. It discusses gender roles, sexual orientation, suicide, emotional abuse, and dysfunctional family life. Mostly because I don’t think younger kids may see the nuance and complexity in this material.
Ratedbooks.org takes a deeper dive into the content. Some of which, I have no problem with. There is a cartoon drawing of a naked man, not a big deal. Two women in bed one of which has a breast exposed. Not too shaken or worried about that. But I would bet that most 14 year olds would be pointing and giggling not thinking about the complexity of a first sexual relationship being haunted by a father’s secret homosexuality that eventually led to suicide. Not harmful but probably taken different than an adult would take it.
But then there is a drawing of oral sex. I’m not squeamish about oral sex. I wouldn’t call it pornographic. The Utah code that relates to school material does. But that’s not the point. The point is, should my 14-15 (age ranges at TMJH) see this? I would argue that it isn’t age appropriate. Not pornographic, but not age appropriate.
Kathy and Dianne aren’t trying to ban books. They’re fine if you go and get Fun Home or books with similar content from the county or city library. They just want a review process about whether material of this nature should be in our school libraries. The school library doesn’t have rated R films. Should it have rated R-ish books?
Calling them Karens is inaccurate.
they are Karens, wanting to ban books for everyone
If your kid has a phone/tablet/computer (or any of their friends have any of those things) then any book, no matter how pornographic, is the least of your worries.
I don’t know any kids who were turned to a life of crime and debauchery because they spent too much time in the library and encountered naughty content in books, but I guess to each their own.
The larger point, really, is that Utah is going to Utah and if Park City tries to do anything different, they’ll get slapped down. When do the dozers arrive in Kimball to start the new transit hub housing?
I loved Leslie’s observation that it “seems like a simple fix” to add the alternate books to the reading list provided to parents. Further drama forestalled?
I agree in some ways. This needs to be part of the school district’s policy. Yes, it is more work for librarians and teachers but helps solve a problem. It’s a start.
However, that requires the school board/district have the foresight of how to solve this issue. If Leslie thought of it and my wife had independently thought of it, it isn’t a leap to come to that conclusion.
That foresight seems to be missing from our school board– or at least it wasn’t heard in the last meeting because everyone board member who spoke said they hadn’t read the policy because it came out the night before the meeting. It was the only item on the agenda… but I get that being on the school board is hard. /s
But they can opt out. That solution is already in place. It’s disingenuous to play along with the narrative that they only want these simple and reasonable accommodations for their own kids. Just because you also have beef with the district and school board doesn’t mean these folks are good guys. The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.
So Simple… it’s not quite that simple. I don’t know for a fact that every assigned book has an alternate, but I’ll take your word for it.
However, as this debate has gone on… I think what some parents are concerned with is the school library and access to books they consider sensitive for their children. Perhaps, the answer is for concerned parents to not allow their students to view these books. They just tell their kids not to view these books in the library. Maybe we have a room in the back where certain books and R-rated and NC-17 movies can be checked out. I don’t know. Maybe that would work. However, then you get the State of Utah involved and they have different requirements.
That said, what I think is actually interesting out of this debate is the way most people can’t seem to debate both sides of a topic in their head. That is what I was trying to do with this. Somehow, because I explored the issue, I have become book burner #1. That said, I firmly believe I could find a book that is objectionable to almost every parent in Park City. One person wrote me and jokingly asked if the Joy of Sex is in in our school library. If I am going to say all books should be available to our students, then I should be OK with all books being available. Maybe I am OK with that. That somewhat falls down based on age-appropriateness. That said, one of the books I’ve talked about is Fun House. Generally people seem to want to ban that book in college and sometimes high school. Should it be in an 8th grade library? Maybe it’s just not age-appropriate at TMJH.
As for “siding” on the side of these two women because I don’t like the school board … I actually think the board’s policy they are debating is on the right track. Of course it was due by October 1 and they are 7 days late for having a decision. Also, if people come forward and dispute hundreds of books, their plan for a committee reviewing these books is going to be overwhelmed. Finally, if they blanket review books and approve everything, they will get the wrath of the Utah Legislature and we will get something worse – bright lines. So, I guess I am interested in the details. That said, I think they are on an OK path.
It’s an interesting discussion and hits at heart of first amendment rights.
In a now deleted Nextdoor thread one of these individuals was brainstorming – there are 75 books they would like to have reviewed, so they need 25 parents to file complaints. An organized, targeting ban vs utilizing an opt out option for their own child seems like a lot of unnecessary work.
Hopefully this increased public awareness will result in more parents than usual providing comments to the Board on their views.
Yeah, the proposed school board policy says that a person submitting a complaint needs to read/review the book before submitting their complaint. If an organized effort is launched to remove a whole lot of books, it seems that violates the spirit of the policy. Now, I suppose if they can get 25 people to read the three books, they are each filing a complaint about, then that would be ok… But the process shouldn’t be abused by the people filing complaints. It will lead to an unreasonable amount of books to be reviewed by the school district committee.
Your piece accepts the two parents’ description of current Utah law and builds on that, but they defined it incorrectly and incompletely, as I learned by looking up the code. Current state law does not define sex, masturbation etc. as pornography and end it at that – the law uses more detailed and nuanced language and includes the all-important term “community standards” which is a federal standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 60s.
I think it may have been in 1973 (could be wrong on that). That said, if this was brought before a court, what state do you think would apply their “community” standards?
You’re right it was the 73 case, and by that decision, community standards are defined more narrowly than by entire states
Which of the books that you specifically listed here do you feel warrant “concern…based on the title” and why?
Yeah, that probably came off a little wrong. If you read through to the next sentence, I talk about how we are a product of our times.
I believe we as a society are going through a time when we are polarized, many people are scared, there is much intolerance for LGBQ issues, and that is all exacerbated by the fact we live in Utah.
I probably should have said something like, “I’m not surprised…”
I don’t understand- I have had 3 go through the PC schools- I distinctly remember giving permission (by signing a form) for my child to read several books- including the part time Indian- but there was always an alternative option available. Did I love the subject of masturbation being in the book – no. Did it spark interesting discussions about the whole book, yes. Each to their own however – there are options!
Much of this has been brought to the forefront because of a Utah legislative requirement requiring school districts to have a policy in place about sensitive books in their classrooms and libraries.So, like most things in public schools these days, it’s becoming more complicated. However, the current proposed PCSD policy could allow a person to challenge a book, have a review committee decide on its fate, and then not be allowed in the schools. I would guess most teachers, outside of that, would do what you described and provide alternate books for those concerned. That said, this also deals with what can be in libraries, which I guess are a little more open for the student of a concerned parent to stumble (or search out) books their parents feel are objectionable.
I view this as an interesting topic because it is at the heart of our democracy and our (and our students’) first amendment rights.
If you read thru the conversation happening on Nextdoor, first you will have a laugh. Next, it will become clear that the teachers are already offering “clean alternatives” (eyes in the back of my skull on that phrasing tbh.) Reading between the lines, it sounds like at least one of these ladies is upset that her high school age child actively chose a book she doesn’t approve of. This is about control, plain and simple.
Mark my words, the people you are ultimately carrying water for in this piece want to take us in some very scary directions and are feeling bullish on their own odds of success. That’s why this is all happening now.
It’s probably worth bearing in mind that people who want to ban books (yes that’s the right term, yes they’ll come for the public library next) are generally revealed to be the baddies in extremely short order.
14 in America- old enough to carry a pregnancy and give birth, too young to choose a book from the school library.
What we all have to remember is that our views are not the views of everyone. Also… it is really “10 in America -old enough to carry a pregnancy and give birth, too young to choose a book from the school library.”
Josh, you should try reading the room before ascending your soap box; this isn’t Davis county, or Jordan School District for that matter. Banning books is basically anti-intellectualism and our students deserved better than being told what to read and how to think based on Ken Ivory and his Utah Parents United astroturf minions’ antiquated (and antebellum) notions of morality. If you want to stifle minority and LGBTQ voices, have the courage to come out and say so, don’t hide behind the misbegotten efforts of Pratchett and Livingston. LaVerna has few fans in these parts and you’ve just driven a lot of your conservative support in the arms of Mandy Pomeroy.
Yeah, I definitely want to stifle minority voices and LGBTQ voices. That was my point. It definitely wasn’t to point out that these two women made me think about the subject for a few minutes. /s
By the way, I already lost to Mandy Pomeroy.
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