A series of controversial school readers - currently under fire by parents in several other states for promoting witchcraft, fear and gloom - was approved by the Utah Textbook Commission on Thursday.
On a 7-3 vote, the commission took the viewpoint that the literary value of The Impressions series of readers overrides some pieces that have raised concerns. The books are used primarily as supplements in several school districts, but not as the basic reading course. A school district, however, could use the series as a basic text based on the commission's approval.In Wheadon, Ill., parents objected to references to occult matters and a "dark tone" to some of the readers' pieces. Some illustrations contained symbols associated with the underworld.
Local school officials were asked to review the 13-book series, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada Inc.
Reviewers in the Utah Office of Education's curriculum department, however, said the books contain a wide variety of literary genres and that the book fulfills criteria of the state core curriculum.
"I found much to recommend it," said Nancy Livingston, a reading specialist in the office. "Folklore and fantasy are part of literature."
Commission Member Susan Rather, however, said she was "uncomfortable" with the materials and felt the commission should reject the series. She objected to a poem geared to a first- grade audience that featured"dark, dark words and a mysterious setting - a dark, dark box - and left the reader to determine what was in the box."
In some pictures, articles were levitating and children were asked to guess why they were floating and who might be responsible. She said that some of the chants included in the stories for children to imitate amounted to religious observance.
Other commission members noted that witches, ghosts and occult folklore is part of many books."We can't throw out Dimensions without looking at the others," said Debra Youngbert, commission member.
The majority viewpoint, expressed by Thomasina Leysdman, was that teachers could be trusted to screen the offerings in Dimension books and choose those appropriate for children.
"I enjoyed the series and would not object to letting my own children read them. I did object to some of the pictures. I have had it with promoting just one value system and I enjoyed the various cultural approaches (in these books)." She said she doubted children would be frightened by the stories in the books.
Some board members were concerned that disapproval of the series could amount to censorship, but Rather noted that the work of the commission is to screen books and select those for Utah children and teachers acceptable within state guidelines. Earlier, the group had restricted a book with explicit sexual materials to teacher-only use.
Jan Spalding, a spokeswoman for Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which distributes the books in the United States, said they were in use in 1,500 school districts in 34 states. The objective of the company that designed the series was to "put real literature into the hands of teachers," she said. Only 22 of the 822 selections in the books refer to ghosts, goblins, witches or other symbols of occultism, she said.
Spalding also said that some of the controversy going on in a number of states was based on an original version of the series that has since been changed. An article in a family-oriented magazine brewed the controversy, she said. The series is widely used in Canada, she said.
Elia Mulford sided with Rather in voting against the books. "I don't enjoy things that smack of the mysterious and the occult," he said.
The majority of the commission supported the staff recommendation to adopt the series, with the caution that teachers should be "sensitive to community values" in selecting literature.