For the past several weeks, the news media have reported an attempt to ban the book "Grendel" in the Davis County School District. I have been named as the one who brought this about, although sometimes simply identified in stories as "The Bountiful Mother."
The truth is simple. My daughter came home upset because of an experience in her senior English class. A girl had been asked to read aloud in the mixed class from the book "Grendel," a vivid description of the abuse, sexual torture and mutilation of a woman.My daughter had previously mentioned that she did not like the book because of the bloody and graphic details. In her class, it was passed to every student; no mention was made of an alternate book that could be read in place of "Grendel."
It is interesting to note that even if a student had been reading another book, that student would have heard the obscene material because the most offensive pages were read aloud in class.
My first concern was why such a controversial book is presented as required reading, and my second concern was why such graphic obscenities were read aloud to the class. I immediately read the book.
I then met with the principal and teacher, who both supported the book. At that meeting, I said that I did not object to it being in the school library because students have the prerogative to read whatever they wish. However, I did not agree that it should be presented to every student as required reading in senior English.
In order to get an optional book, often a parent must go to the school and declare that a book does not meet their standards and they do not want their student to read it. Often, the student is singled out in class and made to feel uncomfortable if they are not going along with the teacher's choice of reading. Most students are never aware there is an option.
I received a letter from the principal stating, "Certainly if Centerville, Bountiful and West Bountiful feel that this is inappropriate for our students, the administration and teachers will exclude it from the curriculum." I was left with the impression that his desire was to have input from many parents. He provided a form called "Citizens Request for Re-evaluation of a Work."
Knowing most parents may not be familiar with the book, I copied a few of the offensive parts I thought might bother students and presented the sheet to parents until 30 people had responded. Many parents spent up to an hour reviewing the book. Many read it in its entirety as it became available.
Soon after this, I received a call from the school newspaper seeking an interview. The reporter compared me to Hitler, and said teachers were discussing the issue with students as a censorship and banning issue.
I was shocked. I did not intend to have the book banned or censored, nor did I object to having the book available for students in the school library.
Inasmuch as our family had never sought any form of publicity, we were reluctant to answer the calls of the newspapers, radio and television. For the welfare of our student, we wanted no publicity.
Why an inquiry by parents to the school had to be expanded into a media carnival is something we still do not understand.
The fact is, a non-English Viewmont High faculty member contacted the Associated Press. The AP reporter called back to Viewmont and the English teachers gave her my name. The teachers gave vivid interviews that were negative and contained misinformation about our family's intentions. I was described as being surreptitious, militant and determined to eradicate the book from the Earth.
As a result of the misinformation, our family has been harassed in many ways; the latest of which was a six-foot swastika painted on the road in front of our home, with the word Nazi painted in two-foot letters across the top of the driveway.
Many parents feel obscene words and vulgarities are unacceptable in or out of context.
I was disappointed in the fact that there were more teachers than parents on the committee to review the book. Why wasn't I invited to be on the committee as the State Office of Education said I should be? Why were there only two parents from the Viewmont area?
I am not at all surprised at the final decision on keeping the book, since the PTA newsletter already had stated that teachers were going to give seminars to parents about "Grendel." The PTA also mentioned that parents wouldn't be required to read the book before coming; the teachers could simply tell them about it.
Is this a double standard? Teachers earlier cried foul if parents voicing concern had not read it from cover to cover. If a student presented a paper using such obscenities and was so degrading toward women, would the teacher praise the student's efforts?
Could we establish the rights of parents vs. the role of teachers, please?
(Marie Burke is a Bountiful mother and homemaker who is concerned about rights of students and parents in the Davis County School District.)