Letter to the Editor: Book Debate Turns Community Into Battleground
Tony Lollio says Salem parents had right to object to book, but rhetoric has gotten out of hand.
Editor's note: Tony Lollio is the son of Sharon Lollio, read what her son writes was a "questionable" passage from Beloved in front of Plymouth-Canton school board members during a Jan. 24 board meeting.
When Barbara and Matt Dame decided to voice their opinion about the books, Beloved and Waterland in the AP English curriculum on the PCCS campus, they did so as citizens and concerned parents of a student currently enrolled in the class.
It should stand to reason then, that their opinion would be treated with the sort of respect that should be the foundation of a society valuing the freedoms of speech and press.
What happened to the Dames was something entirely different. A campaign of spoken and written hyperbole about "banning" and "book burning" has turned our quiet town into another political battleground. Publications and blog sites as far away as New York have decided not to report both sides of this debate, but have instead launched personal and hurtful attacks against the Dames, and anyone else who may hold a similar view about questionable material in the district's curriculum.
The question begs to be answered; who brought politics into an issue that started between a school district and a group of concerned parents? Should a person's political or religious views be called into question when voicing their concern to a school district in which that person lives, and where their children attend school?
If the answer to this question is no, then it certainly wasn't the Dames who brought politics into this issue. Sharon Lollio came under fire for simply reading one of the questionable paragraphs from Beloved in front of the school board, drawing the gavel from Vice President Adrienne Davis. Davis reprimanded Lollio for using questionable language, compelling Lollio to ask why language and content deemed acceptable for the district's students couldn't be read out loud in front of the board members.
The "stunt", as some have called it, drew raucous applause from some in the meeting who had come to support the Dames. Much has been made about Lollio's political affiliations, as one of the founding members of "Rattle With Us", a Tea Party group based here in Plymouth.
What seems to have been left out is the fact that Sharon Lollio also lives in, and has a grandchild, in the district. So the question again is this: Should a person's religious or political views be called into question when voicing concern to a school district in which that person lives, and where their children attend school?
If the answer to the question is no, then it wasn't Sharon Lollio who brought politics into the issue. My purpose in writing this piece is not to try and convince anyone to take a particular side on this issue, but rather to point out a few inconsistencies in the way the matter has been treated.
There seems to always be a double standard when it comes to how we deal with censorship in our schools. Literature with questionable, often offensive material is included in curriculum because of its cultural relevance or historical value; while the Bible, arguably the most culturally relevant work in Western civilization, is off the table as a teaching tool.
If this issue was about an AP English teacher assigning readings from the New Testament, would everyone file into the same side of the boardroom as they did on Monday night? Would the ACLU and the usual list of bloggers still talk about censorship and book burning?
Teachers are discouraged from displaying devotional material and talking about faith in order to preserve unity in the classroom, so students with different belief systems are not marginalized and made uncomfortable; yet a student who felt uncomfortable with the material in Beloved was marginalized and separated from her peers because of her beliefs, sent to the library, while her classmates continued without her.
Barbara and Matt Dame's daughter is the victim of a double standard. If we are going to insist that our classrooms be religiously neutral and all inclusive, we'd better be consistent about it. We owe it to our kids. A dangerous precedent is set in a free-thinking society when concerned parents, regardless of their political or religious beliefs, are made fodder for local journalists and propagandist bloggers. It was these, not the Dames or Sharon Lollio, who brought politics into this issue.
It was Superintendent Jeremy Hughes, not the Tea Party, who struck these books from the curriculum. Superintendent Hughes made a judgement call before any political groups added pressure to the issue. Hughes came under fire for unilaterally removing the books from the class, and personally apologized for acting in a manner he himself termed "authoritarian."
I find it interesting that many proponents of these two books spoke of trusting the judgement of teachers in introducing material to the curriculum; yet the same trust is not extended to the Superintendent when it comes to removing material.
There is a double standard at work in the school district. It threatens freedom of speech when parents and students feel intimidated by teachers, administrators, and local media outlets. People in our community should feel safe to speak their minds in a public setting, it's part of community investment.
Debate, and differences of opinion are an integral part of life in our country; intimidation and character assasination should not be.