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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 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.

Tony Lollio
Plymouth resident

Julie Rowe February 04, 2012 at 12:06 AM
I have to point out, several courses do use the Bible as literature in the curriculum. In fact, AP English cites a familiarity with the King James Bible as very helpful to the study of the course. Politics is not what motivates those of us who are defending the schools, teachers ad curriculum.However, proponents of banning the book from the classroom have called the books "liberal" and have requested books with a more "conservative" viewpoint be taught. These books are not political. The reason so many are such strong advocates for their inclusion is because they do not make a political statement, but present a realistic exploration of humanity while engaging students in analytical frameworks they can then use to inform their own opinions. The political affiliation of censors are questionable when they use resources provided to them by membership in a political party. Resources including websites, email lists and public forums whose origins are political in nature. It is especially troubling when these same people who seek to change our public schools, either as community members of through elected positions like school board trustees, advocate for charter schools- for-profit entities siphoning money from our public schools. Considering these elements does not indicate poor journalism or a misinformed public. Rather, it indicates that many people have investigated this situation at multiple levels to understand the issue holistically and comprehensively.
Marybeth Taffe Miller February 04, 2012 at 04:34 PM
If for no reason other than this subject being the catalyst for open, democratic, First Amendment expressions of free speech, all members of the Plymouth Canton community should applaud everyone who had the courage to publicly support or challenge the inclusion of the literature studied in AP English. A lively discussion, minus some of the more caustic comments based on reading books? Hurray! peace
Dean Johnson February 04, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I was thinking something similar to the editorial writer. The school board had created a process whereby parents could request a review of material used in a class. The parents utilized the process. The process worked and a decision was made. Why did so many people feel the need to attack the parents and those who spoke during the process?
Julie Rowe February 04, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Well, the parents and those who have rallied with their aren't willing to backdown and have recommended a full review by unqualified community members of curriculum drafted by highly educated, trained and informed teachers and administrators. I would celebrate the freedom of expression here if it's rhetoric weren't on direct violation of the First Amendment. I for one won't stop defending the integrity of this curriculum until the current superintendent, his administrators and the Board of Education also stand up for the high quality education currently under attack in this district.
Jeff Longe February 04, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Tony, the Dames by-passed administration hierarchy, painted the Superintendent into a corner, then screamed “pornography”. Shut down on the facts with that argument, they moved to the “improper vetting” argument. Shut down on the facts there too, they went to the “improper notice” argument. Here again, they are the only parents among over a thousand parents in ten years to have such an issue. My take away: Matt Dame, In District Aid to State Senator Patrick Colbeck, and Sharon Lollio, Office Manager for Senator Colbeck, (Patch, January 4, 2012) are pushing the Rattle with Us Tea Party agenda to control a School Board and adopt an anti-intellectual curriculum that comports with their world view. I am just a parent, whose child is also in the class and having her education disrupted by this thinly veiled political power grab. I am among hundreds of people within this community that I had never met before, and who come from different social, cultural, spiritual and political backgrounds. Unlike the Rattle with Us Tea Party the vast majority of which live outside of this school district, the hundreds of people resisting this political power grab come from within “our community”. If Mr. Colbeck wants avoid the sophomore jinx, he might want to keep that in mind and back call back his water carriers. By the way, if you intended to enflame the situation by bringing religion into it with your letter, shame on you.
Tony Lollio February 04, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Jeff, I decided when this whole thing started, unlike you, to respect every opinion in this debate. I stated clearly in my piece that it was not my intent to change anyone's position on this issue, but to point out what I believe is a glaring double standard when it comes to coverage of this issue. I quote you; "I am just a parent." I am also just a parent, Jeff, I have a child in the district as well. As a parent, I believe I have the right to address the school board and voice my concerns, whether you agree with my political views or not. I also believe Matt Dame has rights, regardless of how many people disagree with him. This whole issue is about what parents feel is appropriate for their children, and what would be appropriate among adults here is mutual respect among people who disagree. Respect through our differences is responsibility in a democratic society. So citizens,with children in the district, who have worked for Sen. Colbeck should not be allowed to address the board in a public forum? You are proving the point of my piece. The last time I checked, being active and vocal in community issues was called "civic duty"; or would you disagree? I guess the only politically active parents in the district who are allowed an opinion, are the ones who agree with you. Another double standard, shame on you.
Rezog February 05, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Let's suppose the whole thing IS really about what parents feel is appropriate. 90+ parents felt the book was appropriate for their advanced student (plus another 600+ whose students have taken the class in previous years). 1 did not. That one parent went directly to the superintendent instead of resolving the issue with the teacher. That resulted in ALL of the students being asked to turn their book back in, while they were in the middle of studying it Not just Mr. Dame's child. Where was Mr. Dame's "mutual respect" for those students and parents? I still can't fathom why, if he was truly just concerned about his child, did he not go to the teacher.
Rezog February 05, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Also, the superintendent didn't read the entire book before removing it, only the parts that Mr. Dame complained about. So yes, I trust the opinion of the teachers more than his. That's not a double standard, just common sense.
TM February 05, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Just trying to follow this. But if the parents did not go to the teacher first, how did their child end up alone in the school library reading a different book during that class time (stated in a videocast of the meeting)?
Rezog February 05, 2012 at 06:33 PM
TM, that was for Beloved, the second book that the parents complained about. The first book, Waterland, was immediately removed without review.

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