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'Waterland' to Stay in Plymouth-Canton's AP English Curriculum

Committee recommends returning challenged book to AP English classrooms.

Graham Swift's Waterland, a book challenged by two Salem High School parents, will return to Plymouth-Canton classrooms, the district announced today.

A nine-member compaint review committee voted to recommend keeping the book in the AP English curriculum.

On Dec. 21, 2011, parents Matt and Barb Dame filed a complaint with the district about the use of the text in the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park's advanced placement English courses, citing the book's sexual content.

Superintendent Jeremy Hughes immediately pulled the book, but later decided to put the book through the district's review process.

The parents also challenged the use of Toni Morrison's Beloved, which was reviewed in January by a separate committee that voted to keep the novel in classrooms. While Beloved stayed in classrooms while it underwent review, Waterland remained pulled until a committee recommendation was made.

The Waterland committee met Feb. 8 to hear arguments by both the Dames and park teachers Brian Read and Gretchen Miller. A follow-up meeting, closed to the public, took place Feb. 13 to allow the committee to deliberate, the district's statement said. After the second meeting, the committee members voted to keep the book. The individuals' votes remained anonymous and the tally of votes for and against keeping the books was not made public.

Hughes has said that, much like the Beloved review, he would follow the recommendation of the committee.

Community responds to decision

The challenge and review process drew heavy local and regional interest — as well as national media exposure — and led to several parent and community groups forming to represent both sides of the issue.

Supporters of Academic Integrity, a community group in support of keeping the books in classrooms, said in a statement that while its members were happy with the committee's decision, there still is work to do.

"It is now incumbent (upon) Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Hughes to make this book available immediately to AP English students so that they may have the opportunity that was taken away from them to finish reading this critically acclaimed novel if they so choose," the group said in a statement.

"It is also imperative that steps be taken to ensure that one set of parents, no matter how well intentioned they may be, will never again be able to create the confusion, controversy, and discord that this unfortunate series of events has caused students, parents, and the community," the statement read.

Tim Roraback, a Supporters of Academic Integrity member, said the decision was "really great news" and shows that district parents can trust Plymouth-Canton teachers.

"I think this second decision, two out of two books, really gives a lot more evidence to that effect that our teachers can be trusted," Roraback said. "They’ve always gotten great results."

Matt Dame acknowledged today's decision on his website, Plymouth-Canton Community Schools & Common Sense, but did not offer an opinion on the book's reinstatement. Before today's decision, he wrote on his site that he hopes the challenge will create better lines of communication between the district and parents.

"The district is failing in its duty to make sure that parents are informed of the subject matter being presented to our students," he wrote. "Parents have a right to be accurately informed by teachers if teachers intend to introduce materials that some parents might define as pornographic."

The Dames have not yet responded to interview requests.

G Gordon February 18, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Well no surprise since the "Committee" is stacked with typical liberal educational insiders. The question remains why some other book(s) without objectionable material cannot be substituted as done in a multitude of other districts throughout the country. I have confidence this new board will take action, possibly not immediate, but eventually, to right the ship and clean-up the mess that the PCEP has become.
John McKay (Editor) February 19, 2012 at 07:30 AM
The board has to date taken a hands-off approach regarding the books, leaving it as an administrative decision. Do you think they'll intervene with an issue such as this, or do you mean in a broader sense?
Possum February 19, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Any book worth banning is worth reading.
Michael Pare February 19, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Yes, G. Gordon, the P-CEP AP English program is in such a "mess" that 80 percent of our students pass the AP exam as compared to 58 percent nationally. Sounds like a "mess" other districts would love to be in. I have confidence that the "new" board will realize it's not wise to fix a wonderful program that shows no signs of being broken and I will be vigilant and work hard to make sure that they do.
Dalton Avey February 19, 2012 at 05:43 PM
I don't know tom I read catcher in the rye in high school and didn't think it was all that bad.
Cupsandmagnets February 19, 2012 at 05:44 PM
The horse was put out in the field. The horse has died. Let's stop beating the dead horse?
Jerry Grady February 19, 2012 at 06:29 PM
The District has done a great job of following process and the board is not a body which dictates the process. The board is a body which sets long term and short term policies to which are in the best interest of the child. It is time for this community to move on and stop bringing politics into every decision. Any board which feels they can bring politics into it will be destroying f the 50 plus years of excellence this district has provided. No one has any right telling 90 children they can't read a book because one does not like it anymore than me telling you to stop being arrogant and mental about your words you right mr. Gordon. The process was followed and it this tea party continues their crusade they will find themselves in a bigger problem this community was divided and tore Apart because of this and now the process is done and it is time to move on For the good of the community. Your household value is greatly based on the school system and its test scores. I would say that trumps a book.
G Gordon February 19, 2012 at 08:21 PM
The Hypocrisy involving this subject is at an apex and the new members of the board are well aware, believe me. When Diversity is brought up you can bet the liberal educators - administration will bend over backwards to appease, yet god forbid an attempt is made to interject rational morality back into the classroom. Apparently you can pick and choose when to shield the minority from the tyranny of the majority. Anyone still wonder why Public schools continue to lose students to the Charter schools?
Michael Pare February 19, 2012 at 09:14 PM
G.Gordon, I think I might show the "new" members of the school board your comments and ask them if they are so strongly on your side. You seem pretty confident they agree with you and I want to know if there is any reason from their end for your optimism. I know your organization supported two of them in the last election, but they might be surprised to find out you think their support has been bought and paid for. That will be an interesting conversation to have. Thanks for the idea.
Curious February 19, 2012 at 10:26 PM
I'm glad the books in question went through the review process; however, I could have guessed the outcome. I didn't mind that the parents who objected to the material (even if it came with warnings of mature content) were given the right to be heard over controversial material, especially after the unique circumstances involving the Interim Superintendent's actions early in the case. The challengers have made clear that the books in question have encouraged AP students to think critically, and that we should trust the teachers who are experts in their field on what's best for students to grow academically. I got to thinking about the other approximately 6120 students at the Park this year who aren't enrolled in AP English and how much emphasis has been made on the "mature" who take this class. The reality is that with or without Beloved & Waterland AP or no AP, we will have students who can think critically as they move on from P-CEP and succeed. Are we doing all we can for these students? Also, I'm thankful for teachers who are excellent in their field and contribute greatly to students' lives, but let's not forget that we are all human and are capable of a lack of judgement and error as we have seen in our district and others. Whether someone chooses teaching, medicine, or the pastorate for their profession, I would hope we are still paying attention and making sure that a course of action is appropriate. Is it really ok to be "curious" on both sides of the issue?
Cupsandmagnets February 20, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Dear G, Every school district has it's issues to deal with. This book protest issue has become a hot button only because those involved in creating the protest did such a good job of blowing it so far out of proportion. Had this been handled in a more dignified fashion, we wouldn't all be reading and writing about it in the papers. The school board did not create nor solve this issue. They did however have in thrown in their faces as if was their fault the controversary started. Every student at PCEP has advantages that most school districts in the state would love to have for their kids. So, please stop whining about the "Mess" that PCEP has become and be grateful our kids get the opprtunity to attend there!
KK February 21, 2012 at 07:51 PM
There is a simple solution to this issue. AP classes are meant to be college level classes that explore college level subjects. They are not necessary for high school graduation. Parents who don't think their kids have the maturity to deal with mature subjects or who don't like the issues discussed can simply prevent their kids from enrolling in AP subjects. Much as we would all like to shield our kids from some things, the reality is that these are issues our kids will have to deal with in college in both their personal lives and in college classes. Kids who aren't ready should be kept out of these classes. However, for kids with the intellect and maturity, these classes allow them an opportunity to think about big issues and grow as people.
Jerry Grady February 21, 2012 at 08:59 PM
KK, that is too easy of an answer. That is, was, and should have been the comment in the beginning of this fiasco. I wonder what will happen when their kid goes to college, are they going to petition the board of regents as well. Their child's first day on campus will just about kill that child if they continue to shield this child. I will say it again, Thirty years ago, Plymouth Canton made me the critical, stand on your own two feet person I am. They never once pushed a liberal agenda as it has been stated, but an educational agenda as defined by the State of Michigan Education Board. They pushed me intellectually, but more importantly, to look at social issues by becoming a critical thinking who reviews all sides of the issues and uses that thinking to work thru the issues and come to a common theme, and not push an agenda onto a society. Because at the end of the day, that does not work. Great Comment KK
Maddiex February 24, 2012 at 04:36 PM
It annoys me that you can consider a person "shielded" and "unprepared for life" just because they don't want to read these two books. The student who's parent complained was offended by the material. She pointed it out to her parents. She sounds like she is "shielding" herself. Reading mature sexual content does not necessarily make you intelligent. Somehow people made it through life before these two books were written. They may be good books, but people are able to actually live and survive without reading them. I'll bet you this student will make it through her first day of college just fine, better in fact, because it's obvious she is the type of person who stands up for what she believes in, even if it means that she is shunned and ridiculed for it. And that ridicule comes not only from other students, but from adults as well. Everyone knows who the student is, yet adults can stand at the podium saying she is "immature" and "unprepared" and "sheltered" just because she objected to the some of the content and imagery of those two books. The book shouldn't have been pulled out at the point that is was, and the class curriculum shouldn't have been disturbed, but I will bet this class will go on to be just fine. No one has ever been prevented from reading these books, by the way. Never. It's still in the school library, the city's libraries, and the bookstore.
Jerry Grady February 24, 2012 at 08:29 PM
If this is true and she/he wanted out of the class and did not want to read the book, ( i don't know the person so sorry but i only know the story), why did she just not remove himself/herself from the class. Intriguing question that I have been asking for months. Hard to tell someone it was the Person who wanted out, yet her parents had to go and do what they did. I know for A FACT, he/she could have gone to the teacher and asked to be removed or asked not to read that book. And it is a Fact, because parents have done just that. It was part of the curriculum so if he/she didn't like it, then deal with it in the school and with the teacher and principal. Hence why your facts are hard for me to agree with. Schools will always find accommodation for the student when presented in a rationale and realistic way. They new the curriculum, they choose to stay in the class, and then when it went against their morality, we put the district thru a nightmare.
Maddiex February 24, 2012 at 09:07 PM
The way the story goes, the student was reading the first book, and when she reached the excerpt in question, brought it to the attention of her parents. When the teacher was contacted, the student was offered the option of leaving the classroom and sitting in the school library while the rest of the class discussed the book. Not only is the student missing the class time, but she has to get up and leave the class everyday in front of the other students. I think the better solution is to keep the classroom discussion on books that everyone can agree on, and leave the mature subject book to a recommended reading list, with a full explanation of content to the parents and students.
Jerry Grady February 24, 2012 at 09:30 PM
So hurt the other kids who had no problem with it and they suffer, I don't see how that is fair to the other children in the class, nor the community at large. They should have just had her drop the class because that is what they do with many AP class's that children don't fit in or don't like. My main reason - they new the curriculum before school started, and many parents had done their homework to see what their child was going to be doing. I know I do every year when my children start the new year, I get informed and understand what my child will be doing. If i am not sure of what they are reading, I use this great tool called Google, and get myself informed. Unfortunately you and I will not agree on how it should have been handled, but it was decided thru the proper process and we move on. I don't agree with your hurting all the other students for one, but appreciate your feedback and giving me some more understanding.
Maddiex February 27, 2012 at 02:20 PM
The mother mentioned at one meeting that dropping the class was not an option offered to them. I don't know how much of a description they get, but I suppose they could have used Google or Amazon to read reviews on every book, but I can't say that the reviews would have pointed out these parts of the books, because these are adult books, not children's books, which is the main issue here. And lastly, I still can't see how any of this caused "hurt" or "suffering". I would venture to say that every student who wanted to, finished reading both of those books in their entirety. I appreciate your input as well, but your description of the effect this caused is a tad too dramatic for me. Life goes on.

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