November 27, 2014

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Adult book themes worry North Ridgeville parent

god of small thingsNORTH RIDGEVILLE — Maria Sycz is not one for banning books.

“That’s not me at all,” Sycz, a longtime former school board member, said about comments she made at Tuesday’s school board meeting over concerns she had with a book assigned as part of her daughter’s 10th-grade honors English class summer reading list.

Sycz told board members and administrative officials she was concerned over what she felt were adult themes and subject matter in “The God of Small Things,” an award-winning novel written by Arundhati Roy, an Indian author who writes about life in a small rural town in India.

According to a description of the book at www.amazon.com, the novel deals with “the story of the tragic decline of an Indian family whose members suffer the terrible consequences of forbidden love.”

Sycz, who served as president for seven of her nine years with the school board before losing a re-election bid last fall, said she was bothered by the book’s inclusion of themes dealing with subjects such as rape, beatings, incest, the molestation of a young child, adultery and physical abuse in marriage.

“My daughter read it and I read it,” Sycz said. “It was a very depressing book. I think there are a lot more books out there that are more uplifting.”

She described the book’s descriptions of and language dealing with those topics as somewhat detailed, but stopped short of calling them explicit.

Its adult themes aside, Sycz said she felt the book was not especially well-written. “Parts of it were even hard for me to follow,” she said.

Sycz is concerned that the book — winner of the 1997 Man Booker Prize for original fiction written in English and published in Great Britain — is read by 15- and 16-year-olds, ages at which teens typically develop a heightened sexual curiosity.

“I don’t want kids to think these are normal relationships,” Sycz said. “I just don’t feel this is an age-appropriate choice.”

No one responded to her comments at the meeting, Sycz said.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” she said. “I just wanted them to be aware when they’re doing the summer reading list for next year to make age-appropriate choices.

“I would never want any kind of censorship,” Sycz said.

Superintendent James Powell could not be reached for comment.

Sycz said she was aware of some parents sharing their concerns about the book via Facebook.

“We should be more aware of what books are being assigned to students to read, and what topics are covered in those books,” Sycz said. “There are a lot more and better books out there that would serve the same purpose” of exploring diversity and adult topics, she said, such as “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom.

Sycz suggested having a disclaimer of sorts to alert parents to the content of certain books before students read them, and to provide alternative books if parents object to a particular book.

“I feel this book crossed the line,” Sycz said. “But if a kid wants to read it, by all means let them.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.


  • Tom

    You can’t say you don’t want censorship and then not want this book to be read which is in fact censorship…

    • Steven

      Accurate statement Tom – until I consider this is about children. Using your statement, why not provide porn, books written by militia wacko’s, or access to books a child should not be exposed to? (50 shades of gray comes to mind) These are children being influenced and educated, the same ones we don’t allow to make adult decisions, because they are not adults. Based only on what was written, it appears this book may have more than a childs educational interests in mind, and as such should not be part of the curriculum. It isn’t censorship. It’s adult and educator leadership (decisions), based on the publics opinion. This isn’t college. Is it possible they missed the target with this book?

      • Tom

        I definitely see your point. Even though kids are exposed to a lot of the subject matter in the media, it shouldn’t be required reading. Maybe just stick with the classics…

    • B4CE

      I believe censorship would be saying, ” I don’t want anyone to read this book” the concern she is expressing is,” this book’s subjects are not appropriate for a public high school”. A slight difference.
      That being said, I try to protect & shield my children from things that are not age appropriate, but I know we have taught them values enough to not have them changed by simply reading a English assignment. It’s good for them to know of the brutality and suffering that humanity inflicts on themselves.

      • Tom

        Right. There are lessons to be learned but maybe not at such a young age. I see your point and I agree.

        • B4CE

          Agreed, a difficult and fine line for educators to walk. Push the limits of a young mind, while not offending the values of those individuals.
          I’m interested to hear how the students reacted to the book.

  • michelle

    The topics covered in this book are on the news, almost daily.

  • Roy Benevidez

    “Tuesdays with Morrie” is barely an entry-level English book for seventh grade. The idea that it is honors English material is obscene and would rise to parody if it weren’t true.

    • Whatrdafax

      A new definition for “obscene”?

  • stop ur whining part deux

    The woman has a problem with a book which theme is played out on television all day every day.

    I am quite sure that her daughter is well versed on “subjects such as rape, beatings, incest, the molestation of a young child, adultery and physical abuse in marriage.”

    All are common threads on SVU, Criminal Minds, and about ten other shows. These topics are all over the news as well.

    • Whatrdafax

      Played out on television all day every day? Depends on what station you choose, and how much you choose to watch. How much of it is REQUIRED viewing?

      • stop ur whining part deux

        Do not play dumb. We all know this girl has watched or at the least stumbled upon Criminal minds, NCSI, Law and Order SVU or the 30 other shows that subject matter parallels everything read in that book.

        It being required is irrelevant. There is not a single topic in that book that any 15-16 year old is not well versed.

  • therest_ofthestory

    Go back to the Harvard Classics! Most of this stuff is just tripe! Who comes up with these books? Oprah? More of the liberal/progressive agenda to brainwash our kids! A parent should have the right to speak up. As far as censorship, as a parent, it is part of parenting to decide what you want your children exposed to! I wholeheartedly support this parent!

  • Jen Forbus

    This is so sad and coming from a former school board member. The course is honors, the themes are important–and if the reading program is done correctly, they will be thoroughly discussed and analyzed in class. And really, a “more uplifting” choice? You mean like MacBeth? The Scarlet Letter? The Great Gatsby? To Kill a Mockingbird?

    • Pablo Jones

      Which theme in particular do you feel is important, rape, beatings, incest, the molestation of a young child, adultery and physical abuse in marriage? Or is it the theme of stereotyping people from India?

      • Brody White

        I feel rape is very important

        • Pablo Jones

          I bet you do. And naturally an English class is the proper setting to discuss those topics. The English teacher I’m sure has had enough training on the subject (probably from reading other stories about it) to lead a discussion in class.

    • Alicia

      While the themes may be important to discuss, educators need to take into consideration how they are being presented in the literature chosen. They also should consider what the rating of the book would be. If these same students were going to watch a rated R movie in class, their parents would need to sign a permission slip. Why should reading a book with equivalent content be treated differently?

      • Jen Forbus

        Again, I go back to the examples I’ve already cited plus many, many more. These aren’t new themes in literature, they are all through the classics, the difference is this book is dealing with a culture that’s not white. We can’t expect our children to suddenly be “adult” about topics once they reach the age we deem for adulthood if we haven’t taught them how to address those topics along the way. There’s no magic transformation.

        • Whatrdafax

          No. Limiting what my kids watched on TV and saw in movies sent a clear message about what we consider OK and what we don’t consider OK. I know some parents will take there toddlers to see “Sin City”. I can imagine that being shown in grade schools and the idea that we’ll all discuss it afterward so it will be OK. Alicia makes a good point that an R rated movie would have required adult permission, yet this R equivalent book is REQUIRED.

        • Pablo Jones

          So you believe that rape, incest, and violence are part of the culture of non-white people? Over 1 billion people live in India and you think that it is their culture to either raped someone (maybe even a family member) or be raped.

          The book deals with just the life of a person/family (whether fictional or true) but it is not their culture. If it is their culture would you walk up to any India person and ask why they condone rape, or ask any Indian girl how it felt to be raped?

          Again I repeat myself, how is a 10th grade English teacher qualified to discuss rape, incest, and domestic violence to kids?

          • Jen Forbus

            First of all, rape is a PART of their culture just as it is a part of our culture. I don’t think any logical person can deny that. But, I would no more walk up to an Indian citizen and assume they condone rape than I would an American because rape appears In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Your example is absurd by any way you look at it. However, the Indian culture–politics, class, social discrimination–is reflected in a book dealing with Indian characters in India, written by an Indian woman. You know, as opposed to being written about white males by a dead, white male.

            It’s very sad that you have so little confidence in the people who are educating our children. They teach students how to understand and analyze what they read. Are they experts in every topic that could possibly be written in books they teach? No that, too, is absurd. But they do provide themselves with solid backgrounds on the individual books they cover in their curriculum. They are looking at those topics as they relate to the book. And they would look at those topics differently if they were in a government class or a health class or a social sciences class. A college instructor isn’t trained any differently–maybe with less teaching pedagogy.

          • Pablo Jones

            It is not part of their culture, it is done by criminals. If you go out and drink and drive once would it be fair to say your children were raised in a culture of alcohol abuse? By your logic if a black person wrote a fictional book (just like this book) about a black man killing, raping, and pillaging across the country you would say that book provides great insight to the culture of the black man.

            I think it is naive to think just because a person is a teacher they are qualified to teach or discuss topics that are outside of their area of “expertise”. A person doesn’t know what they don’t know. I’m sure if you had that teacher give the discussion on those topics to a 10th grade class, a child psychologist would find the discussion done completely inappropriately. Unfortunately just reading books and especially fictional novels does not make one an expert.

    • Whatrdafax

      No. Those are more examples of depressing stuff kids are forced to read. although “To Kill a Mocking Bird” displays courage and righteousness in the main character, so not sure how that one made it into English classes.

  • Rebecca Baker

    Heaven forbid kids learn about another culture.

    • Pablo Jones

      Which culture is that?

      • Whatrdafax

        The culture of incest, rape and molestation. These are key to understanding India, according to people who like this book.

        • Pablo Jones

          They must think so. Funny of all the Indian people I know and work with, those culture items have never come up. Maybe I should buy a copy of the book and leave it on the desk and tell the girls it’s ok I know what you have been through, and tell the guys I know what they have done.

          The said part is those that are for teaching this book in high school probably think they are more worldly and well rounded for reading it.

      • Rebecca Baker

        India

  • oldgeologist

    I read every word of “Tuesdays with Morrie” a couple of years ago because I wanted to be able to say I read the whole thing before I commented on it. While the author of the book may be one of the top sports writers in the country, the book did not have any redeeming value that I could see, and I read a lot of books and have degrees in both psychology and philosophy. Morrie may have been a college professor, but he wasn’t too bright, at least not near the end of his life. His doctoral dissertation, on sociology in a mental hospital, never had the powerful impact that a similar study by Foucault had. The author admits that he wrote the book because he needed the money. Anyone who recommends that book as a substitute for another book does not have very high standards. I know that this book is required reading in many schools, as is “Of Mice and Men.” That simply reflects the low standards in our schools today. She may be right that there are better books than “The God of Small Things.” She just didn’t suggest one.

  • Whatrdafax

    Great response.

  • Whatrdafax

    I have often wondered why English teachers assign bleak and disturbing books. We had to read “A Scarlet Letter” as if that was the best way to get a feel for literature and history. Really? I remember the disturbing “Lord of the Flies” and it’s two great mysteries: 1. Why would ANYONE willingly buy that book? 2. Why would ANYONE publish it? It seems if a book is not dark, sexually disturbing, pessimistic, or involve suicide it’s not considered “literature”. Three By Flannery O’Connor, Heart of Darkness, UGH! Are English teachers all so emotionally disturbed that they think THAT is the prevailing or important reality? Throw in more Terry Pratchett, or Wodehouse. Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” (avoid the prequel to Foundation.) What to assign books with bad words or sexuality that make people think -assign something by PJ O’Rouke or Ayn Rand. Want to show them how to write a good story? Try Louis L’Amore, or HG Wells. If reading Shakespeare, skip depressing Hamlet and bloody Macbeth -try Much ado about Nothing. You want history -try 12:00 High or “To Hell and Back” -sure the latter is depressing, but it’s people dealing with real problems with courage, not depressed wimps and victims. Let the students CHOOSE a biography fro a specific time period and location. At least thin out the the dark, depressing (Handmaid’s Tale) ick with stuff that is good to read.

  • Whatrdafax

    Someone here wrote: “I think some Westerners are really isolated from the realities of life
    in developing countries (90% of the world), especially the lives of
    people in India.” I think that statement has two things backward: First the so called developing countries tend to be older than the US. If referring to India, much older. Their economic, social, and political status indicate they are more accurately described as a non-developing country. Their best and brightest -leave. Second, that Westerners are isolated from the realities of life in these (non) developing countries is not a problem, when you consider if you feel they are “developing” what are they developing toward? You imply they are behind Westerners. So the problem is they isolate themselves from OUR realities. Westerners aren’t isolated from the world -we travel it, use it, and shape it. Liberals are trying to take us to stagnation like the non-developing countries, a nation of non-producers and dependents choking the life out of the country, riding the backs of the motivated people who don’t screw up their lives. History indicates the liberals will succeed in taking us down to a non-developing country.

  • Adrienne

    These kids are in high school… They should be mature enough to read a book.

  • michelle

    The point is, it is out there, all over. A college prep student should be able to deal with it in fiction.