NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Teachers should assign reading projects with controversial books during the school year, when there is ample time for teachers and students to discuss them, the North Ridgeville school district’s top official said.
Superintendent Jim Powell made the statement in response to a parent’s questioning of a book used in an honors English summer reading program.
Powell said the school system has no intention to censor books, “to keep kids from reading certain things.”
Maria Sycz, the parent of a 15-year-old daughter and former school board member and president, questioned the appropriateness of “The God of Small Things,” an award-winning novel by Arundhati Roy, an Indian author whose book centers on a family in a small rural town in India “whose members suffer the terrible consequences of forbidden love.”
Sycz, who spoke at a school board meeting this week, read the book along with her daughter, who is a sophomore. Sycz said she was troubled by the way the book dealt with sensitive subjects such as rape, beatings, incest, the molestation of a young child, adultery and physical abuse.
Powell said he also is concerned about books chosen for the summer reading project.
“My concern with a book of that nature is that when it is assigned over the summer, it doesn’t give students and teachers the opportunity to sit down and discuss it as they would during the school year,” he said.
“Those books are better-realized when you have the ability to communicate with parents about using them as learning opportunities, rather than assigning them over the summer when you don’t have that opportunity.”
Saying she would never endorse censorship, Sycz said her biggest concern is that she doesn’t feel the book’s straightforward way of handling its subject matter is age-appropriate for 15- and 16-year-olds.
Powell said books considered for high school English Department reading lists are discussed by staff before making their way onto reading lists for summer programs.
“The goal is to keep kids reading over the summer,” Powell said. “We want to give them some good literature by compiling lists of high-interest, contemporary books.”
Summer reading is required for all students in grades nine to 12, with different books selected for each level, according to the section of the school district’s website devoted to North Ridgeville High School.
Different books also are chosen for students in each grade who are in honors English classes.
Students in academic (regular) English choose one of two books to read and complete a project that explores characters, themes and conflicts by creating a musical sound-track, comic book or graphic novel, or a thematic journal or essay.
Honors English students read two books, and undertake projects on each.
This summer honors English students also were required to read Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” which Sycz termed “a true classic.”
Noting that the Roy novel is used by master’s degree programs at the University of Wisconsin and the University of North Carolina, Sycz reiterated a chief concern she had with the book was whether 10th-graders had the maturity to understand the underlying issues behind its themes.
She said her daughter termed the book “very disturbing,” while a classmate called it “disgusting.”
“I’m not a naive parent sheltering my daughter to only want to play with unicorns and rainbows,” Sycz said. “I know kids this age see this stuff on cable and in movies, but not to the detail and graphic nature as in the book.”
Reading lists typically contain books that are recommended by various educational organizations that rate volumes by criteria including their age-appropriateness, Powell said.
Powell said school officials were aware of only two parents expressing concerns about Roy’s novel.
“We have not had a lot of people upset about it,” Powell said, adding this was the first time “The God of Small Things” had been used.
Powell said the high school English Department would review the process by which books are selected.
Principal Tom Szendrey declined comment on the issue when contacted Thursday, which was the first day of classes for North Ridgeville students.
“In the future we should have several books to choose from,” Powell added. “It’s important to be sensitive to families and the cultural ideology of the community.”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.