Darn, My Dog is Dead

At the end of the 2014-15 school year, my son told me that his assigned summer reading was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This book was the summer reading selection for all grades. I ordered it on May 29, and it has been in our home since we received it. I wish my teenager were one of those go-getters who had his summer reading done before the July 4 fireworks, but he doesn’t roll that way.

When “Mandatory” Became “Optional”

On August 4, all families of students received this email from the principal:

School System Literature

My son was jubilant that the mandatory reading had been made optional. I, on the other hand, was not.

Trying to Understand

The day after the email explaining the new status of the summer reading assignment, I sent the principal an email inquiring about the decision. He called me the next morning, August 6 (and I very much appreciate the return call). To paraphrase, he said that upon further reflection, a decision had been made that the book, which contains multiple incidences of the “F-word,” “set the wrong tone, especially for incoming freshmen.” He said approximately 20 parents of incoming freshmen had called or emailed to register their displeasure, and that summer reading should be “fun.” He also said that apparently high schoolers often don’t start their summer reading until the last minute (I guess this was related to the fact that this decision was made once some students started discussing the book with their parents).

In response, I suggested the school could have done a disclaimer at the beginning of the summer and explained from the very beginning “this book has language which some students may find offensive. If they prefer an alternative they can request this through an instructor.”

The Public Discussion

Every Friday, I share what I am reading (paper and audio) on Facebook and Twitter for Friday Reads. This week, I abandoned the audiobook I had been reading (for now) in order to re-read “Incident” and announced that as my Friday Reads selection. It has been so long since I read the book, I felt like I needed to familiarize myself with it again, especially if I am going to be championing it publicly. In that post, I explained that it HAD been a mandatory assignment but had now been made optional.

School System Literature

Today, the Tallahassee Democrat published an article about this issue (read it here).

This Parent’s Opinion

My concerns center mostly around the process surrounding the decision to lift the mandatory requirement for the book. An email from the principal 13 days before school begins, stating “I am lifting the mandatory requirement for this novel” is not the ideal solution. Ideally, back when the decision was initially made about summer reading, the faculty or administration would have familiarized themselves with the book sufficiently to acknowledge that some parents and/or students may be uncomfortable with the language. They could have then developed an alternative book choice with accompanying assignments.

I read in the Tallahassee Democrat article that one parent was alarmed by the “foul language and the religious skepticism. She went on to say “I am not interested in having books banned … But to have that language and to take the name of Christ in vain – I don’t go for that. As a Christian, and as a female, I was offended. Kids don’t have to be reading that type of thing and that’s why I was asking for an alternative assignment. I know it’s not realistic to pretend bad words don’t exist, but it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my daughter knows what is right or wrong.” While I respect this parent’s opinion, and the choices she makes on behalf of her student, these factors would not cause me to seek an alternate assignment.  

I think it is realistic for a school to consider the frequency of obscenity in a book when making that book its single choice for summer reading for all grades (although I think it is highly likely that the majority of students entering high school are aware that people use this language). From the very beginning, when I started re-reading the book and realized that the first f-words were uttered by a woman who has just discovered that her dog has been murdered and has a garden fork sticking out of its carcass, I thought to myself, “well, I wouldn’t likely say “darn, my dog is dead.” I would be more likely to be overcome with shock and grief and say something relatively out of character. But I will concede there are probably other books that are just as worthy from a literary standpoint which have milder language.

On the issue of religious skepticism, however, the role of literature is to expose us to varying viewpoints. I want my children, who have been raised in a Christian household, to read books about people from all walks of faith, including NO walks of faith.

Since beginning to re-read the book, I have been reminded of its ASSETS in addition to the components which appear to have caused concerns: a reinforcement of prime numbers, explanations of the literary mechanisms of simile and metaphor, and a detailed insight into one person’s experience of the world from the viewpoint of someone with an Aspergers-like condition. These are all things I want my rising junior to learn.

To quote my friend Yolanda, “Literature is meant to make you think.” Thinking is most comprehensively fertilized when seeded with a VARIETY of thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints, not just those with which we concur.

School System Literature

Ultimately, I want my child to be able to analyze literature, learn from it, and discuss it respectfully with those who agree AND those who disagree. As parents, this situation gives us an ideal opportunity to role model HOW to interact with people of diverse opinions. Let’s not blow it.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

We Can’t All Be Santa

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by the Florida Prepaid College Board, through my role as a Believer Blogger. All thoughts are my own.  

Cropped Santa Mail

I don’t remember exactly what Wayne put on his Santa list in 2005, when he was in first grade. I am sure the general theme was “transportation” as in toy trains, remote-controlled cars, and anything else that had wheels, made noise, or (ideally) moved while making noise. All items on the list were meant to be enjoyed “RIGHT NOW.”

First Graders Aren’t Worried About College

First graders aren’t worried about the distant realities of college tuition, how they will pay for their residence hall when they are 18, or the advantage of “current plan pricing.”

First graders don’t know:

  • Individuals with bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $23,700 a year more than those without, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
  • A recent Georgetown University study estimates that a student with a bachelor’s degree can earn $1.6 million more in their lifetime than a student with only a high school diploma
  • It’s projected by a study from Georgetown University that by 2018, 59 percent of jobs in Florida will require post-secondary education
  • In 2013, the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders was 4 percent. For those with only a high school diploma, it was 7.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics

I don’t know Santa’s academic credentials, and good for him that he’s got his gig pretty locked down (and oh the cookie benefits!). But he’s certainly the exception to this general truth:

Graph

The Gift of a College Education

Purchasing a Florida Prepaid College Plan for your child now is a gift that will long outlast the stuff that kids beg to see from Santa. As I wrote in my last post about Florida Prepaid, my parents bought Florida Prepaid College Plans for my children with lump sum payments of around $7,000 when they were infants. That investment will result in approximately $32,000 worth of college education for each of them.

I know it’s a hectic time of year for all of us. I know that part of the fun of sharing the holidays with our children is indulging in some of their favorite “gotta have it now” treats. I’ll tell you what ….. there’s a way to secure your children’s educational future and free up some cash for a treat.

Enrollment Fee Waived!

Sign up for your Florida prepaid plan before December 31 and the $50 enrollment fee will be waived*. It’s almost like found money! (Your prepaid payments won’t begin until April 2015.)

For more information, visit the Florida Prepaid College Plan by clicking here. If you prefer to speak with someone by phone, please call 800-552-GRAD (4723).

education gift

*The Open Enrollment period closes on February 28, 2015, but the enrollment fee waiver ends December 31, 2014.

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.