Call for closer look at books, videos


A Carroll County school board member is raising questions about the content of four books and four sex-education videos that made it past a parent screening council this spring.

At Wednesday's school board meeting, Joseph D. Mish Jr. got fellow Board of Education members to delay the approval of those materials for a month, until the July 12 meeting.

The books received a majority of votes from the parents' Curriculum Council and were recommended to the school board for final approval.

But Mr. Mish said enough parents had concerns to warrant a closer look at the books and videos by the board members.

"I think you can get into a tyranny of the majority," Mr. Mish said. "There's so much stuff around, we don't need to [use material] that will raise parents' ire. People will sue you at the drop of a hat now."

Mr. Mish said he already has decided to vote against "Around the World in a Hundred Years," by Jean Fritz, a history book proposed for fifth grade. Mr. Mish is a retired Carroll social studies teacher, and one of two evangelical Christians on the school board.

The Fritz book "has what I consider to be anti-Christian bias and sweeping generalizations," Mr. Mish said, referring to sections that deal with Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World.

"It said, 'Christians did not believe in scholarship,' " Mr. Mish said. "That doesn't say 'leaders of the church,' it says 'Christians.' There were some clerics who were bigots. [But] what about Thomas Aquinas?"

The other books he would like the board to examine are "The Giver," by Lois Lowry, for seventh grade; "A House in the Snow," by M. J. Engh, for fourth grade; and "Into the Dream," by William Sleator for fifth grade.

At a meeting of the Curriculum Council, a book screening committee, some of the approximately 40 parents who attended thought those books had scenes that could frighten or disturb students. For example, a scene in "The Giver," which is a futuristic novel about a totalitarian society, describes the euthanasia of a newborn child. The other two books are about children in dangerous situations. But those books were approved by a majority of the members, as were 100 others. "I'm not into the censorship of books; I'm not saying to kick them out of the library," Mr. Mish said.

If a book is assigned by a teacher, parents still have a right to ask the teacher to allow their child to read an alternate book. But Mr. Mish said it would be virtually impossible to alert parents to all books that have been questioned by members of the screening council.

At its annual May meeting, the Curriculum Council rejected "The Witch Goes to School," by Norman Bridwell, for second-graders. Some Christian parents objected to the depiction of a witch as benevolent.

In a mail vote, the council members later rejected "I am Regina" by Sally Keehm for sixth grade and "The Sniper" by Theodore Taylor, for seventh grade. "I am Regina" raised concerns about a scene in which the main character is almost raped.

"The Sniper," which won an award from Maryland reading teachers this year, is about a boy who protects his family's wildlife park from a poacher while his parents are away. Parents were concerned that the boy set a bad example by carrying a gun.

Mr. Mish is a member of the Curriculum Council, made up of a parent volunteer from each school in the county and one representative from the school board, teacher's union, League of Women Voters and the local clergy.

The Family Life and Human Sexuality screening council has a similar composition. A majority of those members approved 22 videos, but four of them were approved on close votes. Mr. Mish wants those four videos reviewed by the school board.

The videos are: "Date Rape: Behind Closed Doors" and "Four Men Speak Out," both for high school students; "Sexual Harassment" for middle school students; and "Alexander Has a Good Day" for elementary students.

William Piercy, supervisor of health for county schools, said teachers viewed 100 videos over the year and submitted about a quarter of them to the parent committee, which rejected a few more.

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