School Board Set To Rule On 5 Disputed Curriculum Works

Language, Racial Themes, 'Sad' Endings Prompt Review

August 14, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

Debbie Doxson never read about her Jewish heritage in school. She never read stories about the Nazis or the Holocaust. The Union Bridge resident thinks she should have.

So Doxson, a member of Carroll's curriculum council, says she doesn't understand why the school board has concerns about "Alan and Naomi," a story about a New York boy asked to befriend a withdrawn French girl who witnessed her father's murder by the Gestapo.

The board is expected to take action on that work and four otherstoday, two months after pulling them for further review from a lengthy list of curriculum materials. "Welcome Home, Jellybean" and "Runaway to Freedom," two novels for middle school reading classes, and William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" and "Four Great Plays by Ibsen," works for high school English, also were pulled.

The middle school novels have a common thread -- they are about minorities, such as Jews,blacks and the developmentally disabled.

"These students are mature enough to start dealing with those issues," said Joanne C. Strohmer, supervisor of reading/language arts. "This is an opportunity to make them stop and think about others."

Some board members are concerned about the language in some of the books and have found "sad" endings distressing.

"I had some concerns about the appropriateness of language," said board member Cheryl A. McFalls. "I was concerned about the treatment of the main characters in those three stories."

In "Alan and Naomi," for example, Naomi retreats back into her shell,and it is unclear from the ending whether she will be cured. Board members also criticized the book for its poor portrayal of Jews and the author's failure to include a moral in the story.

The curriculumcouncil, comprised of administrators, teachers and parents, along with the school staff, has recommended the books be approved.

Gary E. Dunkleberger, director of curriculum/staff development, said the books,if approved, would not be required reading, but would become partof a catalog of materials available for use in classrooms.

Doxson, a former home economics teacher in Baltimore County, said she was impressed that the staff wanted to include the books in the curriculum.

"I think it's important to learn about other people's heritage,"said Doxson, whose 7-year-old daughter attends Elmer A. Wolfe Elementary School. "Some terrible things have happened in the past. Some ofthese topics are delicate. Maybe some people prefer that their children are never exposed to those kinds of things."

Some minority andother community representatives, whose comments were solicited by school staff, have expressed opposing viewpoints.

Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, for example, found the language of "Runaway to Freedom," about a slave girl sold to a cotton plantation who then escapes via the Underground Railroad, offensive and inappropriate for middle school students.

Board member Ann M. Ballard expressed similar reservations.

"I think it's a good book," she said. "It's historically correct, but I think it could have been done without the language. I think it would be hard for a sixth-grade (black) boy to sit through class when the book is being read."

The racially offensive language, she said, could spill over to the playground or bus.

"Welcome Home, Jellybean," about a family adapting to a developmentally disabled daughter returning home from an institution, drew concerns about its sad ending and the brother's treatment of his sister.

But Michele Kibler, coordinator of support services for the Carroll County Association for Retarded Citizens Inc., said, "I think we read a different book. It's not a sad ending. It's a wonderful book. It is the most realistic account of a situation where a person comes out of an institution to go home with a family that I've ever read. I was impressed by it."

She said including the book in the curriculum is important because more developmentally disabled students are being mainstreamed into the classroom.

Curriculum council members had concerns about the Faulkner and Ibsen works because of profanity and the topicof incest in one of Ibsen's plays.

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