Parham defends pulling Angelou book from curriculum Citizens' review to decide fate of autobiography

January 18, 1998

In a national radio broadcast Friday, Anne Arundel Superintendent Carol S. Parham spoke publicly for the first time in defense of her controversial decision to pull the autobiography of black poet Maya Angelou from freshman English classes.

"I am a great fan of Maya Angelou," Parham told National Public Radio host Diane Rehm, "and I have all her books."

But when some parents complained that "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" contains language and sexual situations not appropriate for ninth-graders, she said, she felt she had to respond.

Parham said that the media have portrayed her as banning the book, when all she has done is pull it from freshman classes this year. The book remains in all school libraries, she said, and is still read in junior English classes. The book could be returned to freshman classes next year if it passes a review by citizens invited to read and comment on it and other proposed school texts. That review will take several months, Parham said.

The superintendent said she had refrained from speaking about the controversy and had not granted interviews because she did not want to influence the outcome of the book review. But she agreed months ago to go on Rehm's talk show as part of a "Women at Work" series and decided to honor the commitment. The program was taped at American University in Washington and included phoned-in questions from callers, many of them from Anne Arundel County.

Parham spent most of the program talking about being head of a 73,000-student system, the 47th-largest in the country, and about being a woman and being black. "I had to work harder," she said.

Asked about her most difficult challenges, she ran down a list of crises from a sex scandal to threats against her by a school board member to having to decide whether a girl could play baseball to a rash of bomb threats. "I've seen it all," she said.

Still, Parham said, when people come up to her and ask, "How do you like your job?" she tells them, "I love it."

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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