Education

Books Can Change Lives: Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education Addresses Fun Home Controversy, Hears Comments

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Books Can Change Lives: Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education Addresses Fun Home Controversy, Hears Comments Credits: B. Nemcek
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Books Can Change Lives: Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education Addresses Fun Home Controversy, Hears Comments Credits: B. Nemcek
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WARREN, NJ - At the last meeting of the Watchung Hills Board of Education, two parents spoke during public commentary about their concerns that the graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, was included in the senior English curriculum. On Tuesday night, those parents, and a room full of additional parents and community members, attended the Board of Education meeting both to add their voices to those who want Fun Home removed from the curriculum and to support its inclusion.

The book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, is a 2006 graphic memoir by the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel and is the last in a series of graphic novels read throughout the four years at Watchung Hills.

The book chronicles the author's childhood and addresses themes of sexual orientation, gender roles, suicide, emotional abuse, dysfunctional  family life, and the role of literature in understanding self and family. 

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At the prior meeting, the parents who addressed the board said that their goal is to have the book replaced with another book that satisfies the school’s educational goals, as the images in this book are not appropriate for a high school curriculum.

Since that meeting, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has written on the controversy at Watchung Hills.

http://cbldf.org/2018/06/cbldf-and-kids-right-to-read-project-defend-fun-home/

Prior to public commentary on Tuesday, WHRHS Board president Peter Fallon said:

and WHRHS Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett said:

Watchung Hills is committed to engaging readers with high quality works of literature that present students with exceptional uses of language while providing rich and varied perspectives on life and living. 

Our LGBTQ literature curriculum writing project - started with research conducted in 2014 - grew from our commitment to actualize the school’s Diversity Committee goals for developing inclusive curriculum. We chose Fun Home to advance the Diversity Committee’s goals and to advance English Department goals for students’ literacy learning.

We selected Fun Home for its literary quality.  The novel is noteworthy for its presentation of characters who themselves engage with literature on a particularly sophisticated level. Both Bechdel and her father use reading as a means of self-exploration and discovery – as a way of understanding themselves in relation to the world around them -  and we have not often encountered such vivid, engaged readers in other literary works.

Additionally, references to works of the literary canon as well as classical mythology, European and art history, and literary biography, Fun Home demonstrates an application of academic knowledge for the purpose of enriching self-awareness and self-understanding. The novel involves readers in Bechdel’s lively, knowledge-rich, and compelling intellectual pursuit to better understand herself and her family history.

Fun Home also helps us teach intertextuality - a more complex form of literary reading. We want students to understand that no literary text we read exists in isolation, and we attempt to show students how each text exists in conversation with others – informed by its antecedents and, sometimes, opening new spaces for other texts to emerge. We want students’ reading to be informed by an understanding of intertextuality – of this ongoing conversation among the literary works they read. We want them to develop context and make thoughtful, relevant connections. 

Bechdel’s book demonstrates such connections among several important literary works.

We chose Fun Home to advance our goals for thoughtful, contextualized literary reading and to expand the LGBTQ voices in our curriculum. 

The concerns raised recently by some people have been leveled at the novel’s images of sexual intimacy. We acknowledge that a few such images appear in the novel, but we do not feel their presence in any way diminishes the literary quality of the work. Thumbing through the novel and pointing to an image or two misses the context in which these images are presented. 

We endeavor to create readers who can analyze and evaluate an image – whether presented visually or rendered in prose – and who can view this image in context.

We welcome the responsibility of engaging students in a curriculum of diverse viewpoints in order to prepare them, as seniors, for the academic, social, and workplace environments they will encounter in just a few months. We recognize that some of the works we teach may challenge students’ own worldviews, but as professionals with experience teaching literature, we know that structured, informed reading and discussion of text and image in the context of the classroom helps students to develop strategies to manage such challenge. We also know that a rigorous, inclusive curriculum prepares students well for success in college and career.

Fun Home was piloted to some senior English classes this spring and the response from students has been “overwhelmingly positive” in what is typically a difficult time of the year to get seniors to engage. 75 copies of the book were purchased.

“Students have offered to come and share their perspective on the book and we may solicit additional, more formal feedback from them in the future, “said Jewett after the meeting. 

Parents, former students and community members shared the following comments at the meeting, to TAPinto, and in various social media venues:

Probably one of my favorite graphic novels and I WISH I had the opportunity to read that as part of our high school curriculum. Parents try to protect their kids too much these days as opposed to letting them learn what's necessary. My parents never cared about my school reading and felt the need to discuss every detail with me and yet I somehow magically turned out to be a (fairly) normal member of society haha. I only graduated in 2012 so not much of the readings have changed from what I've heard, they were all really fantastic and the teachers at WH did great jobs of putting information into context and addressing issues as they came up. Allow your children to be exposed to topics even if they scare YOU. Trying to prevent these things is only doing a disservice to them in the long term. Their college professors are going to laugh in your face when you tell them that you're concerned about little Jimmy's reading material lol. 

Also as a side note we have a society that on the whole shames LGBT youth and I wish I had gotten to read even one book that vaguely addressed sexuality as a kid. A book like this could do a lot of good for many kids struggling with these types of issues who are too afraid and have no other outlet for help. Books can change lives. I just think it's really sad the way certain parents think they're trying to protect but what they're really do is damaging their children

I was made aware of this required reading when my son told me about it. It's not only that it was inappropriate, which some may try to argue, it's taking the place of other, much more important reading seniors should be engaged in. This is a failure of the administration not an issue of censorship.

I've read the book, I saw the musical, I have LGBT family and very close friends, I lost my lesbian best friend to suicide, and then lost my uncle to suicide, and I'm a mama- with all of that history and baggage I would argue that this is an incredibly important book for teens to be reading. First, ignoring the content, graphic novels are completely valid forms of writing and reading. Some truly inspiring and informative pieces have been published in the graphic novel format (Maus, Persepolis, etc.) Second, LGBT teens absolutely need to be represented. They need to know others have come out before them. They need to know they aren't the only ones to struggle with their identity. Third, suicide isn't a secret- it happens and everyone knows it happens. It's really important for teens to know the devastating and lasting consequences of it. They need to know how it destroys families and how painful it really is. Fourth, the images are nothing worse than what these kids see on TV, billboards, in video games, and on their phones/computers. They will survive it. Actually, they will probably do so much more than survive seeing a few 'graphic' images- they will be better for having read this book.

Watchung Hills teacher and GSA advisor Sean DiGiovanna said:

DiGiovanna said, “A lot of the students I work with have read it and not one of them has felt stigmatized by it. To have it characterized as something that is harmful, I have to say in my experience that this is absolutely not the case."

So, I was sent the illustrations.  And yeah, it seems way out of place as reading in the high school.  Some may have religious objections, but even more importantly to me, some children may be uncomfortable still even if others are ok.  And as they are images, not written text, it’s not like they can choose to not see the images.  I haven’t agreed with the other book objections up to this point, but this one I agree with.

I think any parent who finds Fun Home questionable should go buy the book and read it for themselves, and also purchase the cast album and listen to it, and also go and see the production 4th Wall Theatre is putting on in Montclair on June 10-17th. In fact, everyone everywhere should do all the aforementioned things. That book/musical was life-changing for me, I'm so thrilled that WHRHS has included it on their reading list! As for the graphic images, God forbid teenagers actually learn about reproductive anatomy and how it works. 🙄 Kudos to WHRHS for exposing teens to people who might be different than themselves. We've come a long way from my day, where we read The Color Purple through completely straight-washed lenses. Sounds like a lot of parents could stand to benefit from reading these books as well!

Those students that are interested can read this on their own time. It is not about banning books - it is about not teaching porn in school!   If this book stays on the list, will we be adding Playboy and Hustler (or whatever is the current day version of these) to the reading list as well?

My 12th grader read it a couple of months ago. She said initially her classmates were surprised to see the images but after a couple of minutes, it was business as usual. The class read and discussed the book just like they did with the other books, and no one seemed disturbed about it. She said it was a rather interesting book and it's not a book that teaches the students about sex, as some of the parents have suggested.

There are, I think 2-3 images in the book which form the basis of the objection.  In a 240 page book, this is about 1% of the content.

Also, the images I've seen are not XXX.  They are adult, certainly, but no different than what you might see in an R-rated movie (which, by the way, high school seniors would be allowed to see without a parent or guardian).

The book has great reviews - so I hope people read it before agreeing to try and ban it.  I’m confident my 12th grader (an adult) will be able to handle it when the time comes.

Every single year we have this same issue of the parents who are offended by the summer book choices. Most of the time it’s material that they deem inappropriate because it makes them uncomfortable. Parents, your kids are seniors in high school about to enter the world as individuals, it’s time to take a few steps back and trust that your parenting was done in a way that they are capable of handling summer read material.

As a parent of two boys 22 and 24 who have both gone through WHRHS I’m just not seeing what the problem is. Trust your educators and more importantly trust your children to be mature enough to see the differences in people in the world and embrace them, rather then hide from them. Expose your kids,under the guidance of educators, to situations that require empathy and awareness to understand. That’s how we raise truly responsible adults.

The English teachers at WHRHS are very capable and know how to navigate difficult topics. If they didn’t expose kids to literature that breaks boundaries and makes you ask questions about the world, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs!

Also, I second that Fun Home is an amazing graphic novel/musical that I wish I had gotten to read as part of my high school curriculum (I also graduated in 2012)! So many students might be able to see themselves in the characters. When I was WHRHS we read plenty of texts hat featured explicit material, and had intelligent discussions about them. I truly feel that this work should be no different.

As a former student, if we can read Oedipus and see classical artwork depicting nudity and explicit sexuality, there should be no particular problem with something that is relatively tame compared to popular culture.

I don't want to be an alarmist, however, the "questionable" content is tame compared to the UNLIMITED content they have access to in the palm of their hand. If this were in the middle school curriculum, it would be questionable, but since it appears to be in the senior curriculum keep in mind that these "kids" are for all intents and purposes adults. They will be navigating these waters soon enough, wouldn't you want them exposed while they're in your home and you can help guide them??

I just heard Alison Bechdel speak at my daughter's college graduation.  My son is a senior at WHRHS and until he found out who the speaker was, I had no idea he had been reading her book for school.  I knew nothing about her before.  She was funny, engaging and inspirational, and she left me wanting to read her book myself.  I agree with Steven O'Neil that removing it from the Senior curriculum will serve no useful purpose.  Better for parents to be aware of the curriculum (which obviously I wasn't!) and be prepared to answer questions and discuss perspectives with their young adult children.

Step into any fine art museum and you will see nudity and depictions of sex far more explicit than this... unfortunately I’m not allowed to post examples.

As to TV - the images posted are far tamer than you’ll see on any given night on HBO or Showtime, but thankfully not interspersed with gratuitous gore, violence and explicit rape. The images are far less disturbing than the TV News splatter about the sexual escapades of two recent Presidents.

As I’ve stated, my take on the images is that they depict a loving couple doing what loving couples often do. Teens are barraged with images of sex which lack any context of love and relationships. This book and its images portray a much more positive aspect, that sex, regardless of gender, should go hand in hand with a loving relationship. In the context of today’s society, that’s an excellent ethic to pass on to our children.

 If anything a high school with highly professional teachers is exactly the place for kids to be exposed to said illustrations. Sex isn't something to be ashamed of and most of these people will be 17 or 18, adults by realistic standards. You should want them to be able to address these topics in a structured and safe environment.

My argument is not about the images being shown on this forum, but that it is perfectly acceptable to be shown and taught in a formal school environment. I'm frankly more confused as to how anyone thinks that their kids are benefiting from having these images hidden from them.In addition, I would love to know at what age anyone here decided to sit their kids down and discuss these topics with their kids if not in high school? Especially because growing up I couldn't name a single person who's parents felt comfortable broaching these topics with them otherwise.

Some people may feel that the safe structured environment should be created by the parents and they should have say on how these types of issues are handled based on family personal or religious beliefs (not taking a side just pointing out what seems to be the heart of the discussion).

hmmm I’m pretty sure there are many of us who felt completely comfortable having these discussions with our kids. Quite frankly I find this whole discussion pretty ridiculous. The true fact is by Senior year in the year 2018 many of your teenagers are already sexually active. It’s naive to think that any of this reading or graphic content is new to any of these teenagers.Making a judgement call that this or any other book is inappropriate because it may be uncomfortable for any of you as parents is no better then book banning.

Here is something we can all agree on... we are not all going to agree on this! My personal opinion is Parents have a right to raise concerns about content that may not coincide with there own personal or religious beliefs. Being tolerant of diversity means being tolerant of all points of view including those whose view this content as objectionable. They are allowed to feel that way just as other are allowed to feel strongly that they want their students to be exposed to this type of content. When it is not required this is each parent's choice to determine what content they want to expose their students to. As I understand it... the issue here is if this is now required reading for all seniors the parents who object have been disenfranchised because something they feel is their responsibility has now been taken over by the school. And is this the ONLY book that is capable of addressing issues related to LGBTQ? Are there books that cover the topic without the graphic depictions that are the source of discomfort? These are all legitimate areas for discussion and if we are truly going to embrace diversity we have to be open to at least considering how this content may make some members of our community feel without casting judgement on them or their right to have their point of view. Again, framing the issue not taking a position.

It's not the only LGBTQ book, but it's the best I've ever read. She is an incredible writer with an incredibly vibrant vocabulary. Other books such as "Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda" or "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" might be considered more age-appropriate but completely pale in comparison to Bechdel's masterpiece. Welcome to high school, life isn't always comfortable, and neither is art.

These reading lists not only attempt to provoke thought on issues of societal importance but they also choose books which are broadly considered as literature, writings of great quality in their craft. Fun Home rises to the occasion on both points. I know that among  high school students the LGBTQ issues presented are in no way abstract; they are often (painful) parts of their lives and deserve non-judgmental airing.

Is there an alternate book? Certainly there must be, but have trust in the fine educators at WHRHS.

Perhaps a middle ground would be to offer an alternate book as required reading to those minors whose parent(s) object to the original book. The faculty might discuss both books without resorting to graphic imagery and everyone could have their cake and eat it too. I suppose that's up to the school board and educators at the high school.

But the book is available on Amazon, libraries, book stores........deeming something “bad” often peaks interest and pushes them in the direction we wanted to steer them from. A rebellion of sorts. I think the school is challenging the kids to reach and explore topics that they may have already encountered or will be encountering soon in their young adult lives. Usually the point of a read like this is to encourage them to dig deeper than the surface topics. It challenges them to start reading and thinking like college students will need to when they are given even more challenging material. It’s about preparation. I think adults are only seeing this as perverse because we know what we know. I haven’t personally read the book, only the the summary. H/ever, with all of this uproar I will be adding it to my list. 

And to be clear, I get it. The school doesn’t hand out porn magazines at school because there’s no educational purpose. So why this book?  But honestly, it’s less than 10 pages of graphics that are relevant to the literature. Would ppl be ok with reading the book if it didn’t include the graphic pics?  Perhaps that’s an option for future. It seems that for most, it’s not just pics, but also the content.

Brenda thanks for running the grade-level curriculum lists. It's on the senior list -- those kids are so smart. Bechdel is really influential in popular culture whether you've heard of her or not -- a comic she wrote in 1985 spurred the Bechdel Rule (or Bechdel Test) for films, which states for a film to be relevant for women, it should.... (1) have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.  It's amazing how few movies meet that criteria. She's smart... and relevant.

Fun Home is one of the best and funniest and saddest books I've read - the writing and the story (which is mostly autobiographical) will speak to any teenager. there's so much explicit music on radio/tv shows/internet etc.,but the illustrations and themes in this book are part of a person's life story. Its not just entertainment but helpful to young people trying to figure out how to find themselves and be true to who they are.

Haven't read it, but will. Don't ban any book that helps children accept themselves or others!

The book was already chosen. Protesting to have it removed from the reading list is no different then banning it.

 I have no blinders up I know exactly what goes on with some families and kids in this area and other towns I just know it doesn’t go on in my family and I don’t need to promote this type of pornography and this book will never be kept wait till the meeting tonight.

Just so you know, you can borrow this book for free with Amazon Prime if you would like to read it to attain a better informed opinion!

I think that, as harmful as it is to the children, that the parents who are deeply offended by sexual content should take their kids out. The rest of the students don't deserve to suffer through ignorance and be unable to read this incredible book because a few panels (in a novel 150+ pages) show oral sex between lesbians. 

A good portion of these students are adults anyway and should be able to make the choice themselves, but I can concede to letting individual parents pulling their kids out. I'm sure it'll keep them safe long term!

Absolutely books like that should be banned and no school has the right to tell my kid something is mandatory that’s not literature it’s porn.

It’s really not that bad...I asked a few senior girls including my daughter....they rolled their eyes and said they’re seniors, they’re mature enough!!!

I am all for inclusion and diversity. I have not read the book.  The pictures in the book I have seen from the other forum are XXX rated level.  That is not acceptable for children under 18 not mention there are siblings much younger at home who can be exposed to these images involuntarily.  This should be a book for selective reading for whom are open to it but not for a book in the curriculum that every 12th grade student must read in the English class curriculum.  Aren’t there other age appropriate great books that can promote the same value?  

This book is appropriate for college reading as many of the parents agreed during the BOE meeting last night.  But not for high school kids no matter how mature you think they are and how much more they know than we think they know.  Personally, I would not want to prepare my kids for college and real life this way. But everybody has their own way of raising kids. This book should be an opt-in instead of an opt-out choice.

I’m not so sure that the sexually explicit images you cite would be detrimental to my or my peers’ mental health in any capacity. Perhaps if we were much younger. My class is about to read “Fun Home” so I am not familiar yet with the explicit material you refer to. However, I feel that it is almost infantilizing to purport that we can’t handle this material. I don’t like to speak for my peers, but I really do not think that our mental health is at risk here. Most importantly, we as young adults don’t have to think about issues of sexual orientation often if we are not the ones marginalized, and that is what “Fun Home” forces us to do. It is an invaluable text in that sense, and so it would really dishearten me if it were to be censored. Sometimes learning isn’t always a comfortable experience, and sometimes it shouldn’t be, especially when learning from perspectives that we are not familiar with.

Wow times have really changed since I graduated whrhs and my daughter in 2004. I don’t recall any such material back then. Bravo for parents to be involved and caring enough to raise questions.

I'd encourage concerned parents to read the novel (it's a quick read) and see the few illustrations in question within the context of the story. By senior year students should be able to handle the book critically. Besides, nothing is to stop a 17 year old from reading this book on her own. When there are concerns about content, I'd prefer a book be taught in a classroom where there's discussion and context given.

In the context of this book I disagree that the illustrations are not acceptable. If someone drew similar pictures and posted them on a bulletin board at work, *that* would be unacceptable. Within this literature they are not. Context matters and we should teach that.

I'm not familiar with the book yet so I cannot speak to it. In general I'm not in favor of book banning. Historically it has not been a positive thing. Controversial subjects are much better discussed in an academic setting with an informed guide than in private between teenagers. 

I commented not on the book's appropriateness, just that I disagree with the argument equating school and work rules. I think high school allows for exploration and social outlets in a way that work does not. I believe high school should prepare them for the world and life, such as being a good citizen and understanding the world, with the main focus being on college academic skills. I don't see them as mini-employees and subject to those limitations at their age.

As an English Supervisor, {not at WHRHS} I would embrace the opportunity to discuss titles with any parent. Give the school a chance to explain the context of the book and the educational implications. Plenty of “good books” have been banned and many are those we value greatly as a culture now.

This a graphic novel. It does not have photographs. It’s pretty naive to think seniors in high school haven’t already been exposed to sexual themes. You can Google way worse porn on the internet. BTW It is also a Broadway Musical. 

The original Broadway production was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning five, including Best Musical. Jeanine Tesori & Lisa Kron were the first female writing team to win the Tony Award for Best Original Score. Kron won for Best Book, Cerveris won for Best Leading Actor, and Gold won for Best Direction.

As a parent I would rather my kids read the book while they can discuss it in class and come home, work it out, ask whatever questions they need rather than when they move into college and are surrounded by New people and new situations.  Unless, maybe that's what this is designed to help them with.

My class just recently read “Fun Home“ and, in my opinion, it brings up topics that are important to be discussed. Reading is supposed to allow students to explore new outlooks on life and that is exactly what “Fun Home” does. It shows the true story of the author, Alison Bechdel’s, life and she turned out just fine so I’m sure it won’t affect your kid too much. I see no reason to censor one author’s creativity especially when it is a highly respected, well written piece of literature not to mention the fact that it was turned into a broadway musical back in 2013. If you want to call out “Fun Home” for being inappropriate lets talk about all of the books you might find to be inappropriate. “Catcher in the Rye” talks about masturbation, “Hamlet” has murder on every page, “Diary of a Part Time Indian” also discusses masturbation as well as racism, “Oedipus the King” (a freshman year read) talks about a boy falling in love with his own mother and they have children together but when his mom finds out she kills herself. So please if you think that a book about a lesbian dealing with her fathers death and talking about what her life was like is an inappropriate read for your high schooler, who should be mature enough to handle all of this, take a look at all the other books we read at Watchung Hills first.

Parents have the ultimate responsibility for their own children. Some parents will object to  certain books.  Some will not object.  May I suggest that it is unlikely you are going to convince another parent with an opposing view to agree with you.  We can all argue day and night whether a book is appropriate.  You will always get differing opinions. The point is that the school should have an option for those parents who object to their children reading it.  It’s not about whether you think that parent is wrong.  It’s not your kid, you don’t decide.   I have not read the books in question and won’t comment on them now. I will do what is appropriate for my child.  Barring parental abuse, I will not interfere with another parent’s decision making for their own children, and neither should the school.    We all want what’s best for our kids.  We just have differing opinions on what that is.

As a college art history professor who teaches controversial topics, as well as the parent of a Watchung Hills senior, I have to say that students must be exposed to some of these issues before they get to college. It's not an on/off switch. College is disorienting enough as it is without an abrupt change in the kinds of literary and other materials a student is presented with in class. And it would make my job even harder if I was the first one to introduce some of these topics to students.

I’m sure none of these objectors have bothered to read the book. The only way to know what the book is about is to read it. It is not primarily about sex-it is about a girl growing up and discovering herself and how to navigate her relationships with her parents. This novel has become so mischaracterized in all of these discussions. I wish that everyone would go read the book, do a quick google search, and watch the board’s statement that was posted, before reacting on limited information.

WHRHS has an opt-out policy for any parents who don’t want their high school senior to read any book in the curriculum.

One parent said he already heard a case where somebody has been bullied because they chose not to read the book. Jewett responded that no student this year has opted out of reading the book and no student or parent has reported any bullying. She called it “very irresponsible” to make accusations in a public forum.

Opting out will stigmatize my child.

Some objecting parents feel that the whole class should be deprived of this book so that their students wouldn’t feel singled out. My feeling is that if you strongly believe in something, you should prepare to be singled out in life... that’s your cross to bear, so to speak. What better example?

Agreed! The video also clearly states that any student who does not have to read it may opt out and be given different material. If you feel strongly enough about what you believe in, then you can speak up for it and read something else.

Do you only object because it visually shows oral sex between lesbians? Do you object to any of the countless books we read each year that included rape (typically against women) in very detailed passages? What about the violence? It's only bad when there's a picture? These are sincere questions. You sound very upset about Fun Home, but I question how much you know about ANY of the WHRHS reading. I could name a number of books with far more inappropriate content that we read while I was there about 5 years ago and yet this is the only objection? I see almost all of them still on the reading list. 

The purpose of school is to bring up challenging topics.If we save one kid it’s worth it.

The book is an extraordinary,  complex coming of age story and a far cry from pornography. The literary references in the novel are challenging and thought provoking. I only know this because I read it. I urge anyone concerned to take the time to read the book before making assumptions.

 

Prior to the meeting a letter was circulated to community members:

As you may be aware, Watchung Hills Regional High School has included the book "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel in the 12th grade English curriculum.  Contained in this memoir are explicit graphic images showing nudity, oral sex and masturbation.  Attached is a Word document with a few of the images.  Our goal is to have the book replaced with another book that satisfies the school’s educational goals, as the images in this book are not appropriate for a high school curriculum.

 The school’s position for inclusion of this memoir in the curriculum is based on the following:

The curriculum was expanded to include a broad range of literature to reach all students, not just works that portray traditional gender and sexual identities.

 Our argument is NOT against the school goals of diversity and expanding the curriculum beyond those of traditional gender and sexual identities.  Our argument is that a more appropriate book in support of their goals should be selected; one that does not include explicit graphic images of nudity, sex and masturbation, which is not appropriate for a high school curriculum.

  Exposure to images such as those contained in this book should be a parent’s decision and it is not something that should be included as required reading by the school.  The school’s firewall prevents students from accessing sites that show such images, yet the school finds it acceptable to include similar images in their curriculum.  When the images were uploaded to the Warren Forum, they were removed because they were deemed as not appropriate for the Forum.  When asked if some of the images could be included in the Echoes-Sentinel article, they also stated that the images were not appropriate for publishing in the paper.  I agree with both of these stances, and it supports our case that these images should not be provided to high school students.  And remember, these are your tax dollars paying for the books.

 Our understanding is that the only way to effect change is to show up in large numbers at the next school board meeting on Tuesday, June 5th.  The meeting will start at 7:00 PM in the Media Center room at WHRHS (the meeting starts with the “Executive session” followed by the “Public session” part of the meeting which officially starts at 7:30 PM, but once the Executive session part of the meeting is completed, they will move right into the Public session – so it might be earlier than 7:30 PM).  You are welcome to speak at the meeting, but it is not required – your presence is the most important statement to the board.

 The second part of this request is to contact the School Board members in advance of the meeting.  This will set the stage for the next meeting.  You can write something as simple as: "I am concerned with the explicit graphic images showing nudity, oral sex and masturbation in the book "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel, which is currently included in the 12th grade English curriculum for next year.  I am offended by these images and ask for your support in replacing this book with another book that will meet the intended educational goals without such offensive images.”

 The explicit images, in and of itself, are concerning; however, allowing this book to remain in our curriculum will set a bad precedent and open the door to who knows what else in the future.  If you are supportive of this position and want to keep this book out of our school curriculum, please attend the school board meeting on June 5th and reach out to others that are willing to attend. This is not a 12th grade issue – this is an issue for anyone who has children in the sending district or are paying tax dollars to fund the purchase of these books.  I know everyone is busy, but we need to show that this is a community concern – not a concern of a small number of families.

The book has won critical acclaim, spending two weeks on the New York Times best seller list. Fun Home was named as one of the best books of 2006 and was nominated for several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and three Eisner Awards. Fun Home was adapted as a musical and won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015.  The musical has been performed by high school students. Oakland School for the Arts in California took the stage for an a cappella version of “Ring of Keys.” http://www.playbill.com/article/watch-high-school-students-perform-moving-cover-of-ring-of-keys A message from the Curran theater says that “Ring of Keys” from the musical “beautifully empowers youth with a message of #hope, #love and #perseverance.

 

Awards and Recognition for Fun Home:

  • ALA Stonewall Book Awards 2007: Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award [list]
  • Eisner Awards 2007: Best Reality-Based Work [list]
  • Lambda Literary Awards 2007: Lesbian Memoir/Biography [list]
  • Publishing Triangle Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award 2007
 [list]
  • New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2006 [list]
  • Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2006 [list]
  • Time Magazine 10 Best Books 2006 [list]
  • New York Magazine The Year in Books 2006 [list]
  • Los Angeles Times Favorite Books 2006 [list]
  • The Guardian Best Books of 2006 [list]
  • London Times 100 Best Books of the Decade
  • Salon Best Books of the Decade [list]
  • Entertainment Weekly 10 Best Books of the Decade [list]
  • A.V. Club Best Comics of the ‘00s: The Top 25 [list]

 

The Core Texts at Watchung Hills are:

9th Grade

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • The Odyssey, Homer
  • Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
  • The Kite Runner, Khalid Hosseini (A and H only)
  • Animal Farm, George Orwell
  • Maus I, Art Spiegelman
  • Enrique's Journey, Sonia Nazario

10th Grade

  • All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
  • Macbeth, William Shakespeare
  • Antigone, Sophocles
  • Oedipus Rex, Sophocles (A, H)
  • A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry 
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie 
  • Incognegro, Mat Johnson
  • selections from Dubliners, James Joyce (A, H)
  • When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka 
  • The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison (A, H)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (A, H)
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte or Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton (H)

11th Grade

  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (CP)
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (A)
  • Incognegro, Mat Johnson 2015-2016
  • American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang2016-2017
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (A) 
  • A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway (A)
  • selections from Ernest Hemingway's short stories (CP)
  • The Awakening, Kate Chopin and "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins
  • Gilman 
  • Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  • The Realm of Possibility, David Levithan
  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • selections from Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison (A)
  • The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston
  • The Sonnets, William Shakespeare

12th Grade

  • The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • The Stranger, Albert Camus
  • A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah 
  • Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi

AP: Language and Composition

  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
  • selections from Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  • Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  • The Realm of Possibility, David Levithan
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  • The Awakening, Kate Chopin and "The Yellow Wallpaper," Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Incognegro, Mat Johnson
  • The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien
  • A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
  • The Shakespeare Sonnets, William Shakespeare

AP: Literature and Composition 

  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  • King Lear, William Shakespeare
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Fences, August Wilson
  • Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  • A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  • Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
  • Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  • Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

 

 

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