WARREN, NJ - “Fun Home, A Family Tragicomic” by Allison Bechtel, “We Are Okay” by Nina LaCour, and “Speak No Evil” by Uzodinma Iweala were approved at the last meeting of the Watchung Hills Board of Education as the three options in the senior English unit on LGBTQ literature.
The board voted to approve the 12th grade English curriculum at its last meeting so that the curriculum could be discussed with parents at Back to School Night on Thursday. Seniors will each have the option to chose two of the three books to read.
Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett explained that the curriculum was expanded last year to include a broad range of literature to reach all students, not just works that portray traditional gender and sexual identities. She said that the expansion of the English curriculum is in alignment with the Strategic Plan and is the result of a two year research process which included professional development for the English department staff.
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. It was piloted to some senior English classes last spring, with 75 copies of the book purchased, and some parents addressed the board at prior meetings objecting to its inclusion in the high school curriculum.
As a compromise, some 15 books were evaluated over the summer to arrive at the three best choices for students to choose from.
“A meditation on surviving grief, We Are Okay is short, poetic and gorgeously written…. The power in this little book is in seeing Marin come out on the other side of loss, able to appreciate a beautiful yellow-glazed pottery bowl and other people’s kindnesses, and to understand that she might one day have a girlfriend and a future. The world LaCour creates is fragile but profoundly humane.” — The New York Times Book Review
“In Uzodinma’s staggering sophomore novel (Speak No Evil after Beasts of No Nation), the untimely disclosure of a secret shared between two teens from different backgrounds sets off a cascade of heartbreaking consequences…. Speaks volumes about white heterosexual privilege.... Notable both for the raw force of Iweala’s prose and the moving, powerful story.” ( Publishers Weekly, starred review)
Time named Fun Home the best book of 2006, describing it as "the unlikeliest literary success of 2006" and "a masterpiece about two people who live in the same house but different worlds, and their mysterious debts to each other."
Approximately 50 residents attended the last board meeting with roughly a quarter of them speaking. Most who spoke want Fun Home removed from the curriculum due to its graphic images.
“I haven’t heard the reason to keep it (Fun Home) in the curriculum articulated but I would hope that whatever reason it is that you want to keep it in the curriculum outweighs the damage to the reputation of ignoring your community and the people that have so hard, so fervently tried to change your minds, and ask that you approve a modified Education Committee recommendation that excludes Fun Home, “ said Warren resident Mark Bisci.
Board President Peter Fallon said in an email Wednesday:
“People expressed the view that the Board was ignoring the voice of the community concerning the graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. The Board has listened to, and carefully considered, the many opinions expressed by people on Fun Home, most of which were against including the book in the curriculum and some of which supported its continued use.
Many of the people who came out and voiced their opinions to the Board of Education in May and June and again last night regarding the inclusion of the graphic novel Fun Home in our curriculum objected to the school requiring students to read this book or requiring students to "opt-out" of reading the book. They pointed out that it was inconsistent with our goal of inclusion to require students to single themselves out and ask not to read the book when most of their fellow students would be reading it.
The Administration and the Board of Education agreed that the opt-out solution used last semester could be improved upon. The Administration fashioned, and the Board approved, a revision to the curriculum so that no student would be forced to read Fun Home, and no student would be forced to opt-out of reading Fun Home because we understood from the objections of community members that the opt-out procedure could discourage students from opting out even if they did not want to read the book.
We respectfully disagree with those who contend that Fun Home is obscene or that it is pornography.
We recognize that not everyone who objected to the inclusion of the book in our curriculum is happy with this resolution. As I stated during the Board of Education meeting last night, the Administration strongly believes in the educational value of Fun Home in our curriculum in dealing with complex and difficult issues which our students face or will have to face in their lives. I fully support the Administration's view on this and the Board then voted to approve the revision to the curriculum proposed by the Administration.”
Green Brook Resident Latisha Davis at the meeting said that she thought about this book Fun Home and said she would rather have kids be exposed to things in a controlled setting, but,” your child does not have to read this book.”
The vote was 7-2.
Fallon, Board Vice President Rita Barone, and board members Lisa DeMizio, John Fahy, Freddie Hayeck, Barry Hunsinger, and Susan Ober voted to approve the English curriculum. Board members Bruce Martins and Robert Morrison voted against approval. Board member Dr. Gregory Przybylski was absent.
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