A book hailed by critics and listed in the Common Core State Standards as a reading exemplar for 11th-graders was banned by an Arizona school district because of sexually explicit passages.
The book, “Dreaming in Cuban,” written by Cuban-American author Cristina García and named a finalist for the National Book Award when it was published in 1992, was banned in the Sierra Vista Unified School District after a parent complained that her 10th-grade son was asked to read explicit passages aloud, according to the Associated Press. It wasn’t clear why a 10th-grade class was reading a book suggested for 11th-graders.
The superintendent of the school district, Kriss Hagerl, was quoted as saying that she doesn’t like banning books but probably would have given teachers a different book to use in class if officials had been aware of the contents of the book.
The AP quoted the author, Garcia, that the book, which is about three generations of women in Cuba, has never run into this kind of opposition before and that she thought that it should be part of a student’s cultural education. She said:
Many works, not just mine, are misinterpreted or misguidedly banned because of the limitations and short-sightedness of a few.
The book is listed as an exemplar in English Language Arts for 11th grade on Page 152 of Appendix B of the Common Core standards, which are currently being implemented in most states in what supporters say is an effort to raise academic standards around the country. The description of the book there also includes a link to a webpage that features interviews with Garcia.
The website of a conservative group called the Education Action Group Foundation, Inc. is using the episode to bash the Common Core, whose creation had bipartisan support but increasingly is being hit by bipartisan criticism. Conservatives, moderates and liberals have all expressed concern about the Common Core, though on different grounds. Some conservatives don’t believe in national standards and see the Core as a federal power grab, even though they were not officially mandated. Other critics believe that national standards are a reasonable goal but say the Common Core standards are not based in research, and/or that the implementation has been ineffective and that there are problems with the high-stakes standardized tests being developed that are supposed to be aligned to the standards.
EAGnews.org wrote about the book banning and said:
By directing teachers and students to the interview with Cristina Garcia, it is easy to see that Common Core becomes basically a marketing tool to launch Cristina Garcia’s latest book – King of Cuba – which undoubtedly has more pornographic, raunchy, inappropriate, lascivious, prurient, and sexualized language in it.
Common Core recommends that teachers teach many multicultural, politically correct books and gives teachers and students web links to authors’ sites, thus influencing students to purchase more books by these same authors.
Of all of the criticisms of the Common Core, this one may be the most outlandish.
The banning of “Dreaming in Cuban” is the latest in a long line of book challenges that have led officials in schools and school districts to pull certain works off the shelves after a parent complains about something in the book. It could be language considered offensive, or objectionable religious suggestions, or sexually explicit material.
The real question is why officials think it is appropriate to allow the sensibilities of a parent or two affect all of the children in the school and override educators’ judgments. Any parent can decide to opt their child out of a specific assignment if there are concerns about sexually explicit material, and the mom who complained that her son was asked to read objectionable passages out loud certainly had a right to do so and ask that her son be removed from the class. But no single parent should be deciding what books are allowed to be read in school and what books aren’t.
Besides, banning literature from libraries is obscene. A few years ago, Culpeper County Public Schools in Virginia banned a version of the “Diary of A Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, because a parent complained about graphic sexual language. Other classics commonly challenged include John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” George Orwell’s “1984,” Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind,” Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”
Ironically, the banning of “Dreaming in Cuban” comes just before the annual Banned Books Week, starting Sept. 22, sponsored by the American Library Association. For 2012-13, the book that was most challenged, according to the association, was Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” books, for language said to be offensive for certain age groups.