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'Water for Elephants' Ruled Okay for Students

The West Chester School Board voted to continue to use the novel "Water for Elephants" as part of some of the district's curriculum on Monday.

The West Chester School Board voted to continue using the novel “Water for Elephants” as part of the curriculum for some of the district’s sophomore students on Monday.

At last month’s school board meeting a parent called the book inappropriate for district’s students and even read aloud one of the more explicit passages at the meeting.

“I think that the district’s continued use of this book is sheer lunacy,” said Mary Jo Zengel, the parent who originally objected to the book’s content and made a statement on Monday. 

Zengel went on to say that she didn’t understand why students had to read this book, and not a different book with similar themes like “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Another parent, Amy Ludwig said that “Water for Elephants” is well written, but she didn’t think it was appropriate.

“It’s mainly an issue of age-appropriate content,” Ludwig said.  “I’m surprised that the district approved of such a highly sexually explicit book.”

After the district originally received a complaint from Zengel, it formed a committee to explore the appropriateness of the novel.

The committee consisted of one high school senior, several teachers, community members and district officials.

The committee ruled 8-1 in favor of the book’s appropriateness.

The committee’s main contention was that not all students have to read the book.  Some students in a 10th grade honors English class at Henderson were given the choice of three novels that focused on similar themes.

Students could choose between “Water for Elephants,” “Grapes of Wrath” and “Mr. Vertigo.” 

Then the students would break into groups and discuss their chosen book.

The committee added to its report that all parents who had students in this class received a list from the teacher with the potential novels the students had the choice of reading.

The list included a warning to parents that some of the books might contain objectionable material, and that the teacher would be willing to discuss any objections a parent might have with that parent.

Parents then signed the piece of paper, and it was returned to the teacher.

“This brings to light what I think is the most beneficial outcome to this whole discussion,” said school board member Dr. Maria Pimley who also served on the committee.  “That is the importance of the role that parents must play in their child’s education.”

Pimley added, “It should help to create and encourage open and free dialogue between parents, teachers and students in order to ensure that our children are receiving a thorough, balanced and critical presentation of curricular materials.”

John Smith January 30, 2013 at 12:05 PM
Amy Ludwig's kid goes to PA Leadership Cyber School so what horse does she have in this race? Ohhhh that's right- she is running for school board director this year. If I think my child can handle a specific book, I want the opportunity to make that decision and not have the school ban any book. It was good to see an 8-1 vote in favor of keeping the book and listening to the committee. So one parent objects to something and a commitee is formed? One parent? It's going to be a very busy end of year.
Andrea H. January 30, 2013 at 12:29 PM
Amy Ludwig pays taxes so she has every right to comment. Regarding WFE, it should not be part of curriculum. Parents entrust the school to educate their children, not put pornography in their hands. Every parent who loves their child better take notice and research all the "literature choices" being assigned to their children, because we can no longer assume that the material is age appropriate. One is left to wonder why the school would select this book with its' explicit, graphic sexual content (even if it is a "good story") when so many other choices are available. It demonstrates a lack of respect for students and parents!
edufan January 30, 2013 at 12:37 PM
Since the parents were informed, via a list of the books of choice, as well as notice as to the contents, the decision to retain this book for future classes was sound and responsible. It WAS the parents' (and I assume their children's) decision to allow or disallow this choice.
RoxyD January 30, 2013 at 12:54 PM
Pornography, really? I've read the book and would hardly call it that. This book is one of many choice for one class. The parents have to sign off and then purchase the book. Zengel has every right to voice her opinion, but it was completely out of line for her to call into question the integrity and character of committee - especially the student member. Ludwig is an extremist only concerned with pushing her far-right agenda forward. The school board made the right move by leaving curriculum development to the experts. And what what that 10 minute diatribe by Raleanu? I can't believe the president let that go on for so long. That was sheer lunacy.
Christy Parker January 30, 2013 at 02:22 PM
Yay for not banning books and for talking to your kids about sex...even if it might make you feel uncomfortable!
Roger M January 30, 2013 at 07:23 PM
gosh, what an idea... parents actually being involved in their children's education and taking responsibility for same... or parents monitoring what their children watch on TV rather than expecting the networks to do that for them... "insulating" kids from sexual content and pretending it doesn't exist is a surefire way to confuse the hell out of them when they're faced with it in the "real world" -- and they WILL be faced with it in the real world... if that's the way one chooses to parent, so be it (and that choice can be made regarding this book) -- but it's not fair to impose those same restrictions on everyone else and their kids... i find it interesting to see how folks draw political lines around these things... to me, this is an issue that crosses political boundaries... the "nanny state," lawsuits against tobacco companies (to give a somewhat dated example), censorship -- they're all related to the idea of personal responsibility and/or responsibility for one's own progeny...
AmyL January 30, 2013 at 09:56 PM
I'm not sure who "Edu Watch" is, but I'm Amy Ludwig and am not running for School Board Director. Please verify your information before publishing it. As for why I spoke, I was concerned about the issue. Far too many people keep silent when they should speak up, whether it is directly for their own children or not.
AmyL January 30, 2013 at 09:59 PM
Just out of curiosity, what is your definition of "extremist."
AmyL January 30, 2013 at 10:07 PM
I agree, it would be a disservice to insulate students from all books that include sexual content and pretend it doesn't exist. I don't think that is the issue here. Instead it is mainly about what books are used as bridges to these topics vs avoiding talking about them all together. I also don't see it as a political issue, but some will always try and make it into one.
Star Thrower January 31, 2013 at 01:33 AM
Edu Watch is either Kaliner or Seaman .. the ringleaders of WC Vote (the union's public mouthpiece) ... who are now into their pre-election propagandist diatribe, making every effort to get more union-friendly parasites on the school board - RoxyD is one of the WC Vote lower level clueless miscreants.
Max Kneis January 31, 2013 at 02:49 AM
I'm glad the board voted to keep the book in the curriculum. Personally, it was one of my favorite books to read last year in class, and I can't remember any of these controversial scenes causing distraction or distress from the much larger themes at work in the novel. The way our teacher led the discussion kept it very appropriate. I'm glad we are able to talk about mature topics in a safe and nurtured way in the classroom. Also, if any parent does not want their student reading the book, which is perfectly acceptable, they have the right to have their child excused from that assigned reading.
AmyL January 31, 2013 at 10:39 PM
Good to know, Max. Thanks for sharing.
Liam Connaughton February 01, 2013 at 06:20 PM
That's part of the issue . . . parents were never informed about the potential issues with the books so never having read nor heard anything about the books parents were wearing their aluminium tricorner hats and whistling like Bo-Bo-the-dope never thinking for one minute that the liberal/progressives once taken over the schools then force their lack of values onto an unwitting public!
Liam Connaughton February 01, 2013 at 06:22 PM
Are you completely stupid? Children and they are children should be given every opportunity to go through childhood as innocently as possible. Not thrown in and made aware of every vile and evil facets of life. There certainly is time enough for them to experience that!
edufan February 02, 2013 at 09:57 PM
Liam, do you have any children? If so, are they in high school? If yes, then, no matter how innocent you think they are, they are talking about sex! Read Max Kneis' post and please think twice about calling anyone else stupid. Everyone is entitled to their opinion.
edufan February 02, 2013 at 10:00 PM
A very responsible and mature post, Max. You are wise beyond your years, and maybe you have taught a few "adults" who blog here how to write an opinion without berating another.
Andrea H. February 05, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Someone help me, I'm confused. I'm told that the reason it is okay for our sophmores to be reading Water For Elephants with its' breast slapping stripper, master bating midget and oral sex, is because the students are such remarkable, mature, young adults. Now we read that a ridiculous percentage are involved in illegal drinking, binge drinking and drug use? Which is it? Are they remarkably mature, or remarkably immature. Maybe once the hangovers subside and the pot smoke clears they can gather to discus the literary value of Water for Elephants with profound maturity. Somehow I doubt that's what they are discussing around the lunch tables. Believe it or not, the 50% not spending the weekend getting drunk or high may actually be trying to live a virtuous life. Why not make some literature choices to uphold their values? (Oops, "values" is almost a dirty word, isn't it?). Let us not forget our District's mission is to "inspire our students to achieve their personal best". Hopefully they will achieve this "best" in areas other than how to score the "best" weed.
edufan February 06, 2013 at 04:52 AM
Water for Elephants was not the only book choice, and it seems to me that you are making assumptions that the students who chose to read this book are not trying to live a virtuous life. That is an unfair statement, but in my opinion, so are your sarcastic remarks.
Thomas Jackson February 06, 2013 at 10:01 AM
May be unfair but you are an idiot and because of people like you is why we have to deal with a crewed up hippie-like culture today. I believe the point being made is that the school's (leadership) presumption that the students are "mature" enought to handle such books are shot down with the latest report of immature behavior with the abuse of drugs and alcohol
edufan February 06, 2013 at 06:23 PM
So, Thomas Jackson, calling me an idiot is virtuous? The Hippie culture started over 40 years ago and it doesn't appear to me to be active today. Reading literature in a mature environment guided by professional educators is making kids abuse drugs and alcohol? I just don't understand that logic.

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