Yellow Journalism Charges and Should Citizens be Allowed to Speak at School Board Meetings? Here’s a Conversation from Sikeston.
We recently wrote about a book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, that is required reading in the Sikeston School District which some parents are finding objectionable. A commenter (moniker Yellow Journalism) took us to task on what we reported:
Maybe, just maybe, you should make sure you have all the facts before you publish a judgmental commentary about what is going on at a school which you don’t even know much about. Sensationalizing the “news” just to grab a new headline to bolster your cause is not most people’s idea of journalistic integrity. The facts don’t really seem to matter much to you. The sad thing is you are damaging the reputation of teachers and schools in many cases undeservedly. A far-removed website is not the place for this to be aired. Parents need to talk to teachers and administrators directly when they have a concern instead of involving some third-party outsider like you. Local control would mean that you stay out of local districts affairs. You might need to update this story with a little more accurate version called the truth if you want to be ethical and fair.
So what is the accurate version that was not written? This text is required reading. Parents have indeed spoken to the school about objectionable curriculum for their children so perhaps they felt betrayed and that there is no reason to relay their concerns to teachers and administrators. The story was given to us by a Sikeston school district taxpayer who was concerned about this curriculum decision by the school. Anne laid out a description of the current selection:
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is required reading in at least one 9th grade classroom in the Sikeston School District. If you look the book up on Amazon you can find comments, even among its fans, questioning the author’s use of profanity, obscenity and the main character’s disability as a source of humor.
A reviewer who is both a parent and a teacher wrote,
“In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, it promotes inappropriate, immature, unethical behavior. It glorifies stealing by making it seem funny and quirky. It encourages the attitude that “cursing is cool.” And, worst of all, it exploits people with disabilities. An author is not free to get laughs at the expense of individuals suffering from disabilities simply because the hero of his novel is physically disabled.
Supporters of this novel, and young adult literature in general, insist it provides accessible and relevant platforms for teenagers to grapple with their most pressing existential issues—issues relating to identity, sexuality, longing, and loneliness. As an educator who is now also a parent, I would never discourage young people from engaging in close examinations of themselves and the world around them. But, why must this be done in the most irreverent, flippant, “Bevis and Butthead” kind of way? Aren’t teenagers capable of more? As a young reader, some of my darkest and most enthralling forays into the human condition were made possible by classic literature, which also exposes young people to beautiful writing and complex characterization.”
The Sikeston parent who contacted us was particularly concerned about this fact:
What makes the appearance of this book in a Sikeston classroom so problematic is that the school board asserted, after a presentation about Common Core, that parents would never see books like this or “The Bluest Eye” about a pedophile rapist, which is in the Common Core Appendix B, as recommended reading in Sikeston. Yet here it is.
To our commenter, this far-removed website may in fact be the one of the few place(s) for this to be aired. There is an interesting conversation on Topix in Sikeston airing concerns that citizens may no longer comment at a Board meeting, but only speak at a work session:
Some of the Topix comments are not about the issue of a school board wanting to silence citizens at Board meeting, rather, they criticize not the content of this concern, but grammar usage of these citizens against this proposed policy. Using incorrect grammar apparently negates the right of those to raise objections for this school board’s possible policy change. Cutting through the ad hominen attacks on citizens using incorrect grammar is this comment:
I agree with you and if you have to pay school taxes then you should have a say in how and on what your districts spends its money that you give it. 90% of your tax bill is for school tax.
Another reader writes:
- curriculum choices
- ‘sit and stare’ policies
- absentee policies resulting in visits from The Division of Family Services
- SBAC testing mandated by law (that really isn’t)
emerge. Be proactive and ask if your board wants to adopt citizen comments only at school board work sessions that are probably held during the day when the working man or woman can’t attend. Here’s another question, will those citizen comments be part of the record in these work sessions? If citizen concerns cannot be raised publicly in a monthly school board meeting, but only in a workgroup that is in all likelihood not well attended nor reported on by any media outlet, how are concerns raised to the larger community?
Is reporting on a book being used as curriculum and questioning its usage ‘yellow journalism’? If the ‘Beavis and Butthead’ title borrowed from an Amazon reviewer’s comment is perceived as sensational by Yellow Journalism, what would be a more appropriate title to him/her in describing the cultural environment this book represents? Does this curriculum choice illustrate forays into the human condition…made possible by classic literature, which also exposes young people to beautiful writing and complex characterization?” I’d like to see an affirmative defense from Yellow Journalism showing that the Sikeston curriculum choice does provide beautiful writing and complex characterization.
Is reporting on parental concerns now inappropriate? Is listening to citizens in monthly public school board meetings and allowing the public to comment something to be feared by elected officials? Is this happening in your district? I seem to remember that ‘dissent is patriotic’. When citizens are denied their right to be heard for services they are compelled to pay for, belittled for incorrect grammar usage and told by educational elites that the parent’s lack of an education degree means the parents have no voice to determine which curriculum is appropriate for their children, expect more stories like the Sikeston curriculum story to be reported on. If school districts were indeed transparent and welcomed parental/taxpayer input, we wouldn’t be reporting on stories of like these. Instead of being thanked for telling the stories of the parents who have valid concerns, giving a voice to the taxpayers and reporting on the loss of free speech, it’s easy enough to throw the charges of ‘yellow journalism’ around. Good luck with that Alinsky tactic.