At the beginning of a new school year, parents often discover for the first time what their kids are learning in a new grade. Parents in one Minnesota school district are standing up to the schools over one book in the district’s 9th-grade curriculum, and they’re meeting the type of resistance that we’ve come to expect — even in a conservative school district.

The book in question is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a novel about a 13-year-old girl who is the victim of a sexual assault. A group of parents in the St. Michael-Albertville School District tried to remove the book from the curriculum a few years ago, but this year’s crop of 9th-grade parents find the book particularly problematic. The timing of this effort coincides with two initiatives facing the district: a review of curriculum which occurs every three years and a funding referendum on November’s ballot. A similar funding question on last year’s ballot failed.

Speak is a New York Times bestselling young-adult novel that has won plenty of awards. So what’s the issue with it? Walter Hudson, a former PJ Media contributor and City Council member in Albertville, Minn., who is also running for state representative, explained the problems with the book in an email to PJ Media:

When I read excerpts sent to me, and later read through the entire book, I was astonished that anyone would put this in front of fifteen-year-old kids. Suffice it to say the book presents explicit depictions of both sexual assault and self-harm, along with a generally deary and nihilistic view of institutions and authority figures. Miranda, the thirteen-year-old protagonist, is failed by nearly everyone around her. Her parents, teachers, school administrators, friends, and classmates are all cartoonishly cruel, self-centered, and incompetent.

Even if you took the depictions of sexual assault out of it, Speak would be devoid of any academic or literary value. Many parents have commented on how poorly written it is, an assessment I share. It meanders through the irrelevant minutiae of Miranda’s seemingly un-curated thought life, providing often brief and wholly disjointed glimpses into her experience as a high school student. The objections to including it in the high school curriculum, therefore, boil down to this: it is not a book worthy of academic study, and it presents depictions that are inappropriate for its audience.

Here’s an excerpt from Speak (language warning):

Another excerpt that Hudson sent to PJ Media portrays the fictional school’s PTA as prudish and overly concerned with frivolous issues. Other excerpts demonstrate how pedestrian and uninteresting the writing is.

Related: Metro Atlanta School District Sneakily Includes Gender Propaganda on School-Issued Devices

It’s worth pointing out that the St. Michael-Albertville area is one of the most conservative parts of the state. The current state representative won the last election with 65% of the vote. So it’s not as if parents would expect a book like Speak to make its way into the curriculum for high school freshmen.

“The political makeup of the district is relevant because it highlights how much this book’s inclusion in the curriculum stands out, and the leverage required to keep it in despite clear discontinuity with community standards,” Hudson told PJ Media. “Put simply, if this can happen here, it can happen anywhere.”

Hudson wrote a letter to the school board expressing the parents’ concerns.

STMA Speak Removal Request by PJ Media on Scribd

He also attended school board meetings on Aug. 1 and 15, speaking in favor of removing Speak from the curriculum during open comment time. At both meetings, others spoke in favor of removing the book, while only one speaker defended the book’s inclusion.

Hudson elaborated:

The lady who spoke in the book’s defense provided our first glimpse at how teachers were reacting to our concern. I do not know whether she was a teacher since the meetings are not recorded or broadcast and the minutes do not list speakers or topics raised in open comment. But I can say that her comments later proved indicative of the arguments teachers made. Her comments boiled down to three points: 1) Speak is a critically acclaimed young adult novel that meets several academic standards imposed by the state; 2) sexual assault happens to fifteen-year-olds and should be addressed in the classroom, both so that victims can contend with their experience and all students can contend with sexual assault as an issue; and 3) parents are not discussing these topics with their children, leaving the responsibility to educational professionals in the school district.

The school board formed a Reevaluation Committee consisting of “one English teacher, the high school principal, a school board member, a parent from the group who made the request, and two other community members – a parent who was not part of the request, and the mayor of St. Michael.” Hudson was able to observe, but not participate in, the committee.

He said that the committee’s procedural process was “meant to produce a recommendation.” After getting halfway through the procedure, the committee went on recess until September 14. Hudson details what happened next:

Now, cynically, you might be inclined to think that the reevaluation process is designed to slow things down in order to provide teachers with an opportunity to organize politically when their agenda is threatened. If that were your theory, it would have been validated over the holiday weekend. The school board was suddenly flooded with letters and emails in defense of Speak, and I was made aware of a coordinated effort to make a showing at last night’s [Sept. 6] school board meeting in support of the book. That is what prompted my Facebook post. I could see what the game was. After parents showed up the first time, we were ignored. When we showed up a second time, we were delayed. And now we were going to be openly opposed.

At the next board meeting on Sept. 6, supporters of the book outnumbered the parents who opposed the book by a two-to-one margin. Even though it was hard to tell who was who in the crowd, Hudson said that he had “the distinct impression that the support for the book had been organized by teachers.” At least one teacher spoke up in support of the book, as did two female students who said that removing the book would constitute “an egregious form of censorship.”

The school board chair asked for a show of hands regarding the book, and twice as many hands went up in favor of the book than opposed it, disappointing the concerned parents.

“We had been outplayed,” Hudson told PJ Media.

Related: Here’s Why You Should Lawyer-Up Before Sending Your Kids Back to School

The sudden push to keep Speak in the curriculum, especially with teachers supporting the book so heartily, comes down to a form of “worldview indoctrination,” Hudson said. The reasons supporters cite in defending the book include that parents don’t adequately address the issue of sexual assault with their teens, and educators think that it’s their responsibility to use the book to close that gap.

Hudson told PJ Media that teachers’ support for the book is “indicative of a condescending attitude” toward parents. He also pointed out that teachers “serve our kids but don’t reflect our cultural values.”

But it’s not the end of the story. The Reevaluation Committee reconvenes next week. The superintendent will no doubt follow the recommendations of the committee, but the school board can override that decision. And two incumbents on the school board face challengers in November — not to mention that funding bill that voters will decide on.

Parents aren’t giving up the fight, but neither are the teachers. Stay tuned for the next reports from the battle over the hearts and minds of the teens in the St. Michael-Albertville School District.

Let’s face it: public schools are out to indoctrinate children, and this case shows you that it can happen even in the most conservative of school systems. That’s why parents need the right tools to help fight back against what’s going on in schools.

One way you can do that is by becoming a VIP member. PJ Media VIPs get deeper dives into important issues — including education — as well as podcasts and an ad-free experience. VIPs also have a heck of a lot of fun.

With VIP Gold it gets even better. VIP Gold membership gives you access to all of the Townhall family of sites, including Hot Air, Twitchy, and Red State, along with live chats.

PJ Media VIP membership is a tremendous value on its own, but you can use the promo code FIGHTBACK to get 25% off! What are you waiting for? Sign up today! 

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