Members of the Littlestown Area School District (LASD) board disagreed over whether to approve two new books to the list for English 11 during the board’s meeting on Monday evening. Some felt the overall material was too “heavy,” that other titles may be replaced, and that there may be too many titles from Africa.
The board received a request to add “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi and “The Pearl That Broke Its Shell” by Nadia Hashimi. The first follows the story of two half-sisters in Africa and the girls’ descendants, according to the Amazon description for the book. One girl marries an Englishman while the other is sold into slavery, and the story follows the two families’ different trajectories through history.
Hashimi’s novel is set in Kabul and tells the story of Rahima and her great-great-grandmother Shekiba. Until they are old enough to marry, both dress as boys and live a different life than would be allowed if they dressed as girls.
Board member Jennifer McClay said that the Curriculum, Co-Curriculum and Policy Committee discussed the books and English 11 during its meeting on Dec. 8.
“And the concern was that recently we’ve had a lot of things coming from just Africa and the concern that was brought up was that it’s really a heavy, emotional curriculum, which has kind of been the way English 11 has been for a long time,” McClay said.
The committee asked for a full list of the stories the class will read, but the approval of the books was noted as recommended on the board’s agenda.
“We as a committee did request that we could get a list of all of the novels to alleviate any misunderstanding about what is offered for our students,” McClay said.
Board member Carl Thompson requested that the board table the motion to approve the two titles until the board received the list.
Fellow board member Brian Lawyer debated the issue.
“I don’t find this objection really based in anything other than– well, I’m not going to use the real words I want to use,” Lawyer said. “First of all, number 1, 90% of our writers that we have in the English curriculum are either European or American. We approved a lot of books to go from Africa. You know how big Africa is? You can fit every other land mass in the world inside of Africa. It’s full of other countries. Just because one book comes from one section doesn’t mean it’s the same as another.”
He also pointed out that the last book approved by the board “… was a non-fiction piece written by a dude who now lives in America,” he said. “This is fiction. Alright? Three: ‘Highly emotional?’ ‘Of Mice and Men’ is not emotional? Come on. ‘Things Fall Apart’ is not emotional? I mean, again, I don’t find that objection to be honest.”
McClay said she researched the books.
“When I read a description, and this is not what the description online said, it kind of reminded me of, ‘The Tale of Two Cities,’” she said. “Where, you know, you have a rich man. Or, ‘The Prince and the Pauper.’ All of that type thing, it’s just more, I mean, it’s just from a different country. I think an English teacher or any teacher could find a correlation between the two and do a comparison study on that.”
McClay said that some reviews were critical of the quality of the dialogue in ‘The Pearl that Broke Its Shell’ but said that the theme was strong.
McClay said she wanted to see the list as she and another individual were concerned about whether certain cultures were well-represented, saying it can be difficult to find books from South America, Central America and other areas. As titles are approved over time, McClay said she cannot remember what all titles have been added over the years.
“I requested to have the list because it would be good to have a balance of all,” she said, adding that she wanted to proceed with the vote.
Thompson was concerned about the removal of “Othello,” saying he wanted to see what else would be replaced and what other titles are on the list for the class. He also mentioned worries he has heard from members of the district.
“From what I hear from my constituents, it is something (to table), because I’ve heard a lot about this, and I’m hearing more and more and more.”
“Have they read the book?” McClay asked.
“No, they’re just looking at what they are, and what they’ve been reading, and the issues that are there, and they’re like, they’re just throwing their hands up, the ones that I am having discussions with,” Thompson replied.
The board voted 6-3 to approve the two titles, with Thompson, Melinda Jones and Jeanne Ewen voting against approving them.
The board will still receive the full list of titles for English 11.
Planned Instruction Guides
The board also followed the recommendation of the committee to approve instruction guides for 14 elective courses for the middle school ranging from forensics to musical theater.
“I just want to say that I’m really impressed with what the staff, the teachers and the administrators came up with,” McClay said. “I wish I had a middle schooler because what a great opportunity for them.”
Board President Dolores Nester said she “really appreciated it” as the electives were initially going to be delayed due to the pandemic but were arranged anyway.
Superintendent Christopher Bigger also praised the teachers for working to add the electives.
“It is hard to think about the future when you’re just barely staying open in school… I think it’s a good distraction for them, too, to focus on something future-based and what they can look forward to,” he said.
Students of the Month
The board recognized five students of the month:
- Asher Grove, kindergarten, Alloway Creek Elementary School
- Ryleigh Warner, 3rd grade, Alloway Creek Elementary School
- Reese Rucker, 7th grade, Maple Avenue Middle School
- Hannah Shelley, 12th grade, Littlestown Area High School
- Sydney Miller, 12th grade, Littlestown Area High School
Beth Becker provided the Thunderbolt Foundation report, saying that the Giving Spree in Adams County on Nov. 5 was an “overall huge success.”
The event earned about $2 million for nonprofits. The Thunderbolt Foundation took in $6,963.15 this year, she said. Of that, $1,754.40 will be contributed towards an endowment fund.
The board will vote on how to spend the rest of the funds.
Bigger apprised the board of the district’s new dashboard with data on the novel coronavirus. At the time of the meeting, each school had one known case. The dashboard tracks cases within a rolling 14-day window, and too many cases in that period of time can force a school to shut down per state guidelines.
The dashboard provides current known data to the public.
The board will hold its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18. The meeting will be streamed on Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/ltownsd/ .
Imari Scarbrough is a freelance journalist. She was a staff newspaper reporter for five years before becoming a freelancer in 2017. She has written on crime, environmental issues, severe weather events, local and regional government and more.
You can visit her website at ImariJournal.com.