UPDATE: The Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) voted 3-1 to adopt a version of the proposed opt-out policy that would only apply to English classes. The final wording of the policy is unclear, as several concessions were made in the meeting, which was well-attended by opponents, students and parents. The policy will rely on the the California Department of Education’s annotations regarding mature content. Interestingly, the novel that started this controversy, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, does not carry such an annotation from the CDE.

More details available in local press: https://www.toacorn.com/articles/mature-content-ahead/

The Board of Education of the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) is set to vote on a widely criticized policy that would red flag potentially controversial material and form a community review committee to review titles suggested for the curriculum. Such a policy not only stokes parental fears and anxieties, it is likely to invite self-censorship and wreak havoc with the curriculum. The policy follows a controversy earlier this year over whether to include Sherman Alexie’s National Book Award-winning novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in the ninth grade curriculum.

The proposed changes include flagging any text deemed to have any potentially objectionable content with a “mature content” warning. Such preemptive warnings too often tar valuable, complex books with a scarlet “objectionable” label and reduce them to only the words or passages that have caught the attention of the would-be censor. In addition, the proposal requires that parents grant permission for their students to read books identified as containing potentially objectionable content. Going forward, the policy would also require a community review committee made up of non-teachers to review titles suggested for the curriculum. The amendments facing the CVSUD board boil down to two main issues:

  1. Respecting parental involvement in their students’ educations; and
  2. Letting educators do what they were trained to do.

Parental Notification and Involvement

Parents should, of course, be involved in their child’s education, be notified of their curriculum and be aware of the educational goals of their classes. Parental involvement is hugely important and valuable to a strong education. Parental oversight of curriculum development, though, is more complex. In an ideal world, each parent would read every text on a syllabus and have a full knowledge of its theme, message and purpose in the curriculum before determining whether their child ought to read it. It is, however, highly unlikely that every parent will have time to read every book on their child’s syllabus. Warning flags, such as the “mature content” labels being proposed at CVUSD, sets particular books up to be challenged and removed without full understanding of their curricular purpose and educational value. Those books are often chosen precisely because of their complexity and nuance. Additionally, CVUSD already has sound processes for selecting texts and for allowing parents to request alternative assignments for their students on an individual basis. This new policy, it seems, is designed to increase book challenges based on fear-mongering.

Let Teachers Teach

This proposed policy devalues the work of educators trained in developing a curriculum that is both challenging and age-appropriate, as well as offering exposure to the range of opinions, experiences and ideas that allow students to grow into informed citizens. Books are taught in context, with appropriate educational guidance and purpose. The policy being considered by CVUSD sets the district’s students up for a sub-par education that relies on texts chosen not for their value to the curriculum, but to align with the personal beliefs of a few.

Ultimately, the CVUSD Board of Education made the right decision this past summer to give students the opportunity to read Sherman Alexie’s valuable, celebrated novel. We hope they will do the same in this case by voting against the proposed policy amendments.

The ongoing community argument has been covered comprehensively in the Thousand Oaks Acorn. Community organizers in Conejo Valley have set up a petition that is receiving strong support and can be viewed by clicking here.

The full text of NCAC and NCTE’s letter to the Conejo Valley Unified School District Board of Education can be viewed below. Click here for a full screen view.