Kingsburg Elementary Charter School District in California has removed Jewell Parker Rhodes’s Ghost Boys from its curriculum after a parent complained about the political views expressed in the book. NCAC has written to the local Board of Education to urge them to create a committee to review Ghost Boys and to return the book to the classroom while the review is pending.
Ghost Boys tells the story of a bullied, 12-year-old Black boy who is killed by a police officer while playing with a toy gun and watches from beyond the grave as his family and community unravel. The story blends historical characters, including Emmett Till, with current events.
Strong curriculum policies require a committee representing the viewpoints of all stakeholders–including teachers, librarians, students and parents–to review books based on clearly-established criteria, which do not include the political views of the author. The district’s current book challenge policy allows for a book to be immediately removed whenever a single parent objects to it. This allows singular voices, or even small groups, to essentially have veto power over an entire district’s curriculum, and allows dissenting parents to determine what teachers teach and what all students learn.
If a teacher assigns a book that might be objectionable, they run the risk of having to delete the book from their lessons with no notice, forcing them to create a new lesson plan for a substitute book. This fear leads naturally to self-censorship, choosing books of lower quality, or less relevance, to avoid controversy.
The purpose of the classroom is to address varying viewpoints, provide context, and encourage discussion. Teachers must be allowed to do their jobs. And no individual parent has the right to determine what every student in a classroom, school or district can learn.
The full letter to the district can be read below. Click here for a full-screen view: