Friday, December 6, 2013

Who Should Decide What Book My Third-Grader's Class Reads?

Right now there is a controversy brewing at my daughter's school over whether this book, Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy, which is required reading for all third grade classes pursuant to the Ready-Gen curriculum her school has adopted, is "appropriate."  Many parents are up in arms, feeling that it is not.

Who should decide what book my third-grader's class reads?  
Here's a radical idea: HER TEACHER. 
Not Pearson, the writers of the curriculum, not the other parents, and not me.

A curriculum should guide, not prescribe.  A teacher should have flexibility - within parameters - to choose what books her class reads.  Otherwise, why not just have an untrained adult in front of the classroom?  Better yet, why not just have a robot? 

I should advocate for MY child.  And I do.  But I should not tell the teacher what the entire class should read.  I only know one third-grader.  Her teacher knows 30 - this year - and dozens, perhaps hundreds over the years.  She knows what is appropriate for them in terms of vocabulary, sentence structure, context, content, and literary quality (which should most definitely be a factor).

I'm not telling you my opinion of the "appropriateness" of the book because I feel strongly that it is irrelevant.



  1. I completely agree with you. Should a private company that sells curricula decide what teachers teach? Absolutely, unequivocally not. No curriculum is appropriate for every class and only teachers know what will best serve their individual classes. As a general rule, teachers should not be required to use books that they find inappropriate, particularly since children's literature today offers an abundance of superb choices at every level.

    Of course it's easy to imagine the oddball instance in which a teacher might make a poor choice or might be guided by personal, political, or religious principles that are not necessarily in the children's best interests. But that would certainly be the exception, not the rule.

    As for the specifics of this example, this is indeed a controversial choice to require third-grade teachers to use. In such an instance, I would always defer to a teacher rather than to a curriculum company. Where a teacher objects to using a book, the burden should be on the principal and school leadership to demonstrate why the teacher is mistaken. The starting assumption should be that teachers know what they're talking about and deserve our trust.

  2. Daddy of school childrenDecember 6, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    I agree. A common core if it exists (a separate argument) should be a guide but not a requirement. School districts are wasting their money purchasing poorly designed curriculum which displace teachers teaching.

  3. Daddy of school childrenDecember 6, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    DHNYNY: "a private company that sells curricula" which has likely contributed to political campaigns

  4. I agree that the teachers should have flexibility with a curriculum and that they should use what they feel is best for their class. But I also think that parents, while they shouldn't necessarily be the ones deciding what gets taught and how, should give input to the teacher and administration when they feel a text is inappropriate for their child. Administration may take something more seriously if many parents speak up as opposed to a few teachers, as we may be currently seeing at our school. The school shouldn't just purchase a curriculum and then step back and follow it to the letter, without constant evaluation and adjustments, as needed. Teachers, parents and the administration should all be working collaboratively to do what's best for all of our children.

  5. AMEN! Love this!

  6. (In case you didn't subscribe to the comments on our blog, A Year of Reading, I am going there now to answer your questions! Thanks for visiting, reading, commenting!!)