Board of Education approves 100 books

August 09, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION

Classic titles such as "The Great Gatsby,'' "Macbeth" and "Moby Dick" are among a list of 100 supplementary reading books and dramatic works that have been approved by the Washington County Board of Education for use in high school English classes.

It is typical for area school boards to review books for use in classrooms, but it has not been done in recent years in Washington County, school officials said this week.

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During his 1996 campaign for office, Board of Education member Andrew R. Humphreys said the public often complained to him that they didn't believe they had input on what type of materials were selected for schools.

Humphreys said the public expects board members to review materials periodically to determine if they are appropriate for classrooms.

The list the board approved Tuesday night is "consistent with the public interest," he said. Teachers are not allowed to use books that don't appear on the list.


Others, however, question whether the board's action is necessary.

Nancy Bushey, chairperson of the English department at Smithsburg High School, said the county's English teachers periodically review books and any new ones teachers want to use to determine if they are appropriate.

If there is any book that is controversial, letters are sent home with students explaining why teachers want to use the book, said Bushey. An alternative selection is also offered to students if they or their parents do not want to use a controversial one, Bushey said.

Neil Becker, an English teacher at Clear Spring High School, said he is glad the Board of Education relied partly on teacher input in developing the list. However, Becker is concerned about the school board developing such a list because board members are not in classrooms every day, which makes it difficult for them to determine what books work best, he said.

"We're in the classroom, and we're using the material. And we have to do the research on it," said Becker.

The list of books were reviewed by a committee of teachers, parents and community members. The committee then recommended the board approve the list. Many of the books are classics which have been used in schools for years, and the committee considered them to be "without controversy."

Although Bushey does not agree with the process, she joined the review committee because she wanted to understand how it works. The committee is made up of 15 teachers, four members of the community, a guidance counselor and two members of the Board of Education.

The group is a permanent committee that will probably consider other issues like the number of women writers on the list or works by minority authors, said Theresa Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction.

The books are used by students in addition to their regular English anthology books.

In January, a John Irving book was removed from high school English classes because of a concern over vulgarity and references to sex. The book, "A Prayer for Owen Meany," is still being reviewed by a separate committee, said Frank Finan, director of curriculum. If the book is approved by the committee and the board, it would be added to the list passed Tuesday night, said Finan.

book list: BOE approved book list

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