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What Johnny reads: Parents, are you looking?


There may be some redeeming social value in the dustup earlier this week over the use of a novel by New Hampshire author Jodi Picoult in a freshman English class at Gilford High School. (The town’s connections to “Peyton Place,’’ a dustup of another time, duly noted.)

We read the offending passage but haven’t read the book “Nineteen Minutes,’’ which involves a shooting at a school and contains what some parents found to be a sex scene much too graphic for freshmen.

Others said such stuff can be found on many a TV channel these days, not to mention the Internet.

Author Picoult said it would be fine with her if parents want to read her book right along with the kids and then discuss it.

But that would presume that parents take care to find out what their sons and daughters are being assigned to read.

One who did, attorney William Baer, was outraged. He made his feelings known at the next school board meeting and was arrested for his efforts. He is now something of a national celebrity.

The school board later apologized. It said the district should have let parents know about the use of the book, which it apparently has done in the past. It also posted a change in its policy. It will now include “notification that requires parents to accept controversial materials rather than to opt out. Furthermore, the notification will detail more specifically the controversial material.”

That “requires parents to accept’’ phrase needs work. Some are interpreting it to mean there is no choice but to accept. The school board must make it clear that it wants parents to actively accept, or not accept, what is being assigned to their children. We understand that will be done.

Gilford’s overall policy on parental involvement is no better, stating, “Since current research indicates that a home/school partnership and greater involvement of parents in the education of their children generally result in high achievement scores, improved student behavior, and reduced absenteeism, parents of students enrolled in the district’s programs are encouraged to take an active role in the education of their children.”

Isn’t that nice? Parents are “encouraged” to take a “role” in their children’s education, not because it is their right as parents, but because “current research indicates” that this helps the state educate kids. No wonder attorney Baer got arrested. He was overstepping his role as a small, relatively unimportant cog in the educational machine.

Clearly, parents everywhere need to pay attention to what is being taught to their children and who is calling the shots on their local school boards. Attorney Baer may have done a service by making this one of those “teachable moments’’ for adults.

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