After teachers’ raunchy read-alouds to sophomores, and after one to the school board last week, the Leavenworth Board of Education may now revisit whether a racy young-adult book and others like it are fit for young students.
Apologizing to students at the meeting Feb. 14 – “because it’s going to get X-rated” – former board member Danny Zeck read the board an excerpt from the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” In it, the novel’s protagonist talks at length and in bawdy detail about hours of gazing at pornographic images and his obsession with sexual self-gratification. He says that, “if God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs. So I thank God for my thumbs.”
Zeck, citing the district’s goals for student achievement, said, “I’m asking the board, and the administration, how is that preparing every student for success in the classroom?”
“First of all, that book should not be a part of the curriculum,” state Rep. Pat Proctor, Republican of Leavenworth, told The Lion. “There’s nothing that you can do to convince me that that, in any way, is good for our kids. Normalizing stuff like that by having an authority figure stand in front of the class and read it is just the absolute wrong thing for our kids. But ultimately I would like to see the school board review all of the curriculum, because I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Proctor posted on Facebook in support of Zeck and urged residents to contact Leavenworth school board members. He noted that at least one board member, Vanessa Reid, wants a hearing on the curriculum at the board’s meeting in March.
“Mr. Zeck’s questions deserve answers,” Proctor wrote in his post. “How does this book in any way contribute to the education of our kids or help them grow up to be functioning, moral members of our society?”
At one point at the Feb. 14 board meeting, as Zeck continued speaking after his time had expired, board President Judi Price left the room in protest, followed by other board members, while audience members applauded Zeck. In a second session of public comments, Zeck took the lectern again to politely finish his thoughts.
“I think you would all agree that our country is in a moral decline,” he said. “It is your responsibility – board members, administrators and teachers – to help students maintain the highest morality. While we might not agree about this book, we can agree that there are many other books that can accomplish the district academic goals that are not morally compromising.”
Reid, who confirmed her desire for a board discussion on the matter March 14, told The Lion the explicit self-gratification passages weren’t the only questionable ones in the book. She said the narrator also talks about how he can’t wait to watch girls’ volleyball because he can see the underwear beneath a girl’s sweaty white uniform, which she said legitimizes the objectification and exploitation of girls.
It’s the normalization of sexual and pornographic addiction, and their ties to sex trafficking, that most disturbs her about the book, Reid said, along with taking such intensely private matters into the public square. “I think if we get to that point as a society, where it’s no longer an intimate subject matter, that we will have lost the value that comes along with privacy. And I think dignity ties in there pretty strongly, as well.”
When she learned about the book being read to sophomores, Reid says she decided to read it herself and research the author. Combined with school officials pushing this book and others like it, while showing students a video on banned books – one poster on the school walls exhorts students to “Read Woke” – Reid is convinced there’s a conscious agenda in the schools, one that parents might not agree with.
“I think the reason that we’re here is that, in our district, there are absolutely no checks and balances,” she says.
“Frankly,” Rep. Proctor says, “I’d like to see, statewide, a requirement that schools are more transparent with parents about the curriculum that they’re teaching their kids.” Indeed, parents’ rights bills are making their way through the Kansas Legislature right now, he says. “This long, slow decay of morality in our society is reflected in our schools, and really it should be combated in our schools.”
In her district, anyway, Reid says instructors appear to have whatever personal influence they want on students. “Their agenda is basically to teach students what their political views are. And they’re not quiet about it, really.
“Parents drop their kid off at the door, and they want to be able to trust the educational system to not infringe upon their religion or their home values. They just want them to teach how to read, how to write, how to do math.”