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Plymouth-Canton schools consider banning "Waterland" novel

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Another novel taught in the Plymouth-Canton school district is up for discussion this week.

The district considered banning Toni Morrison’s Belovedlast month, but decided against it. Now the novel in question is Waterland by Graham Swift, which has been taught in the district for the past decade.

The students in Brian Read’s Advanced Placement English class were about a third of the way through Waterlandwhen they were told they would no longer be reading that book, and to turn in their copies.

Waterland was originally brought to the attention of superintendent Jeremy Hughes by two parents, Barb and Matt Dame. Here's how Hughes describes it in his letter on the school's website:

I had originally explained that passages from the book that had been submitted to me in a parent complaint were shocking in their graphic explicitness and, in my judgment, not suitable for a high school English class. As a former high school English and Latin teacher, I am certainly aware that much of modern literature contains sexual material. It was my judgment, however, that the passages I read from Waterland had crossed the line in terms of graphic portrayal of sexual activity.

Hughes demanded the book be removed from the classroom midway through the lesson.

As it turns out, from the comments I have received from parents, community members, students, and media commentators, what HAS become overwhelmingly objectionable to the community is my decision to remove the book without instituting the complaint and review processes provided for in our district’s Administrative Guidelines.

AP English teacher Brian Read says the passage contains "a description of the main character as a teenager and his girlfriend, who becomes his wife, as they sexually explore one another."

The novel also mentions incest, and there’s an abortion.

Read says the recent controversy around Beloved and Waterland has proven to be a good experience for the students:

"It really gave [the students] a certain perspective in how much they value the right to be able to read what they want to; that there’s a privilege to having access to these things, and when it’s taken away you kind of know what you’ve been denied."

Teachers and parents in the Plymouth Canton School district will have a chance Wednesday, Feb. 8 to voice their opinions about the book before a select committee votes on whether to ban it from the curriculum.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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