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Some Franklin Regional leaders see bias in books

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Recent history lesson

This isn't the first time that texts that are being used or are being considered for use in district classrooms have come under fire by board members.

Last month, Borland and Tower were critical of history books that were being purchased. Borland said he worried about how the books presented state's rights and the Constitution, and Tower said she was concerned that students might be encouraged to apply today's moral standards toward historic issues such as slave ownership.

Earlier this month, Pavlik complained that Allan Ginsburg's “Howl” was included in the “Alternative Voices” English course.

By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Thursday, May 30, 2013, 11:51 a.m.

Three Franklin Regional School Board members think a series of proposed new high school literature textbooks are politically biased.

The district is considering spending $109,121 this summer to buy new literature anthologies for the high school that include several readings that address political issues of the time.

Three board members – Larry Borland, Dennis Pavlik and Jane Tower – objected to the way political issues were presented in the texts.

“These books have a very strong bias and opinion, and there is a selection of things missing,” Borland said of the textbook proposed for the district's “American Literature” course. “I'm not saying the intent is right or wrong, but it's clear that the intent is to look at how these writers felt about a (political) agenda item.”

The books, which will be on display in June before the board votes to purchase them at its June 17 meeting, are designed to help prepare the district for the implementation of the Common Core curriculum. That curriculum requires an increase in the amount of nonfiction taught in literacy courses, administrators said.

The curriculum, which has been adopted in 45 states and Washington, D.C., as a means to create equal standards, was set to be implemented in Pennsylvania in July, but has been delayed. Nonetheless, administrators said, high school literature texts are out of date.

Superintendent Jamie Piraino said he understands the board members' concerns but encouraged them to have faith in the teachers.

“Yes, teachers are humans who have predisposed ideas,” Piraino said. “But our best teachers are professionals, and they challenge the kids to think critically.”

Borland said he briefly reviewed two textbooks and had major concerns about not only what was missing from the anthologies, but also the questions that were being asked at the end of reading segments.

Among the questions he criticized were “Are people basically good?” and “Does everyone have a dark side?” He alleged that several pieces were included selectively for an individual agenda item.

“There's a distinct bias in the book to basically put the historic context on the backburner of the olden days,” Borland said. “I have a problem with that.”

Despite his objections, Borland didn't vote against displaying the books.

But Tower and Pavlik objected. Tower said she thinks the books shortchange America.

“I am concerned about the multiculturalism and the emphasis on it,” Tower said. “I think the texts emphasize that to the detriment of the exceptionalism of America. We saw a sad, sad example of that at the Boston Marathon.”

Board member Roberta Cook, who also reviewed the books, reminded other board members that the texts were for literature classes, not social studies courses. Pavlik objected to the idea.

The discussion continued to become heated at times, with Pavlik calling for a motion to table both the discussion and the vote to put the books on display.

Ultimately, the board had to vote to display the books if there was any chance to have them in classrooms at the end of August, board President Herb Yingling said.

The board will vote to purchase the books on June 17.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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