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Franklin Regional receives little feedback about literature anthologies

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:41 p.m.

Franklin Regional parents and community members have given little feedback on a series of literature anthologies slated to be used at the high school this fall, officials said.

The books, which were criticized by three school board members last month, have been examined by several visitors who have offered little comment, said Shelley Shaneyfelt, director of instructional services and public relations. Several board members lauded the books as exciting and engaging after a review.

“These new books are more exciting for our students than what we had,” board member Roberta Cook said. “They fit better with the world our grandchildren live in.”

Board member Jane Tower, who had criticized the books last month for not emphasizing Americanism enough, said she had the opportunity to compare the proposed texts with the current, out-of-date books the district is using. She said she saw little content difference between the editions.

After discussing the texts with a high school English teacher, Tower said, she feels reassured that students will ask questions that encourage the students to think critically. She and board member Larry Borland had criticized some of the questions asked after essays — including philosophical questions such as “does everyone have a dark side” — but after meeting with a teacher, Tower said she wasn't as worried. The teacher, who Tower did not name, said those questions rarely are used.

“Some of the questions are not quite as leading as others were,” Tower said. “The teacher I spoke with said she focuses on what can be learned from the reading to build analytical thinking.”

Tower said she still worries about the “touchy-feely” questions, but was reassured by the fact that the teens don't seem interested in them.

Shaneyfelt said teachers want to engage the students but sometimes, the questions in a textbook aren't going to do the trick.

“If that's not what's exciting to our kids, that's not what teachers are going to use,” Shaneyfelt said.

Tower said she doesn't want the board to micromanage curriculum. However, she wants to offer parents “some level of comfort” about what their children are reading after some parents complained that an elective literature course used Allen Ginsberg's “Howl.” After the complaints, district officials removed the beat poem — which had been on a list of accepted readings since 2007 — from the curriculum.

Board member Dennis Irvine said he reviewed the books and had no problem with the level of analyzing or critical thinking that was expected.

“I was somewhat surprised by the short nature of the essays,” said Irvine, a former teacher. “The teacher has to be on top of things to provide meaningful background.”

The board is slated to approve the purchase of the books on Monday. The district plans to purchase one set of anthologies for each classroom; however, students won't be taking them home. Instead, they will have access to an online version of the textbook, Shaneyfelt said. The books are a continuation of the series of literature books that have been used in seventh- and eighth-grade English for the past five years, Shaneyfelt said.

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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