A Caney Creek High School dad is fired up because the Conroe Independent School District uses the book "Fahrenheit 451" as classroom reading material.
Alton Verm, of Conroe, objects to the language and content in the book. His 15-year-old daughter Diana, a CCHS sophomore, came to him Sept. 21 with her reservations about reading the book because of its language.
"The book had a bunch of very bad language in it," Diana Verm said. "It shouldn't be in there because it's offending people. ... If they can't find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn't have a book at all."
Alton Verm filed a "Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials" Thursday with the district regarding "Fahrenheit 451," written by Ray Bradbury and published in 1953. He wants the district to remove the book from the curriculum.
"It's just all kinds of filth," said Alton Verm, adding that he had not read "Fahrenheit 451." "The words don't need to be brought out in class. I want to get the book taken out of the class."
He looked through the book and found the following things wrong with the book: discussion of being drunk, smoking cigarettes, violence, "dirty talk," references to the Bible and using God's name in vain. He said the book's material goes against their religions beliefs. The Verms go to Grand Parkway Church in Porter.
"We went them to go after God," said Glen Jalowy Jr., Grand Parkway Church youth minister. "We encourage them that what you put in your mind and heart is what comes out."
Alton Verm said he doesn't understand how the district can punish students for using bad language, yet require them to read a book with bad language as part of a class.
Diana Verm and another classmate decided to read an alternative book. They leave the classroom when the class reads or discusses "Fahrenheit 451," she said. The two students were given "Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn because it shares common themes with "Fahrenheit 451," said Chris Hines, CISD assistant superintendent for secondary education.
"Fahrenheit 451" is a science fiction piece that poses a warning to society about the preservation and passing on of knowledge as well as asks the question about whether the government should do the thinking for the people, Hines stated in an e-mail to The Courier. Other themes include conformity vs. individuality, freedom of speech and the consequences of losing it, the importance of remembering and understanding history and technology as help to humans and as hindrances to humans, Hines stated in the e-mail.
"They're not reading books just to read them," Hines said in a telephone interview. "They're reading it for a purpose. ... We respect people's rights to express their concerns and we have a policy in place to handle that."
A selection process is used for materials other than textbooks, according to district policy. The materials must meet various standards, be appropriate for the subject, age and social and emotional development of the students and motivate students to examine their own attitudes and behavior, according to district policy.
While the district does not know of any other challenges to "Fahrenheit 451," there may have been students who have decided to read a different book. The district estimates about 1 percent of students request to read a different book than assigned, according to the e-mail. "Fahrenheit 451" has been used in CISD curriculum for at least 19 years and "likely prior to that," Hines said in the e-mail.
The district hasn't received challenges on any other books in the four years he's been with the district, Hines said.
A district student, employee or resident can challenge any educational material in CISD on the basis or appropriateness, according to CISD EFA (local) policy. An informal reconsideration is first attempted. Informal requests are not documented, so Hines said he did not know how many requests were handled informally.
The person can make a formal challenge, which Alton Verm did. A committee will be appointed to review the material, discuss the material and report findings about the request to the principal, parent and superintendent, Hines said. The process takes about two weeks.
The Montgomery, New Caney, Splendora and Willis school districts have similar policies.
NCISD banned "Draw Me a Star" by Eric Carle and "Absolute Power" by David Baldacci, but it has not received a book challenge in three years, Cindee Reynolds, NCISD superintendent/community relations executive assistant, stated in an e-mail to The Courier. Montgomery ISD received one request from a parent to review instructional material, but the district has not banned any books, Babette Eikenberg, Montgomery ISD human resources executive director, stated in an e-mail to The Courier.
Alton Verm's request to ban "Fahrenheit 451" came during the 25th annual Banned Books Week. He and Hines said the request to ban "Fahrenheit 451," a book about book burning, during Banned Books Weeks is a coincidence.
"Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read" is observed during the last week of September each year, according to the American Library Association Web site, www.ala.org. The week celebrates the freedom to choose or express one's opinion, even if it might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them, according to the Web site.
Jerilynn Williams, Montgomery County Memorial Library System director, said Banned Books Week keeps the public aware that it is imperative to have access to information in a democratic society. Banning books causes libraries to limit access to information by withholding a person's right to explore a wide variety of opinions to form their own opinions, Williams said.
"Not every book is appropriate for every person, but every person should have their work that they choose," Williams said. "The public library is for everyone."
The Montgomery County Memorial Library System has received 65 requests to challenge books since 2002, Williams said. The library has removed "Castro," for factual inaccuracies, and "Tomorrow Wendy," because it was not under the library's current guidelines, Williams said. The library also has a process for people to follow if they challenge a book, Williams said.
However, Williams said a public library is different than a school library.
"As a public library, we are the library for everyone," Williams said. "The school library is meant to be the library for that select group at that school."
To view a school district's policy on book selection or how to challenge a book, visit the individual district's Web site.
Kassia Micek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.