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District 41 Bans 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'

District 41 board votes to remove "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" from classroom shelves because of its mature content.

Editor's note: A caution to readers: Parents at the meeting spoke frankly and bluntly on the topic, using language some might find objectionable. Patch is quoting the parents verbatim.

The Glen Ellyn School District 41 Board of Education on Monday has nixed a recommendation to keep a controversial novel in eighth-grade classrooms at Hadley Junior High School at after two parents requested to have it removed because of its mature content. 

The book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, has been available to eighth graders in literacy classrooms for independent reading. Per the school's literacy curriculum, students could choose to read a book and put it down at any time.

Hadley parents Jen and Brian Bradfield submitted their request after their daughter stopped reading the book because of its disturbing content, including references to bestiality and coupons for free oral sex.

Upon reviewing the request, researching reviews of the book and hearing from the Bradfields and the teacher who recommended the book, a committee comprised of Hadley teachers and administrators, one parent and a district administrator recommended the district keep the book at Hadley. The recommendation also included an increase in communication with parents to remind them of the importance of parental awareness of students' book choices.

"We can’t even describe to you how hurt we are that this was allowed, or recommended to her," Jen Bradfield told board members Monday.

"There are specifics of a boy making a fake coupon advertising a free blowjob—this is what our daughter read," she said. She read from the book, "'There was a guy Carl Burns and everyone called him C.B. and one day he got so drunk at a party, he tried to (have sex with) the host's dog.'

"...I don't see a place for this for 13-year-olds," she said.

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Brian Bradfield said the book's content—bestiality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, oral sex for money—raised questions an eighth grader shouldn't have to ask.

"I didn’t want to have this conversation with my daughter in eighth grade," he said. "It's hard not to get emotional and upset because we're here talking about things we never thought we'd talk about... Our innocent child has already been tainted."

According to a publisher's description on Amazon, the book is a "haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion... the story of what it's like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie's letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating."

Hadley literacy teacher Lynn Bruno said while many Hadley students have supportive and caring parents like the Bradfields, there are students facing issues similar to those depicted in the book and don't have supportive parents to look to for guidance.

"Like it or not, your daughters and sons in eighth grade heard the word ‘blowjob,’" Bruno said. "I’ve been at this for 30 years… What they are exposed to in terms of dialogue, in terms of media... I don’t like it any more than you do, but it's (out) there."

She added books like Perks of Being a Wallflower are valuable because of the lessons students can learn from characters' decisions in difficult situations.

"I have children in my classroom who need this knowledge now because they’re facing those issues… You cannot take away from children who need to have those conversations... just because it upsets some other children."

Board member Sam Black said while he’s reluctant to censor material, he agreed the issues addressed in the book have no place in a middle school.

Board member Terra Costa Howard said her two daughters, in eighth and ninth grade, have both read the book and that she couldn't support removing the book from classrooms.

“The book was a suggestion (to my child) and she brought it home and we looked at it and talked about it, and she read it. …As a parent, that is my responsibility," she said.

"We, as parents and as board members who have been around, cannot in today’s day in age put our heads under the sand and think our children don’t know, and are not exposed to, (these) things... We live in an age where these kids are exposed to things much sooner than we want them to be.”

Board president Erica Nelson, who also voted in favor of the recommendation to keep the book, said the issue is subjective.

“This book might not even be appropriate for someone in ninth or tenth depending on their maturity level, but it might be appropriate for somebody at the end of eighth grade (with a different maturity level)," she said.

The board voted 4-2 against the recommendation. Board member John Kenwood was not present for the vote.

Following the vote, District 41 parent Betsy Pringle suggested Hadley staff implement a rating system for books, so parents could be made aware of potentially controversial books available to students.

Do you agree with the board's decision? Tell us in the comments below.

ME May 20, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Anyone can check this book out at the public library, or buy it on amazon for 1 penny + $3.99 in shipping cost. As far as I know, the Village of Glen Ellyn has not banned the book within the village limits. However, a school district has every right to set a standard of what they allow on their recommended reading lists.
ME May 20, 2013 at 06:00 PM
So should the standard of the district be at what ever level teens are at? Going by your argument, they ought to be giving away porn at the Hadley library! No, a district needs to have a high bar on what is allowed in district libraries and recommended reading lists.
ME May 20, 2013 at 06:02 PM
The Bradfields aren't telling people how to parent. They are just encouraging the district to act appropriately in defining their standard. Other parents are free to do whatever they want.
conormacmillen May 21, 2013 at 10:39 PM
As a middle school educator myself, I want to give huge kudos to the young men and women from the school who have come on this board and defended not only their right to read a piece of literature but the specific book itself. You have the courage of your convictions and are actually putting forward the most logical and valid arguments in this discussion. And why is this? Because they actually read the book. Yes, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to an excerpt, they read the book itself, and are responding here with honest and, most importantly informed, opinions. These young people should be commended and for those who are saying that they should not have a say in the discussion that so directly affects them, well it saddens me that they will not at least be listened to by some of you. And for the posters taking this to the ridiculous extreme of comparing an acclaimed young adult novel with pornography, you really are sacrificing any sense of logic in an effort to make a point. So, in response, I would like to hand you your brown shirt and your swastika and your book of matches. Because banning a book means you are a nazi, correct? By your logic, something can be pushed to an insane degree to make your point, so just as Perks is pornography, you are a book burning fascist. Unless I'm wrong. Unless that approach is illogical and ridiculous. Keep reading kids. And in the words of the immortal warrior poet, Joliet Jake Blues, "I hate Illinois Nazis."
Nora May 23, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Actually, The Catcher in the Rye contains profanity, many sexual references, references to homosexuality, and nearly everyone smokes and drinks including the underage protagonist. There is also drinking, smoking, swearing, and extramarital sex in The Grapes of Wrath. And the Bible contains references to promiscuity, rape, sodomy, bestality, drunkenness, incest, and violence. So...yeah.

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