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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.

Anonymous 8th grader May 03, 2013 at 01:46 AM
I am also a Hadley Student. After hearing a variety of different view points, I have come to the conclusion that this is not right. I am an 8th grader and come on... Blow job is moderate compared to the crap I hear. I think that if a parent doesn't want their kid to read somthing, don't let them read it. I don't want another parent telling me what I can and cannot read. I want my parents to help me decide what is appropriate to read. I understand these parents concerned, but I know for a fact that what is said in this book is an average everyday heard thing at 14 years old. I hope everyone can soon find a solution that appeases all. -8th grader at Hadley Jr. High School
john smith May 03, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Thank you for speaking, and I totally agree with you. I think that the language at hadley is far worse than what is found in the book.
J. Burket May 03, 2013 at 01:04 PM
Hello, Anonymous 8th Grader: At the very least, you and your friends have been exposed to an important and relatively harmless civics lesson. That said, you seem very realistic and intelligent. Frankly, you and your similar thinking classmates have little to no chance of turning this decision over. That does not mean that you shouldn't be heard. I applaud you for for being interested and involved. I am always hopeful that something positive comes out of something negative . . . perhaps this will spark your interest in Constitutional law.
J. Burket May 03, 2013 at 01:04 PM
My final comment, as we are at the saturation point in this argument and just going back and forth wearing out keyboards in the 60137 zip code. Your parents, while you are a minor, have every right to determine or help you determine what you should or should not be exposed to. I fully admit that if I had a 13 year-old daughter, I would probably be a bit leery allowing her to read this book based ONLY on the excerpts presented here. Perhaps after reading the entire book, my feelings might change. That said, society, teachers, school boards should not make those decisions for you. They are not there to parent you, they are there to educate you. Education is not simply based on exposure to puppies and daisies (though I admit that I love puppies). Your parents, when they are not drinking wine and eating fabulous meals with friends at flour + wine and leaving you at home by yourself (delicious food, BTW!), should be discussing these issues with you at home. The home where you live. Perhaps around the dinner table. The D41 Board made an improper decision, IMO. Isn't the first, won't be the last. In the long run, they do a good job. In this case, they just forgot what their job was. Good luck and keep reading and stay away from the TV. It will destroy your mind!
Abbe Katz Leffel May 03, 2013 at 02:31 PM
What’s so wrong with banning books? * Throughout history, books now considered thought-provoking literature were originally controversial and oftentimes banned. This distinguished list includes Of Mice and Men, The Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved, Catcher in the Rye, The Scarlet Letter, and The Bible. * * Books don’t corrupt us. They guide us through the complexities of life, arm us with information, and help us develop our own moral compasses. From high literature to pulp fiction, if it gets a child to read, can it really be that bad? *
A May 03, 2013 at 04:16 PM
Banning books is NEVER a good idea. I have a 13-year old daughter who read the book and saw the movie (we both did, together) and here's a news flash ... the exerpts quoted here in the article or in the book aren't anything she hasn't already heard in school. Am I worried? Absolutely not because I choose these opportunities to discuss these issues with her every chance I get.
Charlotte Eriksen (Editor) May 03, 2013 at 04:34 PM
Ginny, that is an important point, thank you. I did not have this confirmed the night of the meeting—whether it was not in the library because of its content, or just not in the library.
John May 03, 2013 at 05:22 PM
It sounds like you are treating the subject matter as an area that requires deep and substantial parental involvement. As do many others on both sides of the debate - and as did the board when they exercised their mandated legal responsibility to set curriculum. No one has been banned from reading it, possessing it, or sharing it. I'm not quite clear on why the book is needed educationally, or how some find it age appropriate. Are there really that many preteen children giving head, dropping acid or committing suicide here in D41?
Craig Leffel May 05, 2013 at 02:18 AM
I love the argument that it hasn't been "banned" because anyone can still read it and bring it to school. Pure BS. It's been BANNED from teacher provided reading lists and from the library. All because the Bradfield's didn't get their way, and the school ignored them. Wah wah. I didn't get my way, now I need to "save" everyone from this horrible content. To any of you who agree with this desire to control the content your child is exposed to - I defy you to tell me the lyrics to any of the songs your child listens to. What movies do they watch? Where do they surf online? What kinds of pictures do they send and receive over snap chat? Your little pre pubescent teens are already immersed in sexuality, frank content, and more of them have seen pornography than you care to admit. They are wildly mastrubating and dreaming of being groped by now. You are the same people that want limit what music, art, books and culture your children are exposed to. Don't like it in school? Homeschool. Don't like the music they listen to? Shut down iTunes and the Internet in YOUR house. Your willful ignorance and arrogance about what's right for everyone else is stupefying.
Thom Griffin May 05, 2013 at 08:33 PM
How about a nice book burning? Shame on you D41!
Russ May 06, 2013 at 11:38 PM
Typical. Two parents out of an entire school district complain about a book and the district folds. Welcome to the new America, where our primary concern is not to hurt anyone's feelings. Pathetic.
anonymous May 09, 2013 at 12:41 AM
Dawn, I know you're trying to protect your children, but I actually wrote a 5 page paper on why book banning is so wrong. And the main reason? Which would you rather have: a kid that goes out and tries drugs, or a kid that reads about Charlie (main character of perks) trying drugs and making it clear that it wasn't pleasurable or fun and left him unhappy? Kids can learn from the consequences of characters in a safe way when they read books. In 8th grade, many kids read this book. My teacher talked to many of them, and none said anything about feeling uncomfortable. If they did, they just put the book in the return basket. And the book does not make rape sound like a turn on. That's the only scene described in detail and it was actually the impetus for me to learn about consent and what rape is, and I came out educated and NOT scarred. The other times anything sexual is mentioned, it's mentioned in vague terms that you couldn't get anything from. If you have a problem with rape, how about we ban Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson? How about Across the Universe by Beth Revis? Really, if you don't want your kids exposed, I could name a large list of available books at that school my friends and I loved that did have some "inappropriate" content. By the way, if they want to read it, they just need to wait a year. In high school, so much worse is available. One of my favorite books is Fahrenheit 451. Although we're not burning books, censoring them is exactly the same.
anonymous May 09, 2013 at 01:35 AM
Soft core porn?!?! It's two paragraphs of one book that's probably tens of thousands of paragraphs! And it's not there to turn people on, Dawn. It's there to teach the reader about the terrible crime of rape that goes on commonly in high school. It's making it more realistic. Plus, the protagonist is just a freshman and the scene you call soft core porn happened to him he said a year ago, so he was IN 8th GRADE HIMSELF when he saw it.
anonymous May 09, 2013 at 01:39 AM
@jjrg7 yeah, the minds aren't clean yet. By 6th grade at hadley, you will know in detail what sex is and you will have heard the F word constantly. This book is actually a good resource as it teaches kids from Charlie's experiences that drugs aren't fun, sex is not something to be taken lightly, and that you have to think about the consequences of your actions. The one paragraph blowjob is there to show rape, which happens in high school, is a terrible thing that isn't taught enough for the average 8th grader to recognize. Yes, in that scene, Charlie is an 8th grader just like these kids the board is censoring the book from.
anonymous May 09, 2013 at 01:40 AM
It's in the library. Sorry, I was just in that school last year. I haven't commented on this article yet but I had to clear this up--it's on a shelf only 8th graders can check out from. But it is in there.
anonymous May 09, 2013 at 01:45 AM
Exactly this. I wrote a whole paper on this. Perks armed me with so many thinks I didn't know about--the true effects of drugs, consent, rape, etc. It empowered me from the "inappropriate things" because Charlie navigated his life and Chbosky wrote it to show that these things that make kids think they're cool do nothing but harm. Charlie is just a boy with a great english teacher and a few great friends, but he has to deal with so much more and he learns from everything around him, and you the reader learn to, by the way, the inappropriate parts constitute about 15% maybe of the book, that's being liberal (like including even vague references to things).
anonymous May 09, 2013 at 01:48 AM
Dawn, I dare you to read the entire book. You will find that one section is only a small snippet in the entire book and the rest is an experience that kids 13+ would benefit from learning from. It teaches what good friends look like and what bad relationships look like, what bad decisions are and what good decisions are, and it comments on the ignorance that some kids go to high school with because their parents are too afraid to talk to their children. In all, it's a good book. Watch the movie if you're not interested in anything inappropriate at all.
Christine Sporleder May 09, 2013 at 07:15 PM
I don't think the Bradfields are bad people or are purposely trying to support censorship. What I do think is that they feel it is their responsibility to protect other children from this material when, in reality, what other parents decide their children can read is none of Brian and Jen's beeswax. If I had a child in that school and I would rather the Bradfields stay out of our parenting decisions, including what other children are allowed to read. I don't have children but I was allowed to read whatever I wanted when I was younger, with my parents' permission. They knew me, they knew what I did/didn't understand, what I could handle, and had discussions about what I read when I didn't understand something. It is too bad that if I was a child at this school that the Bradfields would take the right away from my parents. I'm glad the other children at the school understand the danger of book banning and are standing up for their own right to read!
Kristin Ginger May 15, 2013 at 05:50 AM
For anyone interested in urging the school board to reverse their decision, please sign this online petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/glen-ellyn-school-district-41-board-of-education-reverse-the-decision-to-ban-the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-2 I'm also hoping to collect and disseminate information about the banning and organize opposition to it through this website: https://hadleycensorship.wordpress.com/ (Hadley alumna '00)
ME May 20, 2013 at 02:51 PM
A district must have a standard. It's either we have a standard, or open the gates wide open to anything and everything. Clearly the later is not appropriate in a school district. So, the disagreement here, is strictly over the subjective definition of the standard. This is not a censorship issue. I just checked, and this book is still available from Amazon and even the Glen Ellyn Public Library for anyone to read.
ME May 20, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Really Mary? Any book should be allowed into a school district library? Come on.
ME May 20, 2013 at 04:52 PM
Sally - Then what would be your standard for what books a district should allow into their library, and what they should not? Where would you draw the line?
ME May 20, 2013 at 04:56 PM
I anticipate the "few parents" are really a (if not the) major constituency. The BOE represents that constituency. The small committee of a few teachers (and a parent or two thrown in for good measure) do not.
ME May 20, 2013 at 05:41 PM
The Bradfields DID deal with this at home. They are also being pro-active in helping shape the district policies, which is good citizenship. The School Board also did their job properly. You may not agree with their decision, but the democratic process worked here as it is designed.
ME May 20, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Katie- so do you allow your children to read porn? Why not? it's just words on a page. I presume you do not, because you don't want them to be "tainted". This really is an issue of a subjective standard. Parents should decide how to expose their kids and at what maturity level. We should maintain a high moral bar in an elementary district reading list.
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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