Concerned Parents

‘Losing Our Freedom of Speech’: Parent Speaks Out Against Middle School’s Explicit Reading List

  • A Virginia public school gave 12 and 13-year-old students a compilation of recommended books to choose from that contained violent and sexually explicit content, a reading list for the school’s English class shows.
  • One parent shared with the Daily Caller News Foundation that she believes this reading list shows that teachers are more focused on indoctrinating students than actually teaching.
  • “When I was in China, we didn’t have freedom of speech. Now I feel like in the United States we are losing our freedom of speech,” the parent told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

DCNF(Daily Caller)—Cooper Middle School in McClean, Virginia, gave students an age- inappropriate reading list for their 7th grade English class this year, a concerned parent told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Students in the English class were assigned a wide variety of books on topics that spanned from illegal immigration to Black Lives Matter (BLM), according to a copy of the list. Although the reading list clarifies that students will not have to read every single book, one teacher at the middle school said students would have to choose books to read from the provided options unless a parent offered an alternate, school-approved book, an orientation video welcoming students to the class showed.

“The first time I got this syllabus was after the open house,” “Jane,” a parent who immigrated to the U.S. from Communist China and who requested anonymity so her child would not be bullied by teachers and students in the class, told the DCNF. “I didn’t think much of it at the time because I thought it was about teaching English. But. . . when I saw the second page, there were some words that looked completely unrelated.”

The list specifies eight core concepts the students will study by reading a “variety of books” over the course of the year to “challenge” them and let them “explore universal concepts”: Identity, community, the unknown, loyalty, justice, ethics, perspective and change. Students received slightly different book assignments depending on if they were in the honors-level course or the regular class, but both lists contained controversial books with explicit sexual or violent content.

“My parents were little during the communist revolution,” Jane told the DCNF. “Every textbook was about indoctrination, whether about physics, math or Chinese language. There was politics everywhere. . . Now it looks like this ‘English’ class has become indoctrination.”

“The thing is, the whole state, the whole country has something wrong. Every person is like a small screw in a big machine. I wonder if the teachers really know what critical thinking really is,” Jane added. “When I was in China, we didn’t have freedom of speech. Now I feel like in the United States we are losing our freedom of speech. It’s not just about speech. It’s about thinking.”

Both syllabi contain “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You,” a book by controversial author Ibram X. Kendi, who has advocated for the idea that every white person is inherently racist and compared anti-lockdown protesters in 2020 to slaveholders. “Stamped” is a “kid-friendly” remix of Kendi’s original book, “Stamped From The Beginning,” and gives a simplified explanation of his racial theories while encouraging students to “build an antiracist America” by “recognizing America’s racist past,” according to an excerpt from the preface.

“I saw the author [of one of the books], Kendi, and I read a report about him before,” Jane told the DCNF. “When I saw a book by him on the list, it was like an alarm to me. I started to Google books, and there are some on the honor’s list that are not on the others. There were some books promoted by BLM.”

“I don’t think schools should be giving these books to 7th graders in classrooms,” Jane added. “This curriculum is made to integrate an ideology about identity. I don’t think it’s correct for a teacher to promote their political agenda at a public school. They’re on the taxpayer’s money, we pay their salary.”

Parents have raised concerns about controversial reading lists across the country over the past few years, as more public schools and libraries have attempted to introduce LGBTQ and BLM ideology into the classroom. Republican Sen. John  Kennedy of Louisiana read aloud sections of books at a Sept.12  Senate hearing that revealed the extremely graphic nature of the stories public schools have recently assigned to young students.

The list provides students with several other books that promote BLM ideas: “The Hate U Give,” “Dear Martin,” “All American Boys,” “Ghost Boys,” “Just Mercy,” “New Kid” and “A Good Kind of Trouble.” Each book uses a fictional narrative to introduce students to concepts like “microaggressions,” modern-day white supremacy, police brutality and inherent racism.

The school does not have a specific policy on allowing parents to opt their children out of books with extreme violence or overly politicized ideas, although the Fairfax County Public Schools system (FCPS) told the DCNF that parents have a right to opt their students out of an assignment if they are “uncomfortable with any books on any of our school reading lists.” FCPS administrators told the DCNF that all “controversial” books go through an extensive committee review process before being assigned to students.

Jane expressed concern about some of the books she claimed had an ulterior agenda or had sexual themes that are inappropriate for children who are 12 or 13 years old. She pointed to one book, “Gracefully Grayson,” which is about a young boy who decides over the course of the story that he is actually a girl and that he wants to transition.

“The students are vastly growing, not just with their bodies but with their minds,” Jane told the DCNF. “They [public schools] want to interfere with our children, and they want to make our children follow them, to accept their ideology. Identity is important. But discovering identity is a lifelong journey.”

Other books focus more on the purely sexual side of the LGBTQ world, like “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” and “They Both Die At The End.” Both books present two teenage boys as their protagonists, and both novels have extremely graphic descriptions of the boys making out and wanting to have sex.

Other stories, like “Shatter Me,” “Uglies,” “The Fifth Wave” and “Five Feet Apart” focus on characters that want to have physical contact or sex but are not able to for varied reasons. “Shatter Me” in particular focuses on eroticism to emphasize to readers that the main character cannot touch anyone because she has the power to kill people on contact.

“His hand. On me,” a passage at the very beginning of “Shatter Me” reads, describes the first time the main character is touched by her male cellmate. “2 tips of 2 fingers graze my cloth covered shoulder for less than a second and every muscle of every tendon in my body is fraught with tension that clenches my spine.”

When the DCNF asked FCPS why they assign borderline pornography to young students, the administration pointed to their policy that requires teachers to inform parents at least 30 days in advance if their students will be reading a sexually explicit book in class. Parents can choose to opt their student out of reading those books and can also suggest alternate books they would rather have their child read.

Jane told the DCNF that she worried about her child’s literature education, especially since the classroom functions as a “book club” style discussion format. She also said she was concerned the school would not approve her book choices if she chose more classic literature or conservative-leaning nonfiction.

“One thing I was worried about: My daughter, my child, may be persecuted in her class,” Jane told the DCNF. “I want her to have the opportunity to actively participate in the learning activities. But some of the learning material that is provided is concerning. But how do you participate when the material is inappropriate?”

Cooper Middle School, the school’s principal and the three teachers overseeing the English class did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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