Schoolbook Controversies

September 10, 1982

Report Outline
Challenges to Assigned Reading
Books and Groups in Dispute
Politics of Textbook Selection
Schoolbooks in Context
Special Focus

Challenges to Assigned Reading

Untested Right to Read in Public Schools

On sept. 21, a case is scheduled to go to trial in Spokane, Wash., in which the plaintiffs are asking for a permanent injunction against the use in school of The Learning Tree, an autobiographical novel by Gordon Parks describing the experiences of a black man struggling in white society. The case may not go far, but it is worthy of note because it has so much in common with other actions against books that are being brought by students, parents and teachers in school districts around the country. The cases are testing the novel question of whether school boards and teachers have to take the rights of children and teen-age students into account when assigning reading or stocking libraries.

In a typical dispute, both opponents and defenders of books argue that their constitutional rights are threatened. Each side, supported by phalanxes of lawyers, accuses the other of trying to exercise censorship or purvey propaganda. As students return to school this fall, many will find battles of this kind raging around them. What they read in class or in the library will depend on how these political battles are resolved at school board meetings or in the courts.

The Learning Tree suit, Grove v. Mead School District No. 354, was filed in December 1980 by an attorney for the Moral Majority of Washington Legal Foundation on behalf of parents, who had tried without success to persuade the Mead School District in suburban Spokane to ban the use of the book in courses. The plaintiffs complain that the book contains obscenities, explicit sexual material and blasphemies against Jesus Christ, and they say it purveys “the anti-God religion of humanism which is antithetical to plaintiffs' beliefs and which violates the free exercise and no establishment clauses” of the Constitution. In other words, the plaintiffs argue that assignment of the book in a public school amounts to government promotion of a particular religion and infringes on their right to practice their religion freely.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Education Issues
Jan. 27, 2023  Deaths of Despair
Sep. 23, 2022  Public Schools' Challenges
Aug. 12, 2022  Parents' Rights
Apr. 01, 2022  Online Learning
Jan. 21, 2022  Teaching About Racism
Oct. 01, 2021  COVID-19 and Children
Jun. 11, 2021  Special Education
Jun. 21, 2019  Title IX and Campus Sexual Assault
May 17, 2019  School Safety
Feb. 02, 2018  Bullying and Cyberbullying
Feb. 03, 2017  Civic Education
Sep. 05, 2014  Race and Education
Jun. 13, 2014  Dropout Rate
May 09, 2014  School Discipline
Mar. 07, 2014  Home Schooling
Dec. 02, 2011  Digital Education
Nov. 15, 2011  Expanding Higher Education
Dec. 10, 2010  Preventing Bullying Updated
Apr. 16, 2010  Revising No Child Left Behind
Mar. 26, 2010  Teen Pregnancy
Sep. 04, 2009  Financial Literacy
Jun. 05, 2009  Student Rights
Feb. 22, 2008  Reading Crisis?
Jul. 13, 2007  Students Under Stress
Apr. 27, 2007  Fixing Urban Schools Updated
Nov. 10, 2006  Video Games Updated
Mar. 03, 2006  AP and IB Programs
Oct. 07, 2005  Academic Freedom
Aug. 26, 2005  Evaluating Head Start
May 27, 2005  No Child Left Behind
Jan. 17, 2003  Home Schooling Debate
Sep. 06, 2002  Teaching Math and Science
Jun. 07, 2002  Grade Inflation
Dec. 07, 2001  Distance Learning
Apr. 20, 2001  Testing in Schools
May 14, 1999  National Education Standards
Apr. 10, 1998  Liberal Arts Education
Jul. 26, 1996  Attack on Public Schools
May 17, 1996  Year-Round Schools
Oct. 20, 1995  Networking the Classroom
Sep. 22, 1995  High School Sports
Jan. 20, 1995  Parents and Schools
Sep. 09, 1994  Home Schooling
Mar. 25, 1994  Private Management of Public Schools
Mar. 11, 1994  Education Standards
Apr. 09, 1993  Head Start
Nov. 30, 1990  Conflict Over Multicultural Education
Feb. 05, 1988  Preschool: Too Much Too Soon?
Oct. 23, 1987  Education Reform
Aug. 24, 1984  Status of the Schools
Sep. 10, 1982  Schoolbook Controversies
Sep. 03, 1982  Post-Sputnik Education
Aug. 18, 1978  Competency Tests
Jan. 26, 1972  Public School Financing
Nov. 03, 1971  Education for Jobs
Apr. 15, 1970  Reform of Public Schools
Aug. 27, 1969  Discipline in Public Schools
Dec. 27, 1968  Community Control of Public Schools
Jun. 14, 1965  Summer School Innovations
Oct. 28, 1964  Education of Slum Children
Jun. 05, 1963  Year-Round School
Mar. 28, 1962  Mentally Retarded Children
Dec. 17, 1958  Educational Testing
Sep. 25, 1957  Liberal Education
Jul. 11, 1956  Educational Exchange
Feb. 02, 1955  Federal Aid for School Construction
Mar. 07, 1951  Education in an Extended Emergency
Nov. 20, 1945  Postwar Public Education
Nov. 07, 1941  Standards of Education
Elementary and Secondary Education
Religion and Education
Religious Freedom