Illinois parents call for 'smut' book ban: 'We can’t have 18-year-olds reading about sexual issues'
Woman Reading (Photo: Shutterstock)

An Illinois school district is pulling one book from the shelves and reconsidering the use of all other titles taught in classrooms after a principal raised concerns about sexually explicit content.


Eric Michaelsen, the principal of Lemont High School, notified parents last month by email that “The God of Small Things,” by Arundhati Roy, had been removed from the reading list of the Academic English II class, reported the Cook County Chronicle.

"(The book) contains subject matter in some sections that is not appropriate for our students,” Michaelsen wrote in the Nov. 2 email. “The questionable passages were not assigned for students to read. The books have been collected and will not be used again."

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The email raised parent concerns that other books taught in the classroom might contain objectionable material.

“I think it was a big, huge wake-up call for parents who are questioning the school’s activities and looking at their actions and not trusting them,” said Laura Reigle, the mother of a junior.

She dismissed the 1997 book by Roy as "smut" and "porn," and she wrote a blog post questioning Lemont's use of 13 other titles -- including "The Lovely Bones," by Alice Sebold, "A Separate Peace," by John Knowles, and "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou.

"Everyone should be questioning when high schools across the country will be having 'Fifty Shades of Gray' being read by minors," Reigle wrote. "After all, look at how the material being bought and handed out by the schools, keeps escalating to containing more and more on sex, murder, suicide and homoeroticism."

Parents and other community members discussed possible changes to the reading curriculum at a Nov. 21 school board meeting, where many agreed Angelou's 1969 autobiography should be removed from classrooms.

“I’ve read some excerpts of (the book) that include an 8-year-old getting raped -- it’s very explicit,” said parent Mary Kay Fessler. “The sexual content is too much for their young minds to process. As an adult, yes, we can process that, but as a 14-, 15-,16year-old, I don’t think they have the neurological (power) to process that.”

Resident Rick Ligthart read from a prepared statement the changes he wanted in the school district's policy.

“Regardless of the books, I’m recommending to the board that no literature whatsoever be inclusive of literal metaphorical, figurative or allegorical words for male or female genitals,” said Ligthart, who described himself as a former tenured high school teacher. “English classes should not be involved in sexuality in literature for our kids. It shouldn’t be in any books -- no books.”

“We can’t have 18-year-olds reading about masturbation or sexual issues, regardless of the literature," he added. "I don’t care if it’s from Dickens or who else."

School officials said "The God of Small Things" was added to the curriculum without school board approval, as district policy requires, and Reigle said she wanted more transparency in the selection process.

The district responded to the error, and the resulting outcry, by reviewing all materials used in English classes -- regardless of how long they've been taught.

School officials will allow parents to opt out their children from reading the Angelou novel, but both Fessler and Reigle complained that would embarrass those students.

“If I don’t agree with the book’s content, my kid would then be ostracized and read different material somewhere else,” Fessler said. “I don’t think that’s fair to the child."

James LaRue, of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said he was concerned that parents had trivialized Angelou's work by branding it pornography, and he said children on the cusp of adulthood could gain much from reading such complex literary works.

“I’m the father of two grown children,” LaRue said. “We say, ‘I don’t want them to know about this evil. But literature is a good way to get ready for the world.'”