Wednesday, October 13, 2021 - by Rhonda Thurman, Hamilton County School Board member
I must warn you, the content of this opinion piece may be offensive to some. For that I apologize. The following excepts from books in Hamilton County Schools are deemed acceptable by school administration. Therefore, parents need to see them and make their own decisions as to whether they think they are acceptable for their children.
At our September 16, school board meeting, a group of parents read excerpts from some books in their children’s school libraries. I was in disbelief at some of the things they had to say.
However, not one news outlet covered any of the concerns of these parents.
Hamilton County citizens need to be informed about the content of some of the so-called “literature” their children are being exposed to. Parents should be thankful for groups like Moms for Liberty who are reviewing books and curriculum and making their findings public to keep parents informed. I have been very naïve at thinking students had enough gatekeepers in the education system to protect them from pure filth. I was wrong.
After the meeting, I asked for copies of materials delegates referenced. These are just a few quotes from some the books they have reviewed.
More Than Words Can Tell, by Brigid Kemmerer-
”You suck. And that’s what I’m going to say when I find you and shove it in your mouth hole.”
“Gross. At least this guy didn’t include a dick pic.”
“I’m here to play. I just don’t want to play with some chick on the rag.”
“Stupid whiney b***hes”
“...they just suck. Now shut your mouth hole or I’ll keep my promise to shove something in there.”
“I can do this all day, baby. Tell me, do you charge for sucking?”
On the Come Up, by Angie Thomas-
“That’s what you expect, b***h, ain’t it?”
“See, last year a kid was murdered by a cop just a few streets away from my grandparents’ house. He was unarmed, but the grand jury decided not to charge the officer.” pg. 22
“The cops constantly drive by, but that’s a new normal in the Garden. It’s supposed to be on some “Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood cop who won’t shoot you” type s**t, but it comes off as some, “We’re keeping an eye on your black a**es type s**t.” pg. 23
“I murder this chick in cold blood, like someone did he whack-a** father. The. F**k? What the hell you say?” pg. 32
“You li’l a** hole! I shout. Say it again.” pg. 32
“You heard that s**t?” pg. 33
“She’s right. D**n, she’s right.” pg. 33
“I’m almost as pi**ed at myself”...pg. 33
“Murder this chick in cold blood.” pg. 33
“He’s stuck-up as h**l.” pg. 51
“It’s an internal struggle being annoyed by his a** and being mesmerized by his ass. Boy’s got a donk.” pg. 51
“Well go**amn. Thanks.” pg. 51
Far From the Tree, by Robin Benway-
This book repeatedly uses the F word more times than you can imagine. It also uses s**t repeatedly and GD. The only way you can understand how bad it is, you must read the review written by a Hamilton County parent, who has filed a Request for Reconsideration with HCDE for Far from the Tree. I promise, you will be in disbelief that this book and others like it are allowed in Hamilton County School libraries.
*Contact Moms for Liberty-
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas-
“Just RIP Khalil messages, f**k the police, stuff like that.” pg. 34
“I clocked her a**” pg. 44
“Some bulls**t” pg. 47
“I heard what happened to her li’l homie. That’s f**ked up.”
“No doubt. They [cops] worse than us sometimes.” pg. 48
“You mean y’all wanna justify what that pig did,” Daddy says. “Investigate my a**.” A sixteen year old black boy is dead because a white cop killed him.” pg. 51
“F**kity f**k, f**k, f**k.” pg. 82
“God, boys and their f**king sex drive.” pg. 85
I was told this book was used in 10th grade English last year and remains on the recommended reading list this year. I plan to find out.
There is so much more in these books, but quite frankly, I cannot type any more of this filth. The volume of what I have been sent is mind numbing. I am still in disbelief this insanity is allowed in our school libraries and classrooms.
I sent an email to Dr. Towns on August 21, asking “how books with inappropriate words (even GD) wind up in our libraries and on our reading lists? Who is responsible for vetting these books?” In her response to the Board in her e-mail on August 25, Dr. Towns says, “It seems that the delegations at the Board meeting on last Thursday may have not followed Board (policy 4.403). As there was no formal complaint made to the teacher, librarian, or principal before coming to the Board seeking resolution (as far as I am aware).” So, you see, according to the administration, it is the parents who are the problem.
I asked Tucker McClendon, Board Chairman, to have administrators address the Board to explain the process of how this “literature” ended up in our schools. Tucker has agreed and added this issue to our October 21, board meeting.
When asked about the language and subject matter in some of these books, Dr. Towns said they had literary value. Really? To whom? I was also told that young people talk this way. Wow!
I want to know who is responsible for these books being in our libraries, on preferred reading lists or in our curriculum? Do we solely rely on the guidance of the American Library Association, Teaching Books, Book Systems, American Association of School Libraries or some other organization to pick our literature or do we vet books ourselves? Does our local administration make the final decision? If so, who in Hamilton County read the books and thought they were appropriate? The Board and parents should demand answers for their exposing students to this vile content.
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From 1920 to 1933, The James Joyce novel Ulysses was banned in the United States by customs censors, as it was considered obscene for its graphic - albeit imaginative - depictions of human relationships in working-class Dublin. Censors were once concerned that reading it might cause readers to have “impure and lustful thoughts.” Now considered a classic, it is a rare list that does not include it among the best novels of all time.
The Bluest Eye and Beloved by Toni Morrison are routinely challenged and often successfully banned for their unflinching depictions of violence against women and children and themes centering on race and racism in America. Beloved won the Pulitzer Prize, and Morrison would also receive the Nobel Prize for her literary contributions. Nonetheless, the language used and subject matter explored in her books have led to questions of their literary value by would-be censors.
I read the Morrison books as a high school student, and I tackled Joyce in my undergraduate and graduate studies. I was horrified, scandalized, puzzled, troubled, and challenged by these books. I learned how to be a better student of literature by reading them, but more than that, I learned a lot about the human experience beyond my own—the aim, one would think, of the disciplines we call the “humanities.” I could say the same for countless books, most of which will never be recognized as classics.
It grieves me deeply to read an editorial by a Hamilton County school board member advocating for the removal of books from the school system’s curriculum and library because they challenge her mores, assumptions about history, religious sensibilities, and overall, make her uncomfortable. It further grieves me that she seems to critique these books based on excerpts without fully engaging the context of each novel. I was deeply saddened that she would refer to any novel as “filth,” and suggest that her subjective literary opinion should be the basis for developing academic and library policy.
I will always be grateful for the teachers and librarians who suggested challenging reads to me, and I’m glad that my tax dollars support these professionals (and so many others!) in Hamilton County Public Schools. Such educators are great teammates for parents, helping children learn to think critically, engage challenging - even offensive - ideas, and become more informed, ethical, and empathetic human beings.
My hope is that our parents engage educators as team-mates with expertise rather than adversaries, so that they might meet the individual learning needs of their children, including learning how to engage and analyze books that cause discomfort. Further, my hope for the Hamilton County Board of Education is that all its members might understand that gatekeeping and censorship of material do not make for a better education; engagement, exploration and debate of ideas do.
Rev. Brandon Gilvin
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Two questions: Are Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the local school libraries?
If not, why not?
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Two words to respond to Rhonda Thurman: white privilege.
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One word to respond to Todd Rudolph: couth.
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I want to make five statements:
1. I am amazed at Reverend Gilvins' remarks regarding the placement of these books in the public schools. I wonder if you would find them in his Sunday School classes?
2. Mr. Cloud, you amaze me with your knowledge and insight. We think alike. Please run for some kind of office. You got my vote!
3. Mrs. Thurman, keep up the good work! See if you can get some other board members on your team.
4. I hope that our Interim Superintendent knows that even though the students may use unacceptable language, it is not, repeat, not acceptable in our schools. So, no need to teach it in these books.
5. If the parents want their children to read these books, let them purchase them and read them at home. No one hurt.
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What in the world does having these vile books in schools have to do with white privilege as a writer responded?
Black people make up 13 percent of the population yet are 53 percent of murder victims. Of these 90 percent are black on black deaths. The same 13 percent commit 36 percent of the non-fatal yet violent crimes. I'm sure reading this garbage will lower those rates considerably. (sarcasm)
As for the so-called Reverend Gilvin, he is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School. Unfortunately those of his ilk are what liberal seminaries like Sewanee, Candler and the worst Union in NY are turning out these days.
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While I certainly appreciate your personal educational journey, I do want to question a few of your points.
For one, what you “tackled in graduate and undergraduate studies” is wholly irrelevant in this particular discussion. Mrs. Thurman’s concerns (as well as many others) pertain to children in grades K-12. What you or anyone else dives into on a college campus somewhere holds no bearing to what should and should not be accessible in the library of an elementary, middle, or high school. I could go on and on about the present extremes of most universities but, alas, that too is unrelated to this conversation.
You also state that your wish is for parents to “engage educators as team-mates with expertise”. Does this team concept not need to go both ways? The concerns presented here are centered around the fact that many (if not most/all) parents are left in the dark as to any extreme or questionable material that might be sitting on the shelves in their child’s school library. Surely you would agree that a good and worthy team member would welcome input from other concerned teammates right? That appears to be exactly what Mrs. Thurman, Moms for Liberty, and other parents are doing. Allowing books with such extreme language and content (no matter the context), to be shelved in a public school without parent notification does not sound like a “team concept” to me. Then to vilify those parents and groups as they voice concerns and anxieties they might have, begins to sound more like “get of the way of our agenda”. Certainly no team I want to play for.
Lastly, I appreciate your work in the ministry and commend you for answering God’s calling to do so. But in looking at the staff page on your church’s website, I don’t believe I see it mentioned that you and your wife have any children. Whether you do or do not, my point is this. Educators, and the highly educatED, are not the only ones with “expertise”. Parents, certainly the good ones, should be both appreciated and consulted for their proficiency in raising children. Not everything is about the humanities or developing a literary opinion.
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I’ve watched this topic fester since Rhonda Thurman first delivered her opinion on the matter. It’s plain to me that once again, an agenda to suppress diverse viewpoints is being pushed by certain groups.
While the language and viewpoints cited by Ms. Thurman may not be the way I’d express something, make no mistake that kids here and elsewhere are doing just that. For some kids, this IS their reality whether my children (or yours) experience it or not.
Taking excerpts without context is doing the book, the reader, and the rest of us a disfavor. It’s also lazy thinking, and it smacks of willful ignorance for the sake of convenience. I asked my teenager about the excerpt from “The Hate U Give” because I knew she’d read the book on her own accord. The depth of the human condition and themes reflected in the book are not conveyed in the cherry-picked excerpt we’ve been given here.
As a parent of two kids in Hamilton County Schools, I want them challenged with other perspectives. They by most measures are very much “privileged”. A greater understanding about the greater society beyond the end of their driveway is critical since folks tend to fear what they don’t understand. My intention is to not raise fearful kids who become fearful and fretful adults. I also never abdicate my role as a parent when discussing uncomfortable, but valid issues with my kids.
While avoiding “cuss words”, some of the responses from fretful adults here are quite “vile”, particularly the one from a (very) frequent commenter. Suffice it to say that I’m a taxpayer in District 7, I have kids who are currently in Hamilton County Schools, and I’m not joining the “uproar” as a fretful adult.
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Over the years, I have responded to subjects on Chattanoogan.com several times. This subject that Rhonda Thurman has brought up is critical. She should be praised for her attempts to keep such trash out of the hands of impressionable students.
The responses are basically ridiculous. The excuse that some kids already use the language is absurd. Does this imply that more kids should learn the viscous language?
Also, what reverend, of any demonization, agree with this language? All the pastors I have met in my life would stand their ground and condemn such subject matter.
The citizens should stand with Rhonda and continue to support her. Don't give up the ship, Rhonda.
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I am outraged at the lack of concern and action on the part of the majority of our school board members, namely, Jenny Hill, Marco Perez, Joe Smith, Tiffanie Robinson, Karitsa Jones, Joe Wingate and Tucker McClendon. The only two school board members that have tried to fight for decency in our schools are Rhonda Thurman and James Walker.
I was present at the school board meeting on Sept. 16 when the mothers read the vile CRT content directly from the pages of the books that currently sit on the shelves of our school libraries. I also heard a lady from Mom's for Social Justice tell the school board members directly that her organization had placed books regarding LGBTQ content into the classroom libraries of 15 Hamilton County Schools. These were elementary schools. Jenny Hill commended the group for their efforts.
Did you get that? Parents that want decency in books their children are reading at school are condemned and the influence of the CRT curriculum is applauded by our elected school board members. Was there not legislation passed in Tennessee forbidding this material to be in our schools? Where is the outrage? Why are these administrators and elected officials not being charged? Why is it ok for the interim Superintendent, Dr. Towns, to blame the parents? Seriously?
When this was originally brought to the attention of the Department of Education earlier in the year, no one accepted responsibility. They all just pass the buck to someone else. No one in the superintendent's office claimed to even know how the books got into the schools. Now Dr. Towns wants to hold the parents responsible because they didn't follow some kind of administrative protocol. This is ridiculous and outrageous.
I am calling on every single parent and grandparent to pack the next school board meeting and the yard outside of the building to let the school board and Department of Education in Hamilton County know that this behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. It is time that the school board and other elected officials be held accountable to the people they were elected to serve. We the People have spoken and will not back down.
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I have read some of these books. Yes, there is bad language but there is also a great story in each of them that kids can relate to. If kids are watching television, surfing on the Internet, watching TikTok or other social media they are exposed to the same thing as these books.
I see a lot of hatred, anger and negativity in these comments. What are you teaching the kids with your ranting and raving? This is just as bad if not worse than the bad language in these "vile" books.
Christianity is about love, not anger and hatred. Let's try not to go back to the 50's or 60's and just let the teachers do what they are trained to do.