Rebecca Rivera will tell you she's not much of a reader, really.
"I don't hate reading," the sophomore at Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford said. "But it's hard for things to catch my attention."
But in English class last month, the 16-year-old found herself hooked on "The Window Pain," an urban contemporary novel written by her principal, Steven Perry. By the second chapter of the 1980s coming-of-age story about two Philadelphia teens, Tarique and Shandell, Rivera was crying.
"It was about a boy, and his parents are abusive to each other," Rivera said Tuesday. "And I could relate to that because of my mom. It was just really touching the things that [Tarique] was going through."
One of those "things" was the boys' anxiety about their first sexual experience. The words "erection" and "rubbers" are sprinkled throughout the passage describing Tarique's fumbling and bumbling encounter with a girl. The vernacular for "penis" and other coarse words are used liberally.
A teacher whom Perry was reassigning suddenly took great offense to the book. Another teacher, also on the outs with Perry, backed her. A complaint went to the administration. No formal complaints were filed by parents or students, and 16 teachers signed a statement supporting the book.
The book was pulled from class, pending a review.
We're left with a picture of a school district in which 80 percent of its ninth-graders read below grade level yanking a provocative novel that had fully engaged a class of 20 sophomores.
"All the books they give us, nobody really wants to read it," said Glorious Menefee, 15, a freshman. She hadn't read the book, but said it was the buzz among her peers. "Everybody had `Window Pain.' Boys you'd never thought would be reading were actually into it. ... They kept saying: `Yo, Mr. Perry's book is tough."'
Aliza Jenkins, a manager at the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, read the book and encouraged her 13-year-old daughter, an eighth-grader at the school, to read it.
"She started reading it and said, `Oh my, there's a lot of curse words and swearing,"' Jenkins said. "And I said, `Your point is?"' Jenkins said the words are nothing you wouldn't hear in a PG-13 movie.
"The novel is an urban coming-of-age story - a young man reflecting on the choices he's made in his life and the consequences," Jenkins said. "This is something that they can relate to, that has some realness to it. Many of our young males are struggling with which road they should take; the road to incarceration or to college."
Perry said it was English teacher Chris Fulton who advocated using the book - the first of Perry's three.
Perry, 36, was raised in a Middletown housing project, the lone child of a single mother. He has a master's degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania, and it was his vision to open the college preparatory magnet school. He is one of the real gems in Hartford's school system because he genuinely gives a damn about getting his students into college.
Would I want my daughter reading his book? No. She's 6.
At 15, I probably wouldn't feel any more comfortable, but, hey, by then she'll be in the convent.
It was an overreaction to literally snatch the book from these students' hands, based solely on a complaint from a disgruntled teacher. A thorough review is in order.
Here's hoping it'll result in a thumbs up - and these college-bound students can get back to reading
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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