The Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education did the right thing Monday by rejecting efforts to ban a book from a freshman honors English summer reading list.
Education, after all, is largely about challenging young people to understand concepts that are new to them, from algebra to social studies to basic physics. Literature that addresses difficult themes must be no different.
In their own way, however, Heather and Jeff Campbell, who filed a formal complaint with the district asking that "The Glass Castle" be taken off the reading list, also did the right thing. Heather Campbell said she and her husband were concerned the book contained material not suitable for young students.
While asking for a ban was further than most parents might go, the Campbells were certainly within their rights as parents to decide "The Glass Castle" wasn't right for their daughter. The Campbells were paying attention to what their child was reading, which is more than many parents can say.
There appears to be no dispute that "The Glass Castle," a memoir by Jeannette Walls, contains adult themes that perhaps not all students are prepared to deal with.
It recounts Walls' experience growing up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father and a mother who suffered from mental illness. It includes explicit language and references to child molestation, adolescent sexual exploits and violence.
Like it or not, there's no doubt most 14-year-olds are already well aware of family problems like alcoholism and more. What is important here isn't so much that those themes are touched on but that students learn they can be overcome. Walls' book deals with those realities in ways that offer hope and teach about conquering difficulties .
Parent Billie Jo Clark, who was part of a committee formed to address the Campbells' complaint, read the book and said it offers more than just an engaging story.
"It's a book about overcoming the most incredible obstacles in your life," Clark said. "It is a book about forgiveness. I think the book had a lot of great, resonating things." The committee recommended the book be taken off the reading list.
In the end, four school board members — board president Kelly Hall, Gary Appel, Megan Crandall and Scott Hardy — voted to keep "The Glass Castle" on the reading list.
Hall said removing the book could have a chilling effect on the district's willingness to use potentially controversial material, regardless of its educational merit.
That's crucial. Banning books cannot be part of a challenging educational experience. Education, like "The Glass Castle," must be all about learning to cope with what life gives you.