Controversial teen poetry removed from Henrico middle schools

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – A book of poetry and writings by teenage boys is being removed from Henrico County middle schools but will remain on high school library shelves.

At issue is the book You Hear Me? Poems and writing by teenage boys, edited by Betsy Franco. Earlier this year, a parent of a student attending Hungary Creek Middle School formally requested that the book be reviewed due to concerns that some of the writings were inappropriate for children.

The 107-page book, published in 2000, contains profanity along with references to school violence, teenage sex, drug use and homosexuality.

In the preface, Franco writes that the book, "present[s] the uncensored accounts of teenage boys without the filter of adult sensitivity."

For example, in the poem "I Hate School", Kenny, age 17, writes, "[expletive] this [expletive], up the [expletive], I don't think I'll ever pass. It's [expletive] crap. I don't believe. I think that I'll just [expletive] leave. The teachers suck, the food just blows, society has reached new lows. We sit and stare all [expletive] day. And though it's public, we still pay."

In the poem "I Love to Hear", Tito, age 15, writes, "I love to hear how women say my name. Tito…Tito…saying it over and over, as if they don't want to let go."

On March 16, the Henrico County Public Schools Instructional Materials Review Committee reviewed the book. Prior to the meeting, committee members read the book and recommended to leave it on six high school library shelves. It was recommended to be removed from three middle schools: Elko, Holman, and Hungary Creek.

At a May 12 work session, HCPS school board members supported the recommendation.

School leaders say the decision was made after thoughtful discussions. "The general feeling was it was a very valuable book," said Ann M. Martin, of HCPS Library Services. She added, "This particular book is very powerful, has some very powerful pieces in it that we felt would be appropriate for our students at the high school level."

NBC12's education specialist, Dr. Bill Bosher, disagreed.

"I don't think there are many parents of middle schoolers or high schoolers who would look at a text like this, no matter what awards it may have won, or what reviews it may have had, who would say, Yeah, that's the kind of thing we want you to use in a school with our children," said Bosher, a former superintendent and English teacher.

Martin said the book had been checked out only "four or five times" from county middle schools in the past ten years.

Just last week, HCPS was named an American Association of School Librarians' 2011 National School Library Program of the Year Award recipient.

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