The parents of a 14-year-old rising freshman at Hardin Valley Academy in Tennessee have taken issue with their son and his 450 classmates in the STEM program being assigned to read a science-fiction novel over the summer that contains a fair amount of foul language, WBIR-TV reports.
The New York Times bestseller “Robopocalypse,” written by Daniel H. Wilson, was published last year, and Sam Lee maintains it should have never been part of the curriculum.
"My child is being forced to read profanity. This is not something that kids are talking about. It's an assigned assignment," Lee told WBIR-TV. "We want our kids to be civilized citizens and be upcoming members of community, and this does not serve that purpose.”
According to WATE, the Lees only discovered the book’s questionable language when the boy’s mother began reading the first chapter to quiz her son on the content.
Sam Lee proceeded to start counting all the f-word mentions, and had reached 15 by the time he was halfway through “Robopocalypse.”
In an email, STEM program administrators told Lee’s wife that their goal in assigning the book as a summer read was to keep students engaged in the core aspects of the STEM curriculum over break, reports WBIR-TV.
STEM Academy Dean Debbie Sayers wrote: “We discussed adult-level language, and decided that most (not all) students of this age group are exposed to profanity through much more graphic means than the written text.”
She also said the science-fiction thriller was one of three options given to students, and “they overwhelmingly picked ‘Robopocalypse’” to read for their summer assignment.
Elizabeth Alves, Knox County Schools Acting Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, told WATE she was unaware the book had been chosen by teachers at Hardin Valley Academy, and that her office is looking into the selection criteria and whether it needs to be revaluated.
In the meantime, school officials have offered the Lees’ son the option to read one of two different books and write a paper on it, instead of completing “Robopocalypse”-related assignments. Lee told WBIR-TV that option is “too little, too late.”
The boy’s father wants the book taken off the reading list, and says he would not have granted his child consent to read the novel even if the school had solicited his approval. According to the station, the book will remain on the approved reading list pending the outcome of the district's investigation into the vetting process.
WATE emailed the book'ss author for comment. Wilson replied:
"I'm sorry to hear that "Robopocalypse" has upset any parents. The novel is a thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the characters are fighting to survive and they do use strong, realistic language. The novel does not contain drug use or sexual content, and the story revolves around a diverse group of people who emerge from a global catastrophe as heroes of humanity. … I recently spoke to nearly two hundred student readers at Madison High School here in Portland, Oregon, and they were all very excited about the novel (and the upcoming movie adaptation from DreamWorks).”
WBIR-TV reports the school has now added a message to parents on its website that includes instructions about how to voice concerns about the book. District officials told the station a second parent called the central office Friday to complain, but that other parents also stopped by to show support.