Scottsdale parents voice concerns over controversial book assignment for high school English class

A controversy is brewing in Scottsdale over a book that is on a reading list for an English class at Horizon High School.

On Dec. 2, parents and students voiced their disapproval or support of a book called "So You've Been Publicly Shamed."

Book contains explicit content

According to a synopsis on Amazon, the book, written by British journalist Jon Ronson, deals with the topic of public shaming, as well as shaming as a form of social control.

"It has become such a big part of our lives it has begun to feel weird and empty when there isn’t anyone to be furious about. Whole careers are being ruined by one mistake. A transgression is revealed. Our collective outrage at it has the force of a hurricane. Then we all quickly forget about it and move on to the next one, and it doesn’t cross our minds to wonder if the shamed person is okay or in ruins. What’s it doing to them? What’s it doing to us?" read a portion of the synopsis on Amazon.

In the book, Ronson interviews people who have been shamed online, as well as the dangers of the so-called ‘cancel culture.'

The book, according to a summary provided by the website LitCharts, also includes descriptions of a public-shaming-themed porn shoot that was attended by the book's author, where "participants seek to free themselves from shame by embracing fantasy."

That section of the book, according to a chapter summary (content may not be safe for work. Discretion advised) at LitCharts, contains descriptions of sexually explicit acts. In addition, the book reportedly deals with beastiality.

Parents, students speak out during school board meeting

While the book was not discussed during a meeting by the Paradise Valley Unified School District board on Dec. 2, dozens made their statements on the book during a public comment period. Horizon High School is part of the Paradise Valley Unified School District.

During the public comment period, some parents voiced displeasure with protocol they say was not followed.

"We don't want any type of pornography in the schools. I think a lot of other parents were saying that we’re going overboard or things like that, but they probably haven't read the textbook," said parent Sandra Christensen. "My spirit wouldn't let me get through the whole thing I read as much as I could I was so disgusted by it."

Some students who read the book, however, say they support the assignment.

"That's not what the book is overall about, and anyone who has read the entire thing would know that when this all got brought up, we were reminded that it was in there, and we are AP students. We read and we annotate our assignments, and we read every page and so that shows how big of an impact it had. We didn't remember the bestiality and the mentions of these things because that's not what our assignment had been on. That's not what the book was about," said Hayley Coats, a senior at Horizon High School.

School District Superintendent responds

On Nov. 16, the district's superintendent, Troy J. Bales, issued a statement on the book incident.

In the statement, the book, which was not named, was reportedly assigned as an Advanced Placement (AP) summer reading assignment at the high school.

"PVSchools believes that it is important to balance preparing AP students for college-level academics and age-appropriate coursework. This summer reading assignment did not meet that standard, and on behalf of our district, I want to apologize," read a portion of that statement.

The book, according to Bales, was not on the district's approved literature list, but he also noted the AP teachers haber been able to use books off the list, pending communication with school administration and families.

Bales said the school is taking a number of actions, including notifying parents and administration when a book that is not on the district's approved list is intended to be used in a classroom, while also giving parents the opportunity to opt out of the book selection. In addition, all AP titles being assigned to schools will be reviewed by the district's Literature List Committee in Spring 2022, and books previously approved will be reviewed in 2022 for sensitive content.

Book author responds

The book's author has also issued a statement on the controversy, which reads:

I am very sorry all this has happened, and I wish everyone on each side of this conflict well.

Let me tell you a little about So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. It was the first book written about the dangers of what has become known as ‘cancel culture’. This is the perilous world our teenagers are growing up in, the world they are entering.The book urges readers not to leap to conclusions about whoever is being torn apart on Twitter that day, but instead be patient and curious. It stresses the importance of empathy and compassion and shared humanity over instant judgment. I don’t think there’s a more important message for young people to learn, especially in this era of polarization and suspicion.

I am especially sorry that this is happening because I take pride in the fact that my books are well-regarded in many different communities – among Christians and conservatives and centrists and liberals and progressives. It’s because within each of those communities are many people who care about being kind and ethical to our fellow humans, especially when they’re suffering the psychological trauma of a social shaming. Plus we’re all terrified that at any moment it might happen to us! This book offers comfort and advice to the unfairly shamed and guidanceto would-be shamers about more thoughtful ways to consider the complexities of every human being.

I’d like quote to you something that Matthew Hosier, the leader of the Gateway Baptist church, shared with his congregation and online followers about the book:

‘Shame is powerful. It can destroy people. And as Ronson concludes, the threat of public shaming is creating a new conformity in western culture. We see ourselves as nonconformist, but I think all of this is creating a more conformist age. ‘Look!’ we’re saying. ‘WE’RE normal! THIS is the average!’ We are defining the boundaries of normality by tearing apart the people outside of it.’ Ronson’s observations are of clear interest to the gospel preacher. The message of Christ covering our shame is likely to gain increasing resonance in a culture that increasingly understands and fears social shaming. In this climate the promise that ‘hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts’ should find real traction. It is a message that people need to hear.’

Thank you for listening.

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