The Bronze Bow
Informational Sheet for Parents
In Davidson Middle School's Advanced 7th Grade Core classes, required reading includes The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare. Although the book is well-written, it has a strong and inappropriate religious bias. This sheet is intended to provide you with a simple, balanced view of the issue and who is involved, and to ask you to let your opinions be known.
Our group of concerned parents and community leaders ha
ve asked Davidson
to make the book optional reading (in the library) instead of required reading for all
children in the classroom.
normal parents from mixed
religious backgrounds with a healthy
respect for the schools. We believe in public schools, think our kids have
Community leaders have added their voices as well. They include Rabbis for the two main congregations in Marin (Kol Shofar and Rodef Sholom), a prominent Presbyterian minister with a history of involvement at Davidson, and a nationally recognized First Amendment scholar (whose guidelines on religion in public schools have been sent to every school district in the nation by the Clinton and Bush administrations) .
What’s Wrong with the Book?
It promotes one religion over another. Making it required reading violates State standards and First Amendment requirements of religious neutrality in schools.
The book strongly promotes a Christian message while contrasting it with a biased and inaccurate image of Judaism. The author’s intent, as explained in her Newbery Award acceptance speech, was to glorify Jesus and make him appealing to young people in her Sunday School class.
The Bronze Bow is the story of Daniel, a Jewish boy whose father was murdered by the Romans. Obsessed with anger and revenge, he first joins a violent band of radicals, then encounters Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is radiantly portrayed with overwhelming charisma, while Jewish traditions are consistently denigrated as onerous to the poor and distorted so as to associate them with rigid laws and inequality. In the end, the protagonist makes a dramatic choice to accept Jesus, and suddenly all his problems are solved.
The book also contains passages suggesting that the Rabbis intended to kill Jesus. In so doing, this book promotes a religiously-based charge that is both extremely controversial, and directly responsible for 2,000 years of anti-Semitism.
We have great respect for Christian beliefs and do not want to offend anyone. However, this book is inappropriate for use as required reading because it uses a false picture of one religion in order to promote belief in another.
Is This "Book Banning"?
Absolutely not. We want the book to remain available in the library. As parents and community members, we just want to make sure that required reading material for our children is appropriate and not religiously biased – particularly when there are plenty of alternative books available that don't have these controversial aspects to them. That’s not “banning”, it's being “responsible”.
Are Teachers Being Attacked?
No. We think the teachers who used this book were excellent and we don’t believe they harbor any religious bias whatsoever. We’ve been lucky to have them in our kids’ lives.
Does the Book Match State Standards
No. The book doesn’t meet the Department of Education’s standards, which require that materials on religious matter “must remain neutral [and] must not advocate one religion over another.” It also mischaracterizes Judaism in ways that the Department of Education intentionally eliminated from recent history textbooks.
Is the Book "Recommended" or "Approved" by the State?
It is on a 1993 list of Recommended Literature for History Social Sciences. “Approval” however can only happen at a district level. The State Recommended Lists are meant to bring attention to well written books so that they can be further evaluated at a district level for content and appropriateness to local needs. Old lists remain recommended but it is important to note that the State has no mechanism to ever “un-recommend” a book
We have no idea whether any of the issues we've raised here were looked at when "The Bronze Bow" was originally recommended in 1993.
The State fully expects that even previously “approved” books may come up for re-consideration at a district level and doesn't expect “recommended” status to interfere with that.. It is perfectly appropriate to look at it now.
What Can Be Done?
Let's Find a More Appropriate Book. Leaving this book in the curriculum is simply not appropriate; this is a book that denigrates one religion to promote another. Any other solution leaves us with the potential for class reading groups to break down along religious lines. We have presented alternate books that focus far better on the unit’s theme (Roman history) without raising divisive issues.
Are We Against Teaching About Religion?
Of course not. Today more than ever our children need to understand the world’s diverse religious and cultural traditions. We need to be emphasizing common ground though, not taking sides. We must distinguish between teaching facts about religions and using books that preach the doctrines of one religion over another.
Why Wasn’t This Resolved at Davidson?
We tried. We went to the 7th Grade Advanced Core teachers last spring (2006), but after responding in a series emails, they declined to meet with us in person. We asked for a meeting with the principal at that time, but were not granted one until a week after school was out. At that meeting, the principal explained that he agreed with the teachers, but cut short serious discussion by saying that his opinion didn't matter as he could do nothing anyway, and that we had to take our concerns to a higher level (the Curriculum Advisory Council). This ended any opportunities for meaningful dialogue on the book that school year.
What Happened at the CAC ?
This was discussed at 2 meetings of the CAC in September and October this year. Unfortunately, constrictive procedural rules limited public participation to an intial period at the beginning of each meeting. After that the Council discussed things only among themselves. Sadly, we feel this process failed to provide meaningful dialogue on the issues.
We do not blame the members of the CAC who no doubt had the best of intentions, but believe the process itself was badly flawed. It did not serve the issues, the district, nor even the members of the CAC itself who deserved a better dialogue.
Unfortunately, our group which had thought long and hard about every aspect of this issue was completely excluded from dialogue. We watched issues go by that cried out for deeper clarification but we could say nothing.
At the first meeting we submitted a great deal of written material and spoke for about 15 minutes. Rev Doug Huneke spoke in our support and 2 teachers and Mr. Colucci spoke forcefully in defense of the book (see below). The council addressed the issue at the next meeting in October.
At that meeting the first member to speak said she was very uncomfortable telling a teacher what they could use in a classroom and this set the tone for the entire meeting.
At no time in the discussion that followed did anyone question whether the book violated State guidelines or law, whether it was historically accurate, whether it promoted one religion or denigrated another - in short none of our objections were discussed in any detail and the book itself was never re-examined. All discussion centered around how it might be used, not whether it should be. We found this surprising and very disappointing.
Despite this however, oddly the discussion did seem to implicitly accept some of our arguments. Members discussed whether special curriculum could address the biases of the book, and the superintendent left the meeting telling us it would now be optional and that a specific curriculum would be created for it.. However the resolution passed by the Council did not mandate any change at all in how the book is used. We found this confusing.
The obvious questions – if this book needs so much special attention why is it being retained, or what this special curriculum was even supposed to address, were not even asked. The CAC sent this recommendation on to the school board, which makes all final decisions.
The Bronze Bow is expected to be an information item at the December school board meeting, at Coleman School, on December 11th, at 6:30 p.m.
Is the Situation Escalating?
Unfortunately. At the first CAC meeting in September, Davidson’s principal compared us to Nazi sympathizers and Holocaust deniers demanding the removal of The Diary of Anne Frank. We’ve been repeatedly dismissed as “book banners,” a misleading label that has been used as an excuse to avoid discussing this issue on its merits and that distorts our thoughts, goals, and concerns.
Can the Situation Improve?
Of course. Children and schools benefit greatly when parents and educators work closely together to ensure that public education supports societal values without undermining family and religious convictions.
What Can You Do?
Read the book. Davidson should have plenty of copies available.
Make Your Opinion Known. Let’s have an intelligent, fair and open discussion, focused on what's best for our kids.
Contact info for the School Board:
Jenny Callaway, firstname.lastname@example.org
Natu Tuatagaloa, email@example.com
Linda Jackson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Knell, email@example.com
Jon Loberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact info for the District Office:
Laura Alvarenga, Superintendent, email@example.com
Becky Rosales, Asst. Superintendent, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want more information:
Educate yourself about these issues by reading support material and historical background at our websites:
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