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Highland Park Mom Withdraws Challenge Of The Book 'The Working Poor'

Update, Feb. 5: Meg Bakich, the Highland Park mom who made headlines last month by challenging to the book The Working Poor: Invisible in America​, apparently is backing off. On Thursday, the Highland Park school district sent an email announcing the withdrawal  of the protest against David Shipler's non-fiction book. The Dallas Morning News has more details.

Original post: The simmering debate in Highland Park over high school reading lists has flared up again with a new challenge to the book The Working Poor: Invisible in America.

Meg Bakich, a mother of five children in the Highland Park school district, does not want her kids to have to read it.

“It’s so evocative the way the author wrote it, with sexually explicit detail of a woman having an abortion, and a second grader having anal sex for the first time,” Bakich said on the conservative internet talk show, “Women On The Wall.”

"Marxist" and "socialist"

The book, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Shipler, is used in a college-level Advanced Placement English class, generally for high school juniors.

Bakich said the book was Marxist and socialist.

“It’s almost as if they want the children to apologize if they aren’t the working poor, or if they have capitalist ideals,” she said.

The Highland Park school reading lists became national news last fall when objections by parents prompted the superintendent to suspend seven books, The Working Poor among them. A backlash by alumni, authors, and other parents brought the books back into the curriculum, while the school board debates a policy change.

Poverty in a Rich Society 

David Shipler took umbrage at the idea that his book promoted socialism. He writes in the book against Marxist and socialist systems, having seen one firsthand as a correspondent for the New York Times in the former Soviet Union.

“To suggest that I’ve written a Marxist book when I actually denounce Marxism in the book suggests that the challenger read the book carelessly, if at all,” he said.

He also said that while “The Working Poor” is not about childhood sexual abuse, many of his subjects told him that childhood traumas had lasting effects on their lives and current circumstances.

“It was central to how they understood how they had come to where they were in their lives,” he said. For example, some of the people he portrays in the book “couldn’t trust men, they had low self-esteem, they didn’t have confidence that they could perform well on jobs or in school,” he said. He didn’t write graphic sexual content, he said. 

Hoping to end debate with new policy

Board meetings in the wealthy school district have been standing room only since last fall, with some parents arguing that teachers should choose books, while others that the community’s values are being undermined.

“Their only way out is to try to find a neutral educational decision-making process that doesn’t prefer one group of parents over the other,” said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. She has been involved in many similar book arguments across the country.

Among the policy changes that the board has proposed is a limit to multiple challenges to the same book, letting three years pass before hearing a complaint about a book that has already been challenged and approved for use in the classroom.

“Whereas it used to be in grade school and middle school, now we’re seeing challenges in high school and even in Advanced Placement classes,” Bertin said.

A formal review of Bakich’s complaint against The Working Poor begins soon, with a committee of parents, teachers and students.