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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Closing the book on personal finance class

BEDFORD – Complaints from one student’s parents could lead to the removal of a book from the Bedford High School curriculum for the first time.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s nonfiction account of working minimum-wage jobs, titled “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” was assigned to students in Bedford High’s personal finance class this semester, but its future use is in question after parents have challenged its content.

Dennis Taylor and his wife, Aimee, asked the school district to review the book in October. The parents read it after their son had been complaining about it for weeks and felt the book’s obscene dialogue, anti-capitalist message and portrayal of Christians was inappropriate for school. They have since removed their son from Bedford High and are teaching him at home.

Superintendent Tim Mayes sent a memo on Nov. 19 that requested other options be used “in addition to or in place of the current text” until further review can be completed by the Curriculum Committee.

Mayes said he has met with staff and reviewed the use of the book and its relation to the course objectives.

“Nickel and Dimed” isn’t being used because it has “run its course” in the program, Mayes said, and more evaluation will be completed before it’s used again.

The goal is to have the Curriculum Committee make a final recommendation before the second semester begins on Jan. 24, Mayes said. If a decision hasn’t been made by then, he said the book won’t be used at least until next year.

The 2001 book is Ehrenreich’s story after she worked at multiple low-income jobs and had difficulty making a living off her wages.

Her objective was to look at welfare reform and how it affects low-income America, which could be a wake-up call for Bedford students who likely are unfamiliar with living in poverty.

The median household income in Bedford is fourth-highest in the state at $110,789, according to 1999 census data and adjusted for inflation. The state’s community profile also shows that only 1.6 percent of Bedford families are below the poverty level.

Mayes said he read the book after the Taylors’ complaint, and he said the book’s value depends on how each teacher uses the text. From his conversations with staff this fall, Mayes said the book wasn’t used on “a consistent basis” by teachers.

“The representations of limitations as a minimum-wage worker are accurate, but it’s unfortunate that the author has a style that is a little bit sarcastic and caused concern among parents,” Mayes said.

“There are other resources out there that would get after the same topic.”

The personal finance class is a graduation requirement and is often taken in junior or senior years. Mayes said there are six or seven sections taught each semester.

“The purpose of the course is to have kids see how important getting an education is so that they can have multiple options available to them for jobs and a career,” Mayes said. “If they don’t pursue additional education beyond high school, they could end up with a job that is minimum wage, which is quite limiting on their life.”

School Board Chairman Terry Wolf said “Nickel and Dimed” was used both semesters last year and this fall.

There will be a School Board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday to start preliminary discussions about the book with public input. Dennis Taylor requested time on the agenda and has been added, Wolf said.

The Taylors didn’t return a call from The Telegraph for comment.

The American Library Association said there was one prior challenge to the book’s use in February at Easton Area High School in Pennsylvania.

A resident in the district challenged the book for its religious viewpoint, political viewpoint, drug references and inaccuracies.

It was the first time in 15 years that a book had been challenged in the Easton Area School District.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or