The Pillars of the Earth BY Follet, Ken

Parents say novel pornographic

By Pete Kendall/

Dr. Ted and Maureen Benke say it was never their intention to try to have the Ken Follett book, “Pillars of the Earth,” banned from the Cleburne High School library.

But they did want it eliminated from a reading list of a CHS senior English class of which their son is a member. And they’re gratified that Cleburne Superintendent Dr. Ronny Beard granted that desire.

“He said an alternate choice [of books] would be made,” Ted Benke told Times-Review editor Dale Gosser on Thursday. “That was this Tuesday.”

“We’re thrilled with the superintendent’s decision to remove the book,” Maureen Benke told Gosser. “We feel he made the right decision for all future students of Cleburne High School and that it was indeed worth the effort to have this kind of outcome.”

Members of Concerned Parents and Citizens, whose membership includes the Benkes, are expected to request time to speak in the public forum segment of Monday’s school board meeting. Likewise, citizens in favor of the book’s inclusion on the reading list. CPAC was formed in early October, when the Benkes filed a grievance against use of the book.

“We started out with four members,” Maureen Benke said. “I can provide you with a list of 900 names now.”

The issue began last summer when English IV dual/AP students were directed to read the Follett book.

“You will be asked to read your novel during the summer and participate in an online discussion with a small group of your peers,” a three-page typed directive from English department chairman Sherri Bell said in part. “There is no definitive timeline concerning the online discussions since everyone reads at different rates, and everyone will have different schedules through the summer. However, I expect everyone to post one entry for each assignment that is at least 7-10 sentences (more if you are so inclined) in length and to respond to two other members of the group (more if you wish).”

The directive also included a statement reading, “Alternate assignment is Edward Rutherford’s “London” if you find reading occasional sex, violence and language unacceptable.”

The Benkes say they didn’t become aware of the sexual content in Follett’s book until their son began reading it.

“We read the book and found it to be pornographic,” Maureen Benke said. “We made an appointment to meet with Mrs. Bell, and Mrs. Bell asked [Prinicipal] Monte Pritchett to be at the meeting, which was fine with nus. At the time of the meeting, we told Mrs. Bell and Mr. Pritchett that we thought the book was inappropriate for curriculum use. We asked them to please remove it from the curriculum. We gave them the reasons we thought the pornographic nature of the book made it unacceptable.”

“The key points we made were that the American Library Association did not recommend the book for anyone under the age of 18,” Ted Benke added, “that the book had no special merit and had not won any awards. It wasn’t on any special list except for Oprah’s Book Club. We checked with approximately 15 school districts in this area including Keller, Southlake and Highland Park, and none of them had the book on their summer reading lists.”

The Benkes said the reading list directive did not include space for parents to voice their objections to the books.

“There is a general belief system in place that parents are ignorant of many things that their children read because of trust,” Maureen Benke said. “We trusted [Bell] to choose reasonable material. Without our knowledge or permission, she was assigning this book to our son.”

Bell did not return a phone call from the Times-Review seeking comment. Pritchett referred all questions to school district spokesperson Lisa Magers.

The Benkes said they also objected to the directive for students to chat about the book in an online format.

“No parental control is too loose for us to be comfortable,” Maureen Benke said.

They said their meeting with Bell and Pritchett culminated “with Mr. Pritchett saying he would read the book,” Maureen Benke said. “We had sent him a list of references for pages to read if he didn’t have time to read the whole book. We understood that. It’s 1,200 pages. I don’t believe we ever got a direct answer whether he had read all the excerpts.”

“He said he had read some reviews,” Ted Benke said, “that maybe there were some racy parts. However, he thought it was okay. He said if we wanted to take it further, we would need to fill out an Exhibit A to go to the curriculum committee to appeal his decision. We started that process around October. We got the material to Dr. [Darlene] Callender [assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction] and asked her to review our grievance.”

The Benkes said Callender initially told them a curriculum committee had ruled in 1998 that the book was acceptable as reading list curriculum.

“She said the school district attorney told her the district would never have to convene on that book again because it had already done so,” Maureen Benke said. “Then we got another call from Dr. Callender’s office, telling us that it had been over 10 years, so the district had consented to form a new committee. They were in the process of forming that committee when the superintendent made his executive decision to excuse the book from the curriculum.” (Source: Cleburne Times-Review)