District Responds to 'Highly Controversial Films" Complaint

A Hinsdale South dad voiced concern over the use of "American Beauty" and "Brokeback Mountain" in a Film as Literature class, sparking a bit of debate among parents.

In response to a recent complaint from a parent about the school's showing of the films "American Beauty" and "Brokeback Mountain" in a film as literature class, District 86 released the following letter to the community:

Dear Hinsdale Township High School District 86 Community:

I’m writing today regarding a recent curriculum objection filed by the parent of a Hinsdale South senior regarding the newly reintroduced “Film as Literature” course, which is offered as an English elective that junior- and senior-level students may voluntarily choose to take in order to fulfill their graduation requirements. This course examines topics related to the adaptation of various forms of literature to film.

The selections screened during this course can contain R-rated films, which the Motion Picture Association of America suggests children under 17 to view in the presence of an accompanying parent or adult guardian.  District 86 instructional policy states that no R-rated movies shall be shown to students unless prior approval is received from the building principal. More importantly, this course requires that parents of all students in this course provide informed consent through a signed permission slip confirming that their child may view each selection. Any parent who objects to a particular film selection may indicate as such and that student will be provided an alternate assignment in the course with no academic penalty.  All parents of students in this class have provided informed consent by signing the permission slip that allows for their child to watch the movies identified in the syllabus of Films as Literature.

On September 12, the parent of a Hinsdale South high school senior, who had previously provided permission for his child to view all of the films listed on the “Film as Literature” course syllabus, filed a formal curriculum objection to two selections: “Brokeback Mountain” and “American Beauty.”

The District conforms with the Illinois School Code Section 10-20.8 requirements regarding instructional curriculum. This is the first time in my eight years that District 86 has received any curriculum objections.

Selections in the “Film as Literature” course were chosen based on their ability to achieve the course objectives as detailed in the syllabus provided to students and parents at the beginning of the semester.  “Brokeback Mountain,” for example, addresses objectives in a unit on text adaptations.  The story itself, by Annie Proulx, won multiple awards, and the screenwriters and the director made many decisions for the film that offer valuable topics for discussion.  These include the genres of both romance and Western, story-to-film, cinematography, music and themes.  In addition, the film helps to balance other films in the course in terms of genres, styles, time periods, themes and techniques.  “American Beauty” has similar qualities.  It synthesizes many cinematic elements and offers many topics and themes for study.

These films will remain on the course syllabus pending the District’s handling of the formal curriculum objection based on its Uniform Grievance Procedure as detailed in Board Policy 2:260.

Hinsdale Township High School District 86 is proud of the academic quality and integrity of the curriculum delivered in our schools. Teaching and learning in the District is continuously monitored to assure effectiveness and to enable improvement. We take parent and community concerns on this topic seriously and our handling of this matter will be conducted with the utmost professionalism and respect. Our commitment is to provide the best possible learning environment for each student and for all students to learn as much as possible in order to maximize their future opportunities.


Dr. Nicholas D. Wahl

Superintendent of Schools

Hinsdale Township H.S. District 86

Jack September 20, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Want another moral from the film? Sometimes the most ultra-conservative "upright" citizens can be hypocrites who are struggling against their own morals and strike out intolerantly in violent and hateful ways. This could be the moral that you don't want your kid to learn. The most despicable character in the film is a hateful father of a teenage boy. He beats his son when he thinks that his son might be gay. Ironically, this same father makes a gay pass at the main character. When his feelings aren't returned, this father murders the man who rejected him. Does this portray ultra-conservative people as murderers? Nope. But it does suggest that these people are more likely to commit hate crimes. (ever heard of a group of gays and lesbians beating up a heterosexual to death for his or her sexuality?) In fact, this film could be a real-life warning to kids for these types of people. Here's something from today's news: A 54-year-old ultra-conservative gay-bashing minister of the one of the midwest's largest churches is pleading guilty to transporting an underage girl across state lines for sexual activity. Other articles say that he used his religious influence to seduce this girl. Wow, maybe "American Beauty" is a good film to warn young ladies again such hyprocites. http://www.suntimes.com/news/crime/15235177-418/fired-first-baptist-pastor-to-plead-guilty-in-sex-scandal-involving-17-year-old.html
Jack September 20, 2012 at 01:04 AM
While at South, I have had lots of controversial issues in lessons. We did view Hitler's propoganda films to learn about the dangers of being seduced by his strategies. I don't think anybody ran off to be a dictator because of that. We watched "Schindler's List," which contains far more nudity, violence, sex, and disturbing images than either "Brokeback Mountain" or "American Beauty." Is "Schindler" okay because it doesn't contain gays? We read "Romeo & Juliet" which shows a father pawning off his 13-year-old daughter to a much older man (talk about pedophilia!), discusses many graphic sexual details about men's attitudes towards women, & clearly implies that Mercutio has a "gay attraction" to Romeo (see wikipedia again on the evidence by literary experts). You must RESPECT my right to a comprehensive education. You can take your child out of a movie, book, or unit that might disturb your morals. So, I'm not saying that the school should force your child to experience these things. But don't ban lessons that don't coincide with beliefs now held by a minority of Americans (and beliefs that are not supported by science & psychology). I'm going to college in a few months. Don't you trust that my parents have given me a solid education in morals to know what's right & wrong? Don't you trust your own child to make those judgments on his or her own by now? I completely respect your views & your right to them. But don't silence other voices because they don't match your views.
David September 21, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Jack, Jack, Jack, Give the man a medal. The main character decides not to have sex with teenage daughters friend. Wow if that is the moral lesson you just made my argument. This movie is just for entertainment. It has no moral question. You keep bringing other movies up. Clockwork Orange is a movie full of moral questions, would I recomend it for a 16 year, no.
Mike Neberz September 23, 2012 at 03:19 PM
David...I think you need to reread the posts. I do speak of tolerance and I am not intolerant of those who think those movies are inappropriate. You can go back and look, but I clearly stated...if you don't want your kids to watch them, then don't let them watch them. Nothing at all wrong with that. What I DON'T want to see happen is 'one man's opinion' speaking for the group. If a teacher and a school district see the value in a lesson, then respect the experts in their field to teach our kids...the same community you moved into to pay taxes and allow your children to be educated in. Again, don't sign the consent form...that is ALWAYS your prerogative as a parent. I want everyone to have the freedom to make choices...across the board. However, if you limit those choices, before we can make them, then "open-mindedness" never reaches the community, for the decision has already been made...by YOU. Neither of us wants that. :)
Mike Neberz September 23, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Just so you know, David, ...I read AND watched Clockwork Orange in high school in my HONORS English class. And, ready for this, David...I went to Marist High School...a Catholic high school. Hmmmm...sorry to break the bad news to you, but you CAN learn about diversity, culture AND religion all at the same time. Trust your educators...your kids just might learn from them too! :)


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