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Novel Classes in Whittier Schools : Education: Lesson preparation is getting more creative and taking more time as teachers scramble to find alternative material to controversial reader textbooks.

December 14, 1989|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WHITTIER — It was a freedom John Fulford was not expecting.

For years Fulford and other teachers in the East Whittier City School District had been teaching their classes by "the book," a carefully selected reading text with a detailed manual on how to explain the material.

But suddenly the teachers found themselves without the books. The school board voted two weeks ago to send the controversial Holt "Impressions" series, labeled "morbid and tainted" by some parents, back to the publisher because district officials said the readers were not what they had ordered.

It is up to the teachers to find temporary replacements for books until administrators establish a new elementary school reading list. The issue will be discussed at the Jan. 8 school board meeting.

Some teachers deplore their new freedom--mostly because it requires them to spend much more time planning their classes; others relish it.

"We have received by default what the Los Angeles teachers went on strike for," said Fulford, president of the teacher's union.

No more step-by-step manuals; the East Whittier teachers are calling their own shots.

Teachers are picking everything from nursery rhymes to Greek mythology from a state-approved list.

Fulford, a fourth-grade teacher at Evergreen School, said his students enjoy the mythology. "They especially like the woman with all the snakes coming out of her head," he said--a notion that might not sit too well with some parents who disapproved of the "Impressions" series. The series had been criticized for its graphic tales, which included monsters that decapitate children and excrement--eating pigs.

The parents complained that the tales promoted devil worship and an interest in witchcraft.

Some East Whittier teachers have chosen more tame short stories, in place of the controversial texts.

Shirley Burns, a fifth-grade teacher at Murphy Ranch School, said her students are reading "A Cricket in Times Square," a tale she has long enjoyed. Next, she is planning to use "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." A few teachers are scheduling plays and puppet shows.

Since the Holt series was banned, teachers have been delving into their personal libraries, school libraries and classroom reserves to find other material.

Some teachers are going to school supply stores to buy new books, a costly alternative.

Nancy Simerly, a first-grade teacher at Evergreen School, said she has spent nearly $300 of her own money on books. "It's costing me a fortune," Simerly said.

Since the textbook controversy started, administrators in the East Whittier district said teachers would have to be creative and expect a few difficulties.

At least one difficulty has surfaced that officials did not foresee: long lines at the copy machines.

Teachers, scrambling to provide pupils with reading material, have been falling over each other to make copies of stories, Fulford said.

"One school is complaining that the Xerox machine is falling to bits," Fulford said. "Another is guarding its Xerox machine like a jewel. At East Whittier, the future is definitely in Xerox paper. It's going to be damned expensive."

But, Fulford said, a good teacher should be able to overcome any hurdle.

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