“The Glass Castle” to remain in GHS curriculum with alterations


Ohana Sarvotham

A community member speaks in support of Jeannette Walls’s memoir, “The Glass Castle,” at the first of two meetings to reconsider the book in Grinnell-Newburg High School curriculum.

Taylor Nunley, Staff Writer

Cameron Thompson sits at the front of the room and turns toward the rest of the audience with a mic in hand.
Cameron Thompson (on right with microphone), a 16-year-old sophomore at Grinnell High School, spoke at the session and advocated for “The Glass Castle” to remain in the GHS curriculum. (Nadia Langley)

The Grinnell-Newburg Community School District’s Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Committee unanimously decided that Jeannette Walls’s memoir “The Glass Castle” will remain in Grinnell-Newburg High School’s (GHS) ninth-grade English curriculum with alterations. This decision was reached in a closed-door deliberation following the committee’s second public session on May 3. 

The alterations presented by the committee include permission slips sent home to parents of GHS students two weeks before the beginning of the unit featuring “The Glass Castle,” school counselors making resources available to students regarding contentious topics present in the book — including sexual assault and abuse — and the assurance that alternate learning materials will adhere to the class’ unit template to “provide an inclusive classroom environment,” according to Janet Stutz, superintendent for schools, in an email to the S&B. 

According to Stutz, anyone is able to appeal this decision to the Grinnell-Newburg Board of Education. In the case of an appeal, the board will announce a timeline for further public deliberation.

This decision was reached following two public sessions, held on April 19 and May 3, at the Drake Community Library, during which the Reconsideration Committee heard from students, parents and other members of the Grinnell community.

An hour before the May 3 committee meeting, around 40 GHS and Grinnell College students joined together outside the library to stage a demonstration in support of keeping the teaching of Walls’s book unaltered in GHS classrooms. 

A large portion of demonstrators were dressed in all black at the request of organizers including GHS students and Loyal Terry `23. Terry said the goal of the demonstration and attendance at the committee meeting itself was to “take up space” and listen to GHS students. 

Elisabeth Kelley-Chown, 15 and a freshman at GHS, said she disagrees with parents’ complaints that the content of the book is inappropriate. “They’re treating us like we’re two years old,” she said at the demonstration. 

During the public comment section of the meeting, another GHS freshman said the belief that ninth-graders cannot understand the topics discussed in “The Glass Castle” “is not only ignorant but, quite frankly, insulting.”

Karen Cooper stands among the audience with hands raised.
Karen Cooper (standing) suggested at the May 3 meeting that conservative moral values were being bashed. (Nadia Langley)

The freshman student, who asked to remain unnamed to shield herself from unwanted repercussions with those who disagree with her, pointed to historical events taught in history classes that are often seen as “uncomfortable,” such as the Holocaust. She emphasized the irony of parents not finding the teachings of these events inappropriate or filing challenge forms for these specific teachings. She also shared how she was assigned to read Tara Westover’s memoir “Educated,” which features religion as a central theme, during her freshman year at GHS. Despite being uncomfortable with the topic, she said she still read the book because “it’s not fair” to request different individual instruction. 

“If we assume 14-year-olds can’t handle this … you’ll produce a bunch of 14-year-olds who can’t deal with this,” Toby Rivas `23 said.

Karen Cooper, a grandparent of a GHS student, voiced her concerns over the inclusion of Walls’s book in the curriculum at the April 19 committee meeting. At the May 3 meeting, Cooper said, “Conservative moral values are being bashed.” 

“Is there something wrong with being conservative?” Cooper asked. 

Two community members spoke out against students using the word “ban” to describe the possible alteration of “The Glass Castle” in the classroom. 

“Nobody is wanting to ban this book,” said Tina Frost, who noted she was not in attendance at the April 19 session. “They’re just saying maybe it shouldn’t be mandatory.”

Gavin Wagner stands among the audience holding a microphone.
Gavin Wagner `23 (standing center), who works as a substitute teacher in the Grinnell-Newburg district, voiced his opinion that removing “The Glass Castle” from the curriculum removes it from a space of critical thought. (Nadia Langley)

“Not all 14- and 15-year-olds can [handle this],” Frost added, listing content in the book she referred to as “rape, incest and the bastardization of Jesus Christ.” 

Several students and educators spoke out against the proposed book removal from ninth-grade classes with the compromise of it remaining available in the library. According to Kelley-Chown, removing the book from the curriculum would “effectively ban” it. 

“When you remove a book from the curriculum, you remove it from any critical thought. You remove it from any guidance that makes it make sense,” said Gavin Wagner `23, who is also a substitute teacher for the Grinnell-Newburg district.   

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to specify that Karen Cooper made a public comment voicing her concerns over the inclusion of “The Glass Castle” in the GHS curriculum at the April 19 meeting, not at the May 3 meeting. The S&B regrets this error. Updated May 5, 2023, 2:33 p.m.