The purpose of the CHMCA is to advocate for the minority community in Cherry Hill, especially for the children. The group had already had been concerned about how minorities were treated in Cherry Hill. So when a group of students, including Bill and Pat McCargo's daughter, objected to the way Huck Finn was taught in their eleventh grade class, the CHMCA felt something had to be done.
The CHMCA worried, however, that even after a formal complaint nothing substantial would happen. They decided that, if there was no compromise, "we had no recourse but to ask them to pull the book," remembers Pat McCargo. This decision sparked a heated internal debate between those who believed books should never be banned and those who saw banning as a viable last resort. Once the CHMCA met with the other groups, though, it quickly became obvious that banning Huck Finn wouldn't be necessary.
- Make sure you know what's going on in your children's classrooms. Get to know the administration of the school so that if you need to question something, you can do so in the context of a prior relationship.
- Realize that some teachers will initially respond, "Parents cannot tell us how to teach." Emphasize that you simply want your concerns addressed but that you are not going to try to rewrite their curriculum for them.
- Read or reread the book, curriculum, or other material you are objecting to so you see the problem in context.
- Be firm. Outline your concerns, be clear about what has not been done in the past, and ask that your issues be addressed now.
- Stay open-minded. As Bill McCargo notes, "True communication gets you from resistance to support.". Bring everyone together and let them speak their minds. "After that first meeting," remembers McCargo, "parents left realizing, 'Oh yeah, it's not such a great idea to ban books' and teachers left saying, 'I had no idea the kids felt that bad.'"
- Talk about everything. Danny Elmore, Vice President of the CHMCA at the time, noted that in the committee's discussion everyone avoided dealing with the word "nigger" by saying instead, "that word." "I said, 'No, let's talk about it -- not 'that word' but 'nigger.' Then I read a passage where it was used about thirty times." The power of the word seemed to make the parents' concerns clear to everyone. "I think we all left that meeting feeling like we were finally going to get something done," says Elmore.
- If they are not already invited, ask to have experts or other objective outsiders brought in to give their perspectives.
Next: Perspectives from Cherry Hill: Teachers