A Triumph in Massachusetts: Alexie’s Work Remains In Curriculum

It has been a formidable year for Sherman Alexie, whose Young Adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has been challenged several times, due to would-be censors’ unease about sexual and violent content. Alexie’s book was challenged in Helena, Montana, swapped out of the curriculum at Hastings Middle School in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, banned from classrooms in Prineville, Oregon, banned in Stockton, Missouri (for not reflecting “community values”) and, by one vote, was banned from all grades by the School Board of Richland, Washington.

In fact, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian placed second on the Christian Science Monitor’s2010 list of the most frequently-challenged books.

But recently, a storm that had brewed around Alexie’s book in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts came to a conclusion. At Old Rochester Regional Junior High school, a parent complained that the work was not appropriate for eighth-graders. When the book was initially challenged, the Powers That Be were tempted to simply pull the book to avoid conflict, stating that a proper policy for reconsideration did not exist in the school district. One resourceful librarian, however, located the policy in the district’s manual and presented it to the superintendent.

In a faith-restoring move, the school board agreed to keep the book in the eighth-grade curriculum, with the condition that an “opt-out” book (in this case Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, which deals with similar themes) be offered to students whose parents felt uncomfortable with Part Time Indian.

It’s important to note the way this was handled. Making an opt-out book available as a compromise is one of NCAC’s long-standing recommended practices for educators facing book challenges. Schools should respect the right of parents to determine what material is appropriate for their own children, but no parent is entitled to override a teachers’ professional judgment and play “content cop” for every child in the community.

The opt-out compromise, and the overall meeting itself, was described as “a polite give and take,” which is far better than many of the horror stories of late surrounding challenged books. We also appreciate that the school board and all concerned parties made sure to actually READ the book before making a decision. One can hope that future incidents will be handled with such diplomacy!

So, without further ado,

Congratulations to Sherman Alexie and Old Rochester Regional Junior High!

References:

Tri-state newspaper article on the Mattapoisett incident

South Coast Today article

Christian Science Monitor article

Previously, on NCAC…

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One Response to A Triumph in Massachusetts: Alexie’s Work Remains In Curriculum

  1. Dan Kleinman says:

    “[B]ut no parent is entitled to override a teachers’ professional judgment and play ‘content cop’ for every child in the community.”

    That never happens. But it does make for an emotional message. In reality, any person is allowed to have a school review material under its selection policy. If the material is removed as a result of that review, then the material is removed as a result of that review, and not as a result of a “parent … overrid[ing] a teachers’ professional judgment and play[ing] ‘content cop’ for every child in the community.”

    By the way, the courts have ruled that school superintendents get to “override a teachers’ professional judgment and play ‘content cop’ for every child in the community.” See Evans-Marshall v Bd. of Educ. – 2010 – schools set curricula, not teachers pushing inappropriate material.

    And the “opt-out compromise” is no compromise at all. Pressure is huge for kids not to choose an alternative, and if they do, they are left out of the discussion, effectively separate and not equal. Kids go to school to learn, not be separated out for unequal treatment that may effectively turn into bullying by other students and even by the teacher and other school employees.

    I have been a teacher for many years. There is no way I would provide lessons to only a portion of my class.

    Schools have gotten rid of Christmas for fear a few people might be offended. But when it comes to offensive reading material, suddenly an “opt-out compromise” is a “polite give and take.” Okay then, let’s fire up the Christmas Concerts again and those offended can choose an opt-out compromise. Let’s ditch the “Winter Break” and have a week off for Christmas Break and Easter Break. No, that might offend somebody. We can’t do that. So why allow kids to “opt out” instead of teaching all kids?

    The double standards are unending.

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