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.
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!