Novel talks about sex, alcoholism and abuse
SWEET HOME — A controversial young adult novel may be up for removal from eighth-grade English classes at Sweet Home Junior High, depending on the recommendation of a review committee.
The Sweet Home School Board is holding a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the district office to appoint community members to a “Reconsideration of Instructional Materials” committee for the novel, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian." Board members will vote whether to accept the committee's recommendation.
Superintendent Don Schrader said he hopes to have the committee’s recommendation on the material by Feb. 10, the board’s next regular meeting.
The largely autobiographical novel by Native American author Sherman Alexie details the experiences of Arnold “Junior” Spirit, a 14-year-old who becomes the only Indian at an all-white school.
The 2007 novel has received numerous awards, but also has been banned in places for racist and profane statements made by some of the characters, and discussion of sex, abuse and alcoholism.
Schrader said language arts teachers Chelsea Gagner and Brian Gold first introduced the book a year ago. Some parents complained, which prompted him to pull the book because he felt due process hadn’t been followed.
This year, Schrader said, three weeks ahead of the study unit, the teachers sent out permission slips with a packet of information about the book. The packet included a summary of the controversial material and testimonials from last year's students.
They received 157 forms from parents who gave permission and 13 forms from parents asking for alternate material for their particular students.
Two of the parents who objected filled out a form asking the district for a reconsideration committee, in line with a district policy on adopting instructional material.
Gagner said she didn't help choose the book last year but fully endorses it as a way to incorporate multicultural literature instead of the usual "old white guys."
At 14, Alexie's narrator is funny and irreverent and confused and able to speak to students in a way they see as genuine and accessible, she said.
The racist terms and other material some readers find objectionable "is offensive, don't get me wrong," Gagner said. But it's the use, she said, that prompts the most intense discussions about racism, bullying, tolerance and the daily choices students make in handling relationships.
Like Junior, Alexie used education to overcome the poverty, depression and other obstacles in his background. That's a lesson eighth-graders in particular need to hear, before they decide that neither books nor classrooms are in their future, Gagner said.
"Diary," she said, "shows kids there are books out there that you can connect with and you can enjoy that you don't have to be forced to read just because you're in school."
Not all parents are comfortable with the book's discussion topics, however. Kristin Adams, whose daughter was a part of last year's class, said she knew nothing about the novel until another parent approached her. After reading a few chapters, Adams said she felt it was inappropriate in a school environment and agreed with the decision to pull it back until parents could sign off on its use.
But Tara Vian, whose son is currently reading the book, said she's fine with his teacher's choice.
"If you don't want your child reading it, then they don't have to," she wrote in a comment to the Democrat-Herald. "But why take it upon yourself to not have any child to read it? It's not up to you if it's not your child."