Sweet Home parents protest 'Part-Time Indian'

2014-01-31T08:30:00Z 2014-03-11T21:56:31Z Sweet Home parents protest 'Part-Time Indian'By Jennifer Moody, Albany Democrat-Herald Albany Democrat Herald

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."

Jennifer Moody is the education reporter for the Democrat-Herald. She can be reached at 541-812-6113 or jennifer.moody@lee.net.

Copyright 2015 Albany Democrat Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. RADriver
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    RADriver - February 19, 2014 2:16 pm
    I am curious how many of the parents against this book monitor the shows their children watch on TV, videos they view on phones and pc's, who their children hang out with, and where they go. We keep track, we also said it was OK for our student to read the book, after checking into the book ourselves. 15 people have an issue with the book, so when should less than 1% dictate what the other 99% should do, read, or learn? Personally I feel glad that they want to be an active part of their children's education, but where is the outrage over the bullying that goes on at our schools that is far worse to a child's development than what is in that book.
  2. MoniqueWS
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    MoniqueWS - February 13, 2014 2:46 pm
    People (even kids) like scary/sad movies and books because it is a safe way to experience scary/sad stuff. We can turn it over in our mind and heart maybe discovering how we feel about scary subjects.

    One of the things books are really great at is introducing us to subjects we might or might not otherwise be exposed to. A book read and shared in class is a great place to begin. It allows students the time and space to become acquainted with difficult subjects. We can often discuss what we don't understand or appreciate.

    Adults can use this as a springboard to discussions with their kids. Adults and parents can share their values and use this an their opportunity to start.
  3. bubbabear64
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    bubbabear64 - February 04, 2014 10:21 am
    There's plenty of racism, alcoholism, and sex going on the streets of Sweet Home everyday (especially during the Jamboree). I'm sure that running the school schedule to four days a week doesn't help the cause either (I'm sure the local Baptist church isn't going to admit that). I've read the book in a college class before and it is a story about the real world told from the viewpoint of a thirteen year old based on the authors own experiences growing up on a reservation in Spokane.

    I suppose the school district could teach a real history curriculum about how white people came into the Northwest and took over, putting Native American children into Christian orphanages, educating them that their culture wasn't Godly, infecting many with the small pox virus, and a territorial constitution that only recognized only white people. I guess that is why Sherman wrote the book in the first place rather than a right wing white blowhard of a college dropout / radio DJ writing his own narcissistic history books.
  4. justjohn
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    justjohn - February 04, 2014 9:28 am
    I was at the meeting and will say it was totally out of control due to the ineffectiveness of the board chairman. He allowed open discussion (non board members) on only one side of the issue. I am a hard core libertarian, one of the few true to the bone liberals there are, I did not read the book or make a judgment on the book until last Friday, when I was asked to do so. I would not want my 7th and 8th grade students around the book for many reasons. The first is the common core education (which I oppose) delegates reading levels; this book has a level score of 600. This makes the book acceptable for reading at a 3rd grade level (not that I would want them to read it either). The correct level for 6th to 8th grade is much higher (860-1010). I have read a number of “banned” books over my years and have found a number of them to have nothing I could find wrong with them. One thing we all must remember is that my rights end at the end of MY nose and yours end at the end of YOURS; the space in between is share and should be properly respect by all.
  5. CaraJJames
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    CaraJJames - February 03, 2014 8:02 pm
    Well said!
  6. CaraJJames
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    CaraJJames - February 03, 2014 7:42 pm
    There was a meeting this evening to select a "neutral" committee to review the use of the book. Unfortunately, many of the members of the committee, which were selected by the school board, are extremely biased and include such community members as a pastor from a local church. The next board meeting is February 10th at 6:30pm. I would encourage individuals concerned with our First Amendment rights to attend and show your outrage at censorship and book banning! There will be meetings of the committee formed tonight throughout the week, open to the public as well. Updates on when the meetings will occur can be viewed at: http://www.sweethome.k12.or.us/calendars/ or you can learn of them by calling the district offices @: 541-367-7126. SUPPORT OUR FREEDOMS!!
  7. Kathy59
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    Kathy59 - February 01, 2014 4:18 am
    There is no place in a class room for these sorts of books. If parents think their children should read it, then they should purchase or borrow from the library. I agree, there is all sorts of problems with young children today, but why condone it? Children don't need to have their minds force fed racism, alcoholism, and sex. There are other books out there that discuss these subjects without it being offensive and that deal with the subjects in ways that are appropriate.
  8. uzy173
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    uzy173 - January 31, 2014 9:34 pm
    Sweet Home.............
    Burn some books. Bring in the CMF money and watch the drunk people fight and have sex. You are kidding about this right? Anyone that has seen Sweet home in early August when the festival is in town has burning eyes reading this.
  9. kudasmom
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    kudasmom - January 31, 2014 3:51 pm
    Congratulations to Ms. Vian for not falling into the "banned books" philosophy. Discussions about the facts of history in America help avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
  10. scorpion
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    scorpion - January 31, 2014 11:51 am
    Oh my!! Will somebody please think of the children!!!!
    This is exactly why the kids coming out today do not have the necessary tools to deal with life. Unfortunately, there is racism, alcoholism...and yes even sex going on in the real world. Stop force feeding our young adults Clifford the Big Red Dog and Barney until they are 22.
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