Lynne Hermansen
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will remain on the Gardner Edgerton High School 10th grade required English reading list.
Board members voted 6-1 at the Monday, Oct. 10 board meeting not to ban the book. Jeff Miller, board member, dissented.
Dr. Brian Huff, superintendent, said the committee that reviewed the book was reflective of the community with different perspectives.
“When you adopt a book there is a purpose to that,”he said. “There are considerations of how it fits in, is it challenging or content—does it have acceptable content for community standards.”
Dr. Huff said the book was carefully vetted by staff but the district could improve upon being more transparent.
“We will never have 100 percent support,”he said. “I understand we have different views and worries. What is the best overall and acceptable. We want the students to work through challenging materials. We want them to think and learn argumentation in an appropriate way—Socratic seminar.”
Dr. Huff said they really wanted books to make students think and question.
“Keep in mind novels are challenged for all sets of reasons,”he said.
Dr. Huff said staff and himself went through the reading lists.
“70 percent had been challenged or banned at some point,”he said.
Dr. Huff proceeded to list many books that had been banned throughout the country over the years from To Kill a Mockingbird, Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hamlet, Death of a Salesman and Frankenstein.
“All these books have had issues in the past,”he said.
Dr. Huff said it is impossible for a community to agree 100 percent.
Heather Peeke, director of educational services said the nine person committee had really great discussions and read the book in its entirety along with online reviews.
“The committee voted unanimously to keep the book as it stands,”she said.
Greg Chapman, board member, said he supported the action and the English department felt it was being challenged professionally over the book.
“Let’s get back to being involved in kids’ education,”he said. “We want to share and we want you to be involved.”
Chapman said was there a way to offer a second class to split the English classes when there is concern about a kid being removed and sent to the library “and not getting a fair education.”
“Is there a way to meet in the middle while trusting teachers,”he said.
Dr. Huff said it wouldn’t work on a practical level.
“Anytime we throw in more there will be more inefficiencies of the master schedule,”he said. “Is this best for us. You will never find a book everyone is ok with. It has been in circulation so long. We need to be careful about creating multiple tracts for our kids. It is a dangerous road to go down. We are a public school.”
Peeke said there was an alternative for students to not read a particular book but still have plenty of opportunities to come back to the classroom and be engaged.
“They can work on different pieces without addressing the book specifically,”she said.
Katie Williams, board member, said the book was the only book of its kind.
Peeke said modifying school schedules to have a second English class option would be very difficult to do.
“The book is most engaging,”she said. “It is a great jumping off point.”
Peeke said the book’s author Sherman Alexie was the only Native American author in the school library and diversity is a long term goal of the district.
“We want to engage kids in challenging topics and in challenging ways,”Dr. Huff said.
Peeke said they weren’t reading to kids in class and weren’t going to get into the content about questionable content.
Dr. Huff said the book is about teenage angst and trying to decide who the main character is as a person living in two different worlds.
He said classic novels are slowly being phased out from curriculums as kids don’t engage with them the same way anymore.
Russ Ellis, board member, said some parents don’t want their kids reading this type of material.
“It is not a war on teachers,”he said. “We want to make sure syllabuses are accessible so parents have options. I’ve read the book and some of the content—I think my kid can still learn the ways of the world without the book.”
Carrie Schmidt, local parent, began the book discussion last month with concerns over the book’s questionable content of language and sexual explicitness.
She read passages during public comments at the September school board meeting and led a group of parents who requested the book be taken off the 10th grade English second quarter reading list.