Minnesota school won’t ban Sherman Alexie book

Big Bad Book Blog.

The New London-Spicer School District has rejected a call to ban Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” but did so barely, the West Central Tribune reports.

The brouhaha started after an eighth-grade teacher used it in class, sparking complaints from two adults who said it’s not something kids should be exposed to.

The book is praised by many educators for its messages about bullying, poverty and other tough socio-economic issues that demonstrate strength of character, and is used in some schools to meet educational standards.

The district received a letter signed by representatives from six organizations, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, stating their support for keeping the book in the curriculum. In the letter, the groups said removing the book “in response to a few individuals’ complaints” would “undermine educational goals and raise serious First Amendment concerns.”

But the book is also criticized for its use of profanity and descriptions of sexual acts. It is a frequent target for removal from school curriculum.

“I do not believe we send our young minds to be victimized to read such immoral drivel,” Carrol Sarsland wrote in his formal request to ban the book.

He had two allies on the board. Board member Lucinda Dahlberg said the language in the book would not be allowed in the school’s hallways, and that it could lead students to conclude that profanity and sexual activity is OK, the paper said.

Board member Susan Lange said the school has books on the Holocaust too, but that doesn’t mean the school endorses the Holocaust.

That’s about as close as a Minnesota school board will ever come to taking an official position on masturbation, which is one of the concerns of the book’s opponents.

On his Big Bad Book Blog, Kenneth John Odle wrote in 2011 that he was asked to fight similar book bans on Alexie’s work.

Talk is a mark of character. If you clean up the way a character actually talks—if you make them talk as if their parents or grandparents are always there, even if they aren’t—then you aren’t telling the truth of the story. You’re insulting your characters, because you are speaking for them, instead of letting them speak for themselves.

And you’re insulting your readers, because you’re giving them something that isn’t real. Verisimilitude, that sense of reality which all writers seek, is like a house of cards: hard to build, easy to knock down. Everything you leave in a story should add to the sense of verisimilitude; everything that takes away from it should be removed.

The book ban lost 3-to-2. The board’s chairman didn’t vote.

The teacher who used the book in class has resigned, though the school superintendent said the book wasn’t the reason.

The new teacher says she plans to use the book, although she’ll need to send a letter to parents and schedule meetings with them before she does so.

Related: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Teaching Guide