Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools to review book over use of ‘retarded’

Unless you think “the retard room” is how you think kids should refer to classrooms for special needs students, there’s not much to discuss about an effort to remove a nearly 30-year-old book called “Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You” from Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools. But it’ll be discussed anyway.

The Pioneer Press reports that a district employee who works with special needs students at Falcon Ridge Middle School has asked the school board to pull the book.

“As a whole, I feel the book is outdated and uses language that is no longer acceptable,” Jenna Boutain reportedly wrote in her request. “This book serves no educational purpose besides keeping words and behaviors in the minds of our students.” She did not respond to a request for comment.

Tony Taschner, district spokesman, said there have been seven requests to remove materials in his two decades with the district and only one was granted. Typically, school leaders are given guidelines for choosing materials, but decisions about specific materials are left up to building staff.

The review committee can decide to leave the questioned material in the school, limit who has access to it or remove it from the school all together, Taschner said.

“It matters to the committee whether it is a required piece or just part of the school’s collection that someone can check out,” Taschner said.

The book is about an 11 yr old — Helen — who has dyslexia and has to decide whether to use the “retard room.”

Concerned that she wouldn’t make it past sixth grade, Helen eventually decides to ask for help and everyone lives happily ever after, with no one in the book, or apparently in the school libraries of the nation, noticing that one of the reasons she didn’t want to ask for help in the first place is because of she didn’t really want to be saddled with an inappropriate label that has no place in a school in 2014.

  • John

    Isn’t this essentially the same reason often given for wanting Huckleberry Finn and/or Tom Sawyer removed from libraries? Use of a particular word that has (correctly) been deemed inappropriate?

    If they want to remove it because it’s literary garbage and has no redeeming qualities, then I’m all for it. If they want it removed because of its use of the word “retard,” then nope, it should stay.

  • Thomas Mercier

    Books obviously serve no practical educational purpose if one term that was culturally appropriate at the time of the writing but has later been deemed inappropriate. The use of outdated terminology clearly erases any value the literary work possessed and converts it into propaganda meant to perpetuate historical discrimination.
    Maybe we should just teach children to be critical readers?

  • Dave

    I just read some of the Amazon reviews for this book, and now I want to read the book.

    Some reviews take issue with some of the language and the scenarios that play out. But other people say it’s a realistic and honest assessment of the life of a sixth grader. Kids are cruel at that age.

    Obviously no school wants their students calling it the “retard room.” But they didn’t want them calling it that in 1985 when the book was published. Nobody wants to go to that room; there’s a stigma, so kids use harsh language to describe it. That hasn’t changed. Even today, every kid in school knows that word and probably uses it when the adults aren’t listening.

    • Kassie

      I read the reviews too, it seems like the book was rereleased in 2008 and may not include some of the language used in the original. I can’t find anything saying that, but it seems to be the case. If there was a kindle version I’d download it and find out.

  • Joe

    What kid would pick up that book and then AUTOMATICALLY get the idea that calling it the retard room is funny? I think our kids are smarter than that, they aren’t stupid, nor are they monsters. Don’t ban the book, it’s no different from banning Heather Has Two Mommies. Censorship is always a joke.
    I once took a standardized test in grade school (I learned so much that day!) that used the word “retarded,” but it wasn’t to refer to a mentally challenged person. We should ban standardized tests!

  • Steve Swensen

    Bob is right on with his points all on topic. For families of special needs children the “R” word is as
    offensive as the “N” word. While the history and context surrounding
    the “N” word is horrific the same is true of the “R” word.
    One only has to research some of the atrocities performed on children with
    special needs – e.g., Willowbrook State School, NY – to see the abusive
    conditions and “treatment” suffered throughout history by children,
    and adults, with developmental and intellectual disabilities. While the “N” word has
    righteously become unacceptable in contemporary society the same is not true of
    the “R” word. Unfortunately, if not heartbreaking, there is still a
    stigma associated with students in special education. While conditions are
    improving children with special needs are still being continuously ostracized,
    ridiculed, and bullied. How many kids don’t get the services they need because of their, and their parents, fear of this? So you’ll have to excuse me if I consider the
    district’s offer to “restrict” the books access as clearly an ignorant and
    futile effort on their part. It’s the mainstream audience that needs to be the
    focus, not the victims. It is also hard to believe that this specific book is
    the only one available of value to students struggling to read. That all being
    said it would be interesting to see if any of the district panel members were parents of special needs
    children, and whether the book would have been banned if the “N” word was the
    offensive language? As a parent member of South Washington County Schools
    Special Education Advisory Council (SEAC) I can assure you that if the “R” word
    was being used in a non-educational manner, and similar usage of the “N” word would have resulted
    in the book being banned, it would have no place in our district schools. Shame on R/AV/E Schools for not recognizing this – they’ve ignored all the available data and research on this subject which for an educational institution is a failing grade. At the very least they should request a re-edited version of the book if it’s so instrumental to teaching reading in the district.