Minnesota school won’t ban Sherman Alexie book

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

  • Al

    Let s/he who has never masturbated cast the first stone banning a book that VERY BRIEFLY mentions masturbation.

    • Al

      (It’s a fantastic book, by the way.)

  • chlost

    And if any parent, school official or other adult believes that any 12-year-old kid does not know about masturbation, they are sadly mistaken. There will be nothing new in this book. Banning the book for that reason only tells children that we can’t deal with this basic part of life.

  • Thomas Mercier

    I hope those parents don’t allow their children to ever pick up a Bible. That thing is filled with sex, murder and abuses of others. There is no way that we should subject “young minds to be victimized to read such immoral drivel”.
    Next thing you know, they’ll be taking Shel Silverstein away from the kids because of the other side of his writing portfolio.

    • lindblomeagles

      Terrific post! It was so funny because it’s true! The Bible, LITERALLY, is filled with sex, war, murder, and economic division. Notable examples would be the following: 1) Egyptians enslaving Jews; 2) David killing Goliath with a sling shot; 3) Daniel, and other Christians, being fed to lions; 4) King Herrod and the Romans occupying Jerusalem; 5) the really graphic murder of Jesus Christ and two thieves on a cross in the middle of a large audience gleefully cheering their deaths; 6) Sampson and Delilah . . . I could go on.

    • Barton

      I loved Shel as a kid – still read Lafcadio some times. Around the time I turned 18, my dad gave me a copy of his Playboy cartoons. He thought his daughter should see both sides of Shel’s work. And I fully admit I loved the gift. Just because he did soft porn illustrations did not mean Where The Sidewalk Ends wasn’t an important work for kids. It just made Shel a bit more rounded in my mind.

      I went and looked at that book of cartoons recently, and I started to see a bit more underlying the cartoons than what was at face value: and it was even better.

  • Barton

    I just don’t get the banning of books. Why are people so afraid of exposing themselves/others to ideas/conflicts/issues they will most certainly face at some point in their lives. Honestly, as long as kids are reading what does it matter if it is this book, a comic book or the yellow pages?? (do they still put out a yellow pages? I’ve no idea).

    When I was in elementary school, the banning of Huck Finn was trying to start up again. I fully believe the only reason it failed in my school is because Missouri (where I lived at the time) is so proud of Mark Twain. Later in elementary school, we read Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes, and I remember some parents trying to prevent us from reading that as well (b/c the protagonists cancer was caused by the US bombs in Japan, thus “anti-American”). Later in junior high, the controversy was over Forever, by Judy Blume, so my mom gave me a copy to read so that no matter what, I’d understand what the heck was going to happen to my teenage female body (she’d explained the biology years before, this was more about the emotional point).

    And really, the new teacher will have to send a letter to parents about the fact that the students are reading Part-Time Indian? This is why teachers barely have enough time to teach subjects…..