Monday, June 22, 2009

Censorship of books in the news again

In an article in the Chicago Tribune, a group of parents are complaining because one of the high schools that is close to where I currently live has the incoming freshman reading "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie. The parents say that this book is too mature for their children. The book apparently has some rough language and their children should not be exposed to that kind of language in school. According to one parent, "I began reading, and I started to cross out sections that I didn't want him to read," she said. "Soon I thought, 'Wait, this is not appropriate; he is not reading this.' " So first you are censoring what you child reads and now you want the schools to censor what our children read. I understand and fully agree with parents reading what their children read, just as watching TV with your children is a great idea. This way you can discuss with your children things that you might feel are questionable or beyond their maturity or comprehension, but deciding your child should not read is not a good way to go, IMHO. This school said they picked this book after much consideration and looking at a list of books that were written for Young Adults. They also did a survey the previous year and discovered that many young men were not reading (I could have told you that without a survey, but still...), so they decided to use a book that had a young man as a protagonist to encourage the boys to read. The parents also saw the language in the book as racist. According to the demographic information I was able to find for this district, the student body is 96% white, I grew up in a similarly monocultural setting and trust me these kinds are already hearing and in some cases using racist language. Maybe they need a book that uses this same type of language where an adult could then address the racist language and discuss it openly with the students.

I have read several Sherman Alexie books and I have enjoyed most of them. He is an interesting writer who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and so brings the reservation life and thoughts to his writings. His writing also tends to focus on Spokane or Coeur d'Alene Indians and this book is no exception. I have not read this book, but based upon his other writings, yes, there probably is some rough language. According to one review I read on Amazon, the "f" word is used frequently and masturbation is also discussed in the book. Most high schoolers have heard or use, frequently, words like fuck, motherfucker and fuckwad. They are also aware of masturbation and statistics show that most teenagers are probably masturbating. Is sexuality a sensitive issue in schools? Yes. Does that mean we should exclude books just because it is in the book? NO.I do not know, but I can't help but wonder when one of the major complaints is racist language would the same complaints appear if the protagonist was Caucasian. The other book that comes to mind is Catcher in the Rye, which always seems to be on the banned books lists. But in this community would the same outrage have occurred?

Finally, and my biggest issue with the whole parents who are complaining, is that there is an alternative book that you can have your child read if you are not comfortable with the Alexie book. So, if you do not want your child to read "The Absolutely True... ",then don't. Have them read the other book and go away happy that you shielded your child from a book that may open their eyes and may give you chances to talk with your child. Oh, and the other book is about a group of teens who steal rafting equipment to go rafting down the Grand Canyon. So, now according to your own logic, you're encouraging your child to be a thief.


Newsboy said...

Thanks Boxer,

We sort of have two separate issues in beautiful Lake County. One is the extra crispy book banners who show up now and again and want to ban everything and everyone. We have it in my town all the time with a small minority getting upset all the time at plays, books and Freshman Advisory classes. They can't seem to stand it that much of the population does not believe in the things that they do.

The other issue is parental hovering - watching every single thing their kids do. Praising the mere fact that they can stand, not fall over, you get the drift. They're afraid to let their kids learn from trying, and learn from failing.

I'll frequently put my kids into fits of giggles when I put on my "Lake County Parent" voice and praise them to high heaven for something obscure: "Good job, kiddo! I am so, so proud of you!!! You were awesome, that was really amazing! You must feel soooo good about yourself. Now let's see if you can close the door as well as you opened it!"

Boxer rebel said...

Welcome, Newsboy.

I have noticed that about Lake County parents, they are a bit too overprotective of their children. I wonder how some of these kids will fare when they have to enter the "real world" and go to college or get a job. But then again, being an educator who has worked in several different school districts and age groups of kids from my current job as a Preschool teacher, which I love, to having worked in high schools as teacher's assistants to get through grad school, the whole overprotective thing is prevalent everywhere and seems to be a product of our whole culture.