School officials in Crook County, OR, removed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, from ninth grade English classes at Crook County High School after one parent complained about a passage that discussed masturbation. The Kids’ Right to Read Project sent the following letter to the Crook County superintendent and school board:
Rich Shultz, Superintendent
Board of Directors
Crook County School District
471 NE Ochoco Plaza Drive
Prineville, Oregon 97754
December 12, 2008
Dear Superintendent Shultz and Members of the Crook County School Board,
We write to protest your recent decision to remove the award-winning book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, from ninth grade English classes at Crook County High School. It appears that this removal violates the district’s policy for dealing with challenges to curricular or library materials. It is our understanding that the board directed the superintendent to remove the book after one parent complained about a passage that discussed masturbation. However, district policy requires that a challenged book be reviewed by a committee comprised of educators and citizens (“lay persons”) before it is removed.
Review procedures should be applied on a uniform and non-discriminatory basis. Such a process is essential to guard against subjective judgments and to ensure that books are only removed for pedagogically sound and legally sufficient reasons. Books should never be removed prior to the completion of the review process as they were in this case.
By removing the book without conducting the standard review process, you have effectively permitted one parent to impose his opinions on everyone else. Parents may be equipped to make choices for their own children, but, no matter how well-intentioned, they simply are not equipped to make decisions for others. In fact, the district’s policy for review of challenged materials states, “No parent or group of parents has the right to determine the reading matter for students other than their own children.”
The practical effect of acceding to any parent’s request to censor materials will be to invite others to demand changes in the curriculum to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands.
Frequently, schools offer parents an opportunity to request an alternative if they object to a particular assignment, as the district’s policy permits. This addresses the concerns of those who seek to limit their children’s exposure to certain words and ideas, without infringing the rights of the many others who are eager for a more inclusive and expansive education.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a highly acclaimed novel written by nationally renowned author, Sherman Alexie. The book addresses the challenges the protagonist faces growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation and attending school in a neighboring town. School Library Journal writes, “The teen’s determination to both improve himself and overcome poverty, despite the handicaps of birth, circumstances, and race, delivers a positive message in a low-key manner. Alexie’s tale of self-discovery is a first purchase for all libraries.” Among other accolades, the book was awarded the 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature in Fiction.
We strongly urge you to restore The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to ninth grade classrooms at Crook County High School and to adhere to district policy when reviewing challenged materials. Individual freedom, democracy, and a good education all depend on protecting the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
National Coalition Against Censorship
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
CC: Jim Golden, Principal, Crook County High School
Lauren Dake, The Bend Bulletin