I follow Sherman Alexie on Twitter, and I read his tweet about how some parents are trying to ban his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. He cites articles written by Ann Bowdan at WLKY.com and Peggy Aulisio at SouthCoastToday.com that explain why parents are outraged at his book. He also rightly calls out the reporters for writing articles that don’t mention the actual content of the book in response to the parents’ perceptions of the book.
I read both articles. I think Bowdan and Aulisio need to go back to Journalism 101 because their articles do not read as though written by unbiased reporters. Both focus much of the articles explaining how this book has upset parents, but Bowdan and Aulisio do not highlight the opposing side of the argument enough nor do they appear to find out if any of the claims about the book are true. Even if they didn’t want to pick up the book and read it, all they had to do was some thorough Internet research to realize the claims are not an accurate portrayal of the book’s content. As a result, both articles read more like neighborhood gossip columns than actual news stories.
One of my personal favorite quotes from the Aulisio article is from Ms. Elliott who states “‘There’s a lot of books like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that would generate some worthy discussion and have literary merit.’” One, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian has won several major literary awards enough that yeah, I think it qualifies as having “literary merit.” Two, what’s her definition of “worthy discussion”?
Now before I get to three, I have to mention that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian did make ALA’s list of the Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2011. But what else made that list? Well, what do you know? To Kill a Mockingbird is on that list too!
I can’t stand it when people try to keep books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian out of the classroom. Books that not only deserve to be there but need to be read. I work in schools and the reasons behind the hesitation to include such books – “offensive language,” “insensitivity,” “racism” – I find ridiculous. If individuals who want to ban books actually bothered to spend time around students and immerse themselves in student culture, they’d realize that books are not going to plant “offensive language” or “racism” because those things already exist in students’ minds and they did not come from the books they read. Instead these books are going to get students to think because these books are ones that students actually want to read and want to talk about in class.
A group of students read both Old Man and the Sea and The Hunger Games this year as part of an English class. They hated The Old Man and the Sea, finding the story dull and pointless. When they had to write a paper about it, the paper became like a dementor. But they loved The Hunger Games to the point where they didn’t have to be told to read because they had finished the book and were moving onto the next. I didn’t see an ounce of resilience when it came time to write the paper or do any related assignment.
If people are so hung up on banning books because there’s swearing or teenage sexuality or some other reason, then they need to go back to school themselves if that’s the first thing that enters their minds. Students are lot smarter and a lot more aware of the world than most people think. Give them some credit and let them read in peace.