Monday, September 20, 2010

Nuance

Much has been written and more said about a dust-up in a nearby community over a book.
The book, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, himself a full-time Native American, (I have not read it) but apparently it contains all the bad stuff you don’t want your children to read, see or hear.

I’ve read some Alexie – liked some, didn’t like (and even finish) others – I think he is an acquired taste.

I heard him speak locally at Drury a year or so ago. He’s outspoken, has issues of his own but in general was a witty fellow.

The Stockton school board dealt with the book in two ways: voted 7-0 to ban it from their curriculum and 5-2 to ban the book from their school’s library.

This post will likely offend half of my friends (just not sure which half!) but I will venture on. I will try to make a nuanced argument. Don’t jump to conclusions.

I agree with the school board’s decision to ban the book from curriculum. Not because of the specifics of the book but rather because they are elected officials – chosen by fellow citizens to represent their ideals, values – whatever you wish to call it – for their community. If they wanted to ban the Bible or Mary Poppins; I might think it misguided or shortsighted but I think they have a right to make those choices. I’m talking curriculum here.

The teachers are hired and paid for with local (and state) tax dollars so they serve (to some degree) at the pleasure of the school board. I know there are (and should be) some protections built in place.

But teachers also don’t (or shouldn’t) have the right to make every classroom decision without regard for their community, which includes the board, citizens and most of all, students. I’m not suggesting micro-managing here – I’m happy they get to teach cursive writing and modern math and would not begin to suggest exactly how they do that.

Where I part with the Stockton decision is not allowing the book to go into the library at the school.

Students have very little choice about their classes and teachers and especially what they are taught. Going to class is not voluntary.

In most cases, going to the library is.

I’m not advocating putting anything and everything into the school’s library but I don’t see huge harm is putting this book in. If a student wished to read it, perhaps some age limits could be placed on its availability (I guess some folks DID want it in the library with “restrictions” but that was the 5-2 vote).

If a student wants to find the book, they will. If not at school, then at a public library or on the Internet, from their friends – they’ll find it.

Making it seem perhaps more titillating than it might be, will only serve to make some want to find it one way or another.

We make certain decisions in our house (criticize them all you want) about what our kids may read and what they watch. I’m not stupid enough to think that they might be exposed (or expose themselves) to things I’d rather not have them encounter but I can’t control every waking moment of their lives (and I don’t try.)

I would not want one of their teachers though, forcing them to read or experience something I might find offensive or that went against the primary grain of what I’m trying to do with my children. I should also point out I’m thinking more middle schoolers and below here. I imagine my high-school-aged daughter is exposed to many more worldly issues, images and thoughts than I encountered at her age. I can only hope that I’ve instilled some sense of the values I appreciate and hopefully practice. I can also hope she chooses to follow in the same path; but I can’t force it. The old line is “values are caught, not taught.”

Quick flashback – in my time I guess maybe Catcher in the Rye was the book to be banned. People got in an uproar (although nothing like today for at least two reasons: 1) I don’t think issues were quite as polarized way back then – the 50s and 60s and 2) news travels at web-speed today so anything that happens anywhere can be on your desktop, Facebook page, smart-phone in moments. Regardless I read the book. Honestly I don’t remember much (Holden Caulfield right?) and I don’t think I was corrupted beyond redemption for having read it.

As I’ve mentioned I’m slogging through the Old Testament one book, one chapter, one verse at a time. On one day last week, let’s see: by a conservative count more than a million people were slaughtered in battle and a King died because his bowels came out (NASB words – not mine) – pretty violent and graphic stuff that Old Testament.

I’d like to think that some child might find a copy of the Bible in the school’s library. But I also realize that the Bible is not going to be taught in the classroom. I guess Sherm Alexie deserves the same sort of compromise.

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