In advance of a school board meeting in Waterloo, Iowa this evening, CBLDF has joined with five other organizational members of the National Coalition Against Censorship to send a letter urging that the board follow district policy regarding a challenge to Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
Curriculum director Debbie Lee, supported by superintendent Jane Lindaman, attempted to remove the book from middle school classrooms in March. Lee and Lindaman maintain that the challenge procedure is not necessary in this case because they agree with one parent’s complaint. Lindaman went so far as to claim that the book is “inarguably inappropriate for such young minds,” but several teachers have pushed back against that contention. In response to an email from Lee ordering the book’s removal, for instance, eighth grade literacy teacher Kevin Roberts noted that several of his students “told him it was the only book they had ever read they actually liked.”
At the previous school board meeting on April 13, Lindaman mentioned that the community responses she’s received regarding the book’s removal are evenly split between those who think she made the right move and those who argue for a transparent review process. Lindaman maintains, however, that Absolutely True Diary did not go through the proper approval channels before it was introduced into middle school classrooms and therefore the district does not need to follow the challenge policy now. The superintendent also she had consulted numerous review sources and none of them recommended the book for readers under 14–which is interesting since both the New York Times and the publisher Little, Brown, among other sources, recommend it for age 12/grade 7 and up.
Lindaman cited the National Council of Teachers of English, which happens to be a signatory on today’s NCAC letter, as one of the sources that recommends Absolutely True Diary for high school age students. But as the letter points out, NCTE makes clear that age guidelines are not set in stone and teachers themselves are in the best position to judge whether their students are prepared for a particular book:
While, as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) notes, “materials should be suited to the maturity level of the students,” it is important to “weigh the value of the material as a whole, particularly its relevance to educational objectives, against the likelihood of a negative impact on students…That likelihood is lessened by the exposure the typical student has had to the controversial subject…” Teachers, who have daily contact with students, are best prepared to make such judgments. When these judgments are in question, a review should, at least, include these teachers’ expertise.
Instead of welcoming input from middle school teachers who say Absolutely True Diary has met with great success in their classrooms, however, Lindaman and several members of the board continue to maintain that it is “inarguably inappropriate” at that level. We strongly urge the board to reconsider that position and simply give the book a fair hearing before banning it from the middle school curriculum. Read the full letter to Lindaman and members of the board below.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.