Bless Me, Ultima Returned to Idaho Classrooms with Emotional Apology

9780446675369_p0_v2_s260x420Last night, the school board for the Teton School District in Driggs, Idaho, met to discuss Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, which had been removed from classrooms by School District Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme. During the meeting, Woolstenhulme called for an immediate reinstatement of the novel, citing his acting outside of school policy in removing it.

The Teton Valley News shared some of Wollstenhulme’s statement to the board:

“…in this policy [4120] it talks about addressing complaints promptly. The next two words say ‘and equitably,’ and I believe my response was to students and parents that had strong concerns over this book, and yet I recognize a bigger majority of students and parents did not have any objection to this book and this information and this material. I’m not on solid ground if I can’t defend to the board and to the public in an open meeting and look everybody right in the eye and say I’m doing everything I can to follow policy,” said Woolstenhulme in his closing testimony.

Bless Me, Ultima is widely considered one of the original and finest pieces of Chicano literature. The book follows the coming of age of a boy in the rural Southwest as he encounters and contends with different social and spiritual practices among indigenous cultures, Mexican emigres, and American Christians. His experiences are further complicated by the effects of World War II: returning shellshocked soldiers, changing technologies, and a nation in transition.

The book is frequently used in classrooms to challenge and enrich student worldviews. Bless Me, Utlima was required reading for sophomore English, but an alternate assignment could be selected. Regardless, a small number of parents in the system filed a complaint against the book, expressing concerns over language and “satanic rituals.” Woolstenhulme responded by removing the book rather than following school policy that calls for a review process.

CBLDF joined a coalition led by CBLDF-sponsored Kids’ Right to Read Project to send a letter to the school board in defense of Bless Me, Ultima. CBLDF joins coalition efforts like this one to protect the freedom to read comics. Censorship manifests in many ways, and the unique visual nature of comics makes them more prone to censorship than other types of books. Taking an active stand against all instances of censorship curbs precedent that could adversely affect the rights upon which comics readers depend.

Woolstenhulme should be commended for reversing course and apologizing for overstepping his authority in removing the book. However, it is important to remember that the attack on Bless Me, Ultima amounts to attempted censorship, which is why CBLDF and KRRP continue to operate on the front lines in the battle for the freedom to read.

We scored a victory in Idaho, but we need your help to keep fighting for the right to read! Get in the Spirit of Giving, and help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by getting personalized holiday giftsmaking a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!