Ninety minutes northwest of the Twin Cities, just up the road from the Little Crow Country Club, sits the New London-Spicer Middle School. Included in its curriculum for eighth graders is reading Sherman Alexie's semi-autobiographical young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
The book tells the story of Arnold, a teenage boy who lives on the Spokane Indian reservation but goes to school outside the reservation to receive a better education. It includes this exchange with his peer Gordy:
“You read a book for the story, for each of its words," Gordy said, "and you draw your cartoons for the story, for each of the words and images. And, yeah, you need to take that seriously, but you should also read and draw because really good books and cartoons give you a boner."
… "Did you just say books should give me a boner?"
"Yes, I did."
"Are you serious?"
"Yeah... don't you get excited about books?"
"I don't think that you're supposed to get THAT excited about books."
"You should get a boner! You have to get a boner!" Gordy shouted. "Come on!"
Passages like these have put the book, the recipient of the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, at the center of a debate to have it removed from New London-Spicer's required reading list.
At a public meeting earlier this week, two people submitted written statements, asking the district to remove the book from the curriculum, and possibly from all library shelves.
Carroll Sarsland argued the novel should be replaced by another that "does not contain passages that conflict with the traditional family values held by many in this community."
Jessica and Dave Conlin objected due to references to sex and because it contains "gratuitous and unnecessary" profanity.
"Parents have the right to teach their own values to their children regarding these topics and have assurance that a classroom teacher would teach those same values," Conlin said.
Messages left for Sarsland and Conlin were not returned.
This isn't the first time parents have sought to ban the book.
In 2010, Missouri's Stockton School Board voted 7-0 to remove it from its library after a parent complained. Four years later in Meridian, Idaho, the district nixed Diary from its supplemental reading list after parents moaned about the novel. This despite students' protests to halt the ban.
What will happen next in New London-Spicer is in the hands of the district's advisory committee, which includes parents, teachers, and administrators. According to district spokesperson Megan Field, if the committee recommends some kind of action, it would be presented to the school board at an undetermined date.
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