Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Glimmer of Hope in MO

As of news reports dated August 3rd, the Ozarks school district that banned Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is reconsidering the ban after a request from the American Library Association (ALA). I'm not naive enough to think that justice will be done, but this is a good first step, considering there wasn't any more than a first step in the process of banning the book. All it took was a simple request according to an editorial comment published in The Ozarks Sentinel.

I, for one, am grateful that the school district I work for celebrates banned book week and allows me to teach mostly anything I want in my creative writing classes. A particularly brave department head even ordered Alexie's book on a whim, a book not on the actual American literature syllabus, and nobody batted an eyelash. Those of us working in such situations should not only be thankful for the liberties we have, but also support those who do not have such liberties. I would advise anyone reading this to contact the Stockton R-1 district in Stockton, MO and let your feelings be known.

I have only had one encounter with a student whose parents were concerned with a story I was having the students read. The story, "Boogie Man" by Stephen King, was meant to show the students the techniques we learned concerning horror being put into practice and also to bring up a discussion of likable or sympathetic characters. When the parent contacted me about the family's religious disagreement with anything in the horror genre, I understood and let the student pick another genre to research and read a story from. She then wrote a story in the science-fiction genre to fulfill the assignment's requirements. At no time did that parent consider approaching the board or the school about banning Stephen King stories. In fact, I had found the story in an anthology in our own library (always a good way to cover yourself when choosing controversial literature to teach).

I completely understand if a parent wants to control his or her under-aged son or daughter's reading habits. However, to force those beliefs and moral judgments on an entire town is ludicrous and smells like Nazism. That's right; I went there. If we were to start banning every book that has offensive material to any individual who might come across it, we may have no books left. My message to everyone out there that feels their moral "sensibility" should be adopted by all of society is three fold.

1) You have one hell of an ego.

2) Banning a book or labeling it controversial just makes us want to read it more. You can multiply that by ten for most teen readers. Ask Tipper Gore how well "Parental Advisory" stickers and video game ratings worked to deter youngsters from buying "questionable" material.

3) I wish I grew up in your world, a world where nothing offends, a world where nobody gets hurt, a world that doesn't have any of the darkness portrayed in the books you try to ban. That's not reality. Sorry! Get over it! Wait. On second thought, that world would have no sex! How did these book-banners have children in the first place, anyway?

So if you feel so inclined, give a shout out to the Stockton, MO school board and tell them how you feel. We still have a chance to keep Sherman Alexie's book in the library there. I'm not confident justice will prevail, but I have a glimmer of hope. We can't let those who would impose their misguided wills on the rest of us win.

Stockton R-1 School District            
906 South Street
PO Box 190
Stockton, MO 65785
Town Campus: 417-276-5143
Fax: 417-276-3765
High School: 417-276-8806
Fax: 417-276-8584

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