I’ve been meaning to post about the recent news about Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian being “cleared for any grade level in Richland high schools.” (Richland School Board Reverses Course on Book Ban at The News Tribune).
What I found interesting — and interesting enough to post about it so long after the decision was made — is that it illustrates a few points I find important.
First, that reconsideration policies should include reading the book. From the News Tribune report: “None of the board members had read Absolutely True when they first voted on it. That was the job of the Instructional Materials Committee, or IMC, established a little more than a year ago to review all books used in Richland schools. Guay and Donahoe thought that the entire IMC read the book before its members gave it mixed reviews last month. But to speed up the process, IMC members split up in groups. Each group reads a particular book and then shares its findings with the rest of the members. Once Guay and Donahoe found out that only part of the committee had read the book, they wanted to revisit their votes against it.”
Relying on someone else’s interpretation of a book can be risky, especially if someone else is pulling out the so-called “bad bits” to make an argument against a book. Reading the book in its entirety, to see it as a whole work of art rather than a collection of words, is invaluable.
While it’s tempting to roll one’s eyes about the Board having not read the book when it previously voted on it, I think it’s a temptation to avoid, at least publicly. In arguments and discussions, extremes never add to the conversation; rather, it results in two sides saying “why don’t you listen to me” while they don’t listen to to other person. Room is needed to listen; room is needed to change one’s mind; and room is needed so that one can change one’s mind without a big old “told you so” resulting.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone is a reader or immersed in book culture. So, to those of us who read, and read reviews, and know that one person’s five star book is another’s no star book, reading a book oneself in this type of situation (removing a book) seems obvious. To others, though, it’s not so apparent.
Finally, the impact of Meghan Cox Gurdon and the Wall Street Journal continues. As reported by the News Tribune, at least one of those speaking out against Absolutely True used Gordon’s WSJ article as evidence that the book doesn’t belong in schools.