Kids' Right to Read Project Defends a Sherman Alexie Novel in Missouri
As we understand it, the challenge to this book centers on some content in the book, suggesting that the content of the novel is inappropriate for the students and because it does not “reflect our community values.” It is clear, though, that the language and situations in this work, as in any text under study, must be seen in the context of the entire work. The ethical and literary value of a work is distorted if one focuses only on particular words, passages, or segments. An author's broad moral vision, total treatment of theme, and commitment to realistic portrayal of characters and dialogue are ignored when protesters focus only on aspects that are offensive to them. Unfortunately, there is shock value in isolating and listing selected passages from a book; but this does not reveal anything about the fundamental message or theme in a work and it does not provide insight into its literary quality.
In our experience with school curricula, we have found that there are few instructional materials that do not include something that is offensive to someone. If literary works that are duly selected by English teaching professionals are removed because the works offend particular individuals or groups, there will soon be little or no literature left to teach in our schools. Further, it would be wrong to assume that the disturbing scenes, profane language, negative events, etc., portrayed in a work are being endorsed by the author, the teacher, or the school. In fact, classroom study provides a fertile ground for students to interpret surface aspects of literature and to exercise critical thinking as they discuss the characters and issues in a work. The novel was chosen specifically for the high school English classes because its complex themes are appropriate for study at that level and because it is a young adult novel that students can draw upon when answering the “critical lens” questions pertinent to literature study in grades 9-12.