The Absolutely True Diary … Absolutely Banned

The Stockton R-1 School Board unanimously voted to keep the book, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” out of the Stockton High School curriculum, and voted 5-2 to keep it out of the high school library during a special meeting Wednesday, Sept. 8, in the high school gymnasium.

In the end, the sexual content and inappropriate language made the awarding-winning novel unsuitable for use in the classroom and in the library, the board decided.

“We can take this book and we can wrap it in those 20 awards everybody said it won, and you know what, it is still wrong,” board member Ken Spurgeon said.

According to a handout provided by John Rummel before the special meeting, there are 74 instances of vulgarity throughout the novel’s 230 pages. These instances involve topics such as masturbation, racism and violence, among others. It had been mentioned earlier in the meeting the book had done a particularly good job of interesting high school boys in reading.

“It’s an insult … to say to them (students) that we have to have stuff like that in our school in order to make them want to read books,” Mike Holzknecht, who spoke in favor of the ban, said.

Communication arts teachers Kim Jasper and Dana Whitesell spoke for more than 20 minutes defending the use of the book in the classroom, questioned why they weren’t asked for input back in March when the book was challenged and highlighted the merits of students reading such a story.

“They can recognize themselves in the literature,” Jasper said, “and yes sometimes books deal with harsh issues — bullying, alcoholism and drug use, sexual identity and rape … such literature, even with its harsh issues, tells teens their lives matter, and the issues they face are important, and that they are not alone in the battles they may be fighting.”

After the decision was an-nounced to keep the book out of the high school, Jasper clearly was upset.

“I’m disappointed,” Jasper said. “I think it’s a sad day for Stockton school … What can we teach now if this is our bar? Do I need to take “Of Mice and Men” out of my classroom? Do I need to take Huck Finn out of my classroom? I just fear the chilling effect of what teachers will choose now. They’ll be worried about what they choose.”

Cheryl Marcum, one of the more outspoken advocates of returning the book to the school, was letdown, as well.

“I don’t think the board heard us,” Marcum said. “The teachers did an excellent job describing how they chose the book and why they used it in the classroom … and I don’t think there is anything anyone could have said on that side the board would have understood and accepted.”

During the allotted time for public comments, a crowd of more than 200 people witnessed 12 people speak in opposition to the book’s removal from the classroom and library, and 10 people speak in favor of the book’s removal from the curriculum and school library.

Four TV cameras were present to capture the conclusion of the hot-button issue which has caused much discontent among Stockton community members. Several arguments on both sides drew applause from the crowd.

At one point during the night, Holzknecht pounded his fist on the podium while speaking, drawing a standing ovation at the close of his argument. “I’m proud of you guys (the board) standing up and saying, ‘No, here’s the limit right here, we’re not going to take it’.”

Jasper’s argument garnered a lengthy applause, as did Dakota Freeze’s presentation. Freeze, a senior at the high school, wants something bigger than Stockton. She plans on attending a college on the east coast and studying politics and law.

“This book in a nutshell is about hope,” Freeze said. “It’s about overcoming adversity. This book is about believing in yourself, believing you can become whatever you want to become.”

Many supporters of keeping the book in the school pointed to the freedom to read, censorship and the First Amendment.

“I must advocate for my students’ right to read and to think, or my 23 years of teaching are a fraud,” Jasper said. “When I have my students memorize the First Amendment, it’s not some theoretical exercise for a grade. Those are words that protect some of the freedoms I feel most strongly about, and those are words that have allowed this country to produce some valuable pieces of literature. The library especially must be a place where all students have access to a wide range of materials. If we censor books, we censor opportunity and hopes and dreams. As the American Library Association states, ‘censorship results in the opposite of true education and learning’.”

School board president Chad Pyle, vice president Dean Pate, board members Doug Haines, Rod Shipley, Rod Tucker, Ken Spurgeon, Gus Rutledge, superintendent Shannon Snow and high school principal John French all were present at the main table. The next school board meeting is at 7 p.m. today in the superintendent’s office.

Tucker expressed his dis-pleasure with the newspaper’s coverage and refused to

comment.

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