Crook County School Board Chairman Jeff Landaker said although Moss didn’t follow the proper procedure — because he went straight to the school board and skipped speaking with his son’s teacher and the high school principal — hee agreed with Moss’ complaint.
“Personally, as a father, I felt it was inappropriate,” Landaker said about the book. “I was comfortable as a board member giving (Interim Superintendent Rich) Shultz direction to look into this matter and how this book came about being used as curriculum.”
The protagonist in Alexie’s book discusses masturbation.
“There are people who agree with the book and think it’s OK to talk about this stuff openly, and I really don’t,” Moss said. “And it’s certainly not a teacher’s place; it’s a parent’s place if they choose to (discuss it).”
Backing the book
Crook County High School Principal Jim Golden said he was disappointed by the district’s choice.
“I’ve been directed by the school board and the superintendent to pull the book, and I will comply with their directive,” Golden said. “But I respectfully disagree with what they are doing. It’s a slippery slope. … If you take one or two pages out of context, I mean ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is about two teenagers who are having a relationship. … It’s a dangerous precedent. … Part of what you are going to do is discuss ideas not proselytize kids. You want them to come to their own conclusion.”
Alexie said his book is being used in hundreds of classrooms across the country, and he has only heard of a handful of instances of the book being challenged.
“The book is actually a celebration of the compassion a small town of white conservatives showed … an Indian boy, they ended up loving,” Alexie said of his autobiographical book. “It’s funny, a book about accepting others is being challenged in the kind of town it celebrates.”
Alexie — who Golden called “one of the best writers and poets in our country right now” — said his book is mainstream and in no way controversial or graphic.
“It’s about following your dreams. … It’s the story of an Indian kid dreaming of a bigger life. It’s very American,” he said.
Jefferson County School District librarian Catherine Sergeant said the book is currently on her order list. “I haven’t read it, but I’ve read a lot of reviews, and it’s been recommended to me by a lot of people,” she said.
Linda Bilyeu, the Bend-La Pine Schools information technology and library media specialist, said the book is currently being used in all the district’s high schools, and she has yet to hear a complaint.
Both Jefferson and Crook county school officials said when a book is challenged, a committee reviews the book and decides what action will be taken.
In Bilyeu’s 13 years at Bend-La Pine Schools, a book has yet to be banned, she said, although there have been a couple of books parents found inappropriate and challenged, including the Harry Potter series.
“I’m sure there are parts of Alexie’s books where they may find the language offensive, but if they read the whole story, it’s a great discussion for students about diversity and how to escape from the cycle of alcoholism,” Bilyeu said.
Moss said he did read the entire book.
“It seemed pretty trashy to me,” he said.
Moss said he wants to make sure his two younger children never read a page of Alexie’s book. Since he spoke at the school board meeting, Moss said, several parents have approached him thanking him and voicing similar concerns.
Too graphic, or just realistic?
Shultz said the decision isn’t necessarily a permanent one.
“The decision was to pull it and then go back and look at how we are choosing the curriculum for our classroom,” he said. “We will look at this book as one of the specifics of our investigation. … We’re a pluralistic public school, and we have to deal with a pluralistic society that has a wide range of values.”
“The book is graphic,” Shultz said. “And the unfortunate part of that is the book isn’t really about those graphic pages. It’s unfortunate those kind of graphics have to be used in a book that has good lessons to learn.”
Alexie said his book is indicative of reality.
“Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human,” he said. “To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”
The high school English teacher who assigned the book didn’t return calls for comment.
“The world is an incredibly complicated place, and our literature must match that, especially literature for our kids,” Alexie said. “The book is incredibly positive about the world we live in, and people from vastly different politics and groups end up being friends. … If they read the book, it’s a celebration of the values of what they (parents who oppose the book) hold dear.”