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Letter: WHS Junior Defends Controversial Novel

WHS junior says reading books like 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' "provides an outlet for students to understand and discuss harsh realities."

Recently, Westfield High School has come under criticism for allowing English teachers to use Sherman Alexie’s novel, 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,' in the ninth grade curriculum.

Parents have objected to the parts of the novel that they have deemed graphic, indecent and vulgar, and have requested that the book be removed from the curriculum. The school has additionally been criticized for throwing away its high standard by succumbing to the influence of YA (young adult) novels poorly that are affected by our country’s film and music industry. 

WHS has not "succumbed to the influence" of allegedly etiquette-lacking media, nor has it thrown its "high standards to the wind." Rather, WHS has allowed its teachers to expose children to a world with real people who face real problems.

It is not that the “naïve and simple” adolescent world of 'Nancy Drew' and 'The Hardy Boys' is now virtually extinct, as one parent observed; that world never existed in the first place. Educators and students alike have examined the changing world of the 21st century in order to understand that it is a waste of time and materials to pretend that teenagers live (or have ever lived) that type of life.

WHS is, therefore, rising to the standards of education which it recognizes as being relevant and beneficial to its students, something which the school is constantly striving to do.

One cannot always arrive at a moral end through a moral story; sometimes, one must experience many harsh realities in order to reach this end. As most people will experience hardships through their lifetime (and certainly by the time they graduate from high school), it is important to expose them to those who have triumphed over such struggles.

Regardless of parents' wishes, kids will learn about rape, violence and drugs. It is inevitable. Indeed, it is essential that children are exposed to this information in an educational environment, lest that they become an adult without a real understanding of the world in which they live.

I think it is time that we examine, rather, the impact that not reading this 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' might have on a WHS student. A child who participates in a class discussion about the hatred that Alexie writes of in his book and the rape he speaks of on tours and in essays might now pause before cracking a joke about rape — jokes that are certainly not a rarity around WHS. On the contrary, the lack of this discussion denies that same child the opportunity to learn of this very thing, thus perpetuating ignorance and indifference in our school.

'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' does not expose WHS students to stories that would muddle any effort to “mold competent children of character and conscience.” Neither does any book, for that matter, chosen by the teachers that WHS has ensured are of the high standards required to be responsible for our education.

Instead, reading these books provides an outlet for students to understand and discuss harsh realities, and possibly work to better themselves and the world. To even consider removing these books from the curriculum is an injustice to our school and our community.

Clara Smith
Westfield High School
Class of 2013

Student February 19, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Clara, Thank you for saying what every WHS student is thinking.
Mike February 19, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Sorry to burst your bubble student, but I spoke to a bunch of 11th graders who are not in agreement with Clara's thinking. In the future, I would try not to make naive and blanket assumptions of your classmates. You are discounting the fact that there are many friendships involved here and MANY parents who don't approve of the book as required reading and have kids - students - who support them.
Student February 24, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Mike, The book is not required reading. If this or any book makes students or parents uncomfortable, they are allowed to talk to their teacher about getting a different assignment. However, you're correct in saying that I should not have made a blanket statement. What I should have said was that every student that I have spoken with about the topic has agreed with Clara's points.
SN February 24, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Ms. Maurer, In all due respect, if your children have not been taught about masturbation by 9th grade, either through parenting or sex ed in school, they will certainly know about it from their peers. This will not be an eye opening passage in this day and age. By third and fourth grade, most kids will know all the curse words - maybe not their full meaning, but know what they are - and by ninth grade, will be fully versed in sexual terminology. Get over the few passages in this book that are arousing such ire and look at the book as a whole. Have you read it? You should and then come back to assert your First Ammendment rights. SN
BDF February 29, 2012 at 07:30 AM
Public schools are the controlled laboratories of life where students learn and prepare for life beyond the classroom. Public schools should not be at the mercy of a particular morality du jour. Public schools should be concerned first and foremost with fortifying our children with the protective armament necessary to weather the trials and tribulations of adulthood. I ask you, is it morally right to send our children into harms way so ill prepared by omitting such things from the curriculum? BDF


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