Queens teachers assigned their sixth grade students The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian as required reading. The second parents got a wind of this, they were horrified. Why? Because of this line:
And if God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs. So I thank God for my thumbs.
Parent Kelly-Ann McMullan-Preiss even went as far as to say that the novel was “Fifty Shades of Gray for kids.” After multiple inquires and threats of a boycott, the principal of Public School/Middle School 114 in Rockaway Park caved into the pressure and pulled the book off the required reading list.
I can understand parent’s hesitancy to allow their children to read a book about masturbation. However, this isn’t a book about masturbation. The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian is a novel about a Native American boy who leaves his reservation to attend an all-white school and faces issues of racism, classism, and sexism – all while discovering both his social and cultural identity. It is those problems that your children will face – and, let’s be honest, problems your children are already facing – despite your belief that these kind of issues couldn’t possibly affect your kids.One of the illustrations in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, illustrating some of the other issues tackled in the novel.
The impact of literature is large. Some of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned have come from between pages of a book. In a novel that faces so many topics and issues, particularly ones that will hit close to home and resonate in these kids, do you really think the only thing they’ll get out of it is this one measly line about masturbation?
Even separating that paragraph from the source text entirely, do you really think these kids don’t know what he’s talking about? Parents complaining that they don’t “want a book to dictate when I have that awkward conversation about masturbation with my kid” clearly have not wandered a middle school hallway and just listened! Because I can assure you that your kids already know half of what you think “the talk” will consist of. And worse, they’ll likely be wildly misinformed and confused! Isn’t it your job as a parent to encourage interest and then establish a conversation between yourself and your child?
When I was their age, I had the liberty to decide for myself what I deemed appropriate to read. This freedom allowed me to reach beyond what would be considered a normal “comfort zone” and establish a relationship in which I wasn’t afraid to tell my parents whatever question or concern I had. If parents restrict their child’s wealth of knowledge, they’ll both alienate them and they’ll likely just go against your decision to take their interests elsewhere.
Every kid is different. There are very different maturity levels when it comes to children in that age range. There are many who will simply be happy this is one less homework they’ll have to do.
But in the end, kids will find a way around their parents if they honestly want to read the book. Whether it is because of interest or simply because they’ve forbidden it, this novel (and many others) will find itself into their hands and they will be able to learn and grow from them. It is up to the parents whether they want to allow their children to decide their own limits and open up a conversation or whether they’ll simply shut them down, effectively destroying what could’ve been a healthy dialogue between family.