Teachers Discuss Complex Topics to Teach Critical Thinking

Darby Dreher, Contributor

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Books are always written for a reason, and the sole reason can’t be depicted in a book without all the details, including the unpleasant ones. Most young adult books that are a part of the high school curriculum have a purpose of relating to students’ lives and informing them about complex topics to teach critical thinking. According to Dallas News’s article, “Highland Park ISD Suspends Seven Books After Parents Protest their Content” important books were banned from the school’s curriculum. Jeannette Walls, an author whose book was suspended said, “Sometimes you have to walk through the muck to get to the message” (Dallas News 2).

The Highland Park School District’s decision to suspend these books was unjust because they require teachers to discuss complex topics in the classroom and introduce real life situations. In the award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, a teenager faces many struggles in life in his journey to find hope. Although it contains strong language and racial slurs, these are necessary for the theme of the novel. The protagonist of the novel, Arnold Spirit, describes in full detail the activities he does in his free time. Although the description of such activities can be slightly inappropriate, it is an important contribution to Arnold’s character. One of the struggles he faced was defining his identity. In the book, he considers himself a “Part-time Indian” because he believes his world is split between his Indian family and his white friends. In the end, Arnold realizes that he can be both and doesn’t have to define himself as one or the other. This can be helpful to many teenagers who are going through this same problem, but not if they feel they are alone. The descriptive details about Arnold’s likes show that he is just a normal teenager that readers can relate to. Another complaint against the novel was the use of racial slurs. Despite the fact that this strong language is inappropriate to say to someone, it is a part of a bigger lesson within the book. Students learn about a literary stage of events called the Hero’s Journey. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a great example of this. One of the steps the hero goes through is the Road of Trials. Here, the protagonist faces challenges that cause him/her to only be stronger in the end. Roger is a white student who makes fun of Arnold and calls him racial names. Without the use of this language, the Hero’s Journey would not be complete, and therefore students couldn’t learn about it through this book.

In the class novel, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, “The main character fathers a child out of wedlock and has sexual encounters with prostitutes” (Dallas News 4). Although this sounds highly inappropriate out of context, these events lead to the successful spiritual journey of Siddhartha. One concern parents have against this novel is the description of sexual encounters. This can be seen as inappropriate or something that shouldn’t be discussed with high school students, but this contributes to one of the important themes of the book. Siddhartha didn’t know how to love and along his journey, he discovered the pleasures of love with the help of Kamala, whom he had sexual encounters with. Without these minor details, the major theme of love in the novel couldn’t be expressed to its full importance. Therefore, this part is necessary for the book as a whole. Another complaint against this novel is the fact that the main character, Siddhartha, has a child without being married. This can be concerning to parents, but this also relates to the major themes of the book. Pertaining to the theme of love, Siddhartha has so much love for his
son, and he didn’t even believe this to be possible. From the experience of meeting his son, Siddhartha learns new feelings that he hadn’t previously known, leading him to further his spiritual journey in the book.

The Highland Park School District is making a mistake with suspending these important books. One of the English teachers, Darcy Young said, “Our motto is to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child” (Dallas News 3). This relates to the fact that the ugly details are needed and shouldn’t be removed from the curriculum just because they are being shown out of context. These details are necessary for the book to show key themes and morals.

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