Seattle parents lobby to remove controversial book from required reading


by KING 5 News

Posted on November 17, 2010 at 9:50 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 20 at 4:39 PM

SEATTLE -- A controversial 80-year-old book was taken off the required reading list at one Seattle high school, but some parents want it cut from all district reading lists.

Aldous Huxley's "A Brave New World," set in a less-than-Utopian future where drugs and sex are used to keep the masses in check, is standard reading in Language Arts classes across the country, including in Seattle.

The book has been controversial since it came out.  The American Library Association said it was banned in Ireland, and has been challenged in districts across the United States.

Most of the arguments, however, have been about the book's sexual and drug content.

The newest complaint centers instead on the book's allegedly offensive portrayal of native people.

Nathan Hale High School sophomore Julia Wilson-Peltier read the book and one word kept coming back to haunt her: "savage."

"It's a racist term, it's like saying the N-word in my opinion," said Wilson-Peltier, who is Native American. She said references in the book to savages felt to her like hate speech.

"I felt bad that my classmates were reading this and I doubt they had any education about Native people and it was giving them a bad view about them," Wilson-Peltier said.

Her mother, Sarah Sense-Wilson, agreed, petitioning Nathan Hale High School to remove it from the tenth grade required reading list. After several discussions, it was voted on and removed.

Wednesday night, Sense-Wilson and other Native American cultural experts testified before the Seattle Public Schools School Board to have it removed from all required reading lists in the district.

Some booksellers disagreed with the move. Susan Scott with the Secret Garden Book Shop said the book may be have themes too mature for 10th graders to analyze, but felt strongly against banning any book.

"As political correctness has become more of a topic, people have become more sensitive of racial issues," said Scott, who added that books these days are "almost challenged as much as from the left as it is the right."

"When the context changes, when the world changes, and we look at the world differently," she said. "With good teaching and good parenting, these books still have a great deal to give us."

District officials have offered Sense-Wilson an alternative, suggesting that teachers create a curriculum around the book that addresses the historical context of the book, which was first published in 1932.

Sense-Wilson said she is not looking to ban the book completely.  She said she is okay with "A Brave New World" being available in school libraries and on optional summer reading lists.

But she said she finds "no value" in requiring students to read the book.

Nathan Hale students had mixed opinions.

"I think we can learn what we need to learn without reading that book, if it's going to offend people," said sophomore Ella Tudor.

"Discussion of those books and what makes them offensive is very important to progress," said senior Caitlin Morley.