Alexus Steele: Our books, our future

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 27, 2021

Dear Lawrence County,

Here at Fairland High School, our school board is defying the basic principles of democracy.

Our elected officials are meant to fulfill a duty to their constituents, to respectfully listen to their problems, and unite to find a common solution.

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However, at the board meeting on Nov. 15, our board members treated their constituents with utter disrespect. After banning the book, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” the school board refused to listen to the thoughts of teachers, students and parents.

After receiving a complaint from a parent regarding the “sexually explicit” content in chapter “Because Geometry Is Not a Country Somewhere Near France,” the school board ruled that this content is too extreme and vulgar to read within our schools.

“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie

Let’s address the issue head on. Junior says, “Yep that’s right, I admit that I masturbate.” Junior is a 14-year-old boy, saying the same thing that each high school boy and girl has once said in their life.

I can see the concern parents may see with this language, yes masturbation is “sexually explicit,” but everyone takes part in it.

Throughout the meeting, members of the board constantly spoke on how uncomfortable this topic is; however, would you not want to talk about the issues that make you uncomfortable in a moderated and safe environment?

While attending Fairland High School, I have read a variety of books that have made me uncomfortable, but we must learn how to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” in order to grow.

The teachers of Fairland Local School District taught me, and their hundreds of other students, the importance of talking about conflicted issues. Our teachers also taught us the significance of speaking on our issues civilly and respectfully and listening in the same regard; which is why the students that attended the board meeting were so bewildered by the actions of all board members, Mr. Sowards, Mr. Gorby, Mr. Lewis, Mr. Ward and Mr. Appleton.

From the introduction of the meeting, the board members acted with flippancy to the words of those who stood up to speak.

The first woman to speak was Mrs. Sansom, a highly educated professional and 20-plus year English teacher at Fairland High School.

We all watched as the board members talked amongst themselves, played on their phones, rolled their eyes, bang their heads on the table and so much more while she delivered her speech.

As Mrs. Sansom continued to speak on the importance of not banning books, the school board members could not manage to show her any form of respect, even going so far as to cut her off repeatedly to force a yes or no answer without allowing explanation.

Despite the actions of the men on the board, Mrs. Sansom remained calm, cool and collected and civilly spoke on her point — the same way she has taught us. At the conclusion of her speech, student Kaitlyn Fleming and I stood to speak our truth and to inform the members of the board, people who have not read the book, of the authenticity within “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Again, as expected, the students were met with disrespect.

All members of the school board are so fixated on the one page within the passage, that they are naive to the serious and relatable themes found within the novel.

Junior is a 14-year-old boy who has alcoholic parents, struggles with poverty and anxiety, and is unaccepted by his tribe and new classmates. Junior’s best friend Rowdy struggles to express his emotions and uses his toughness as a coping mechanism. Junior’s girlfriend struggles with bulimia.

The students within this book suffer with real life issues that students here at Fairland High School, and students across the globe are struggling with.

According to the OHYES! Survey, produced by the state of Ohio to gauge teen mental health and work toward bettering our schools and communities, 34.25 percent of students in Lawrence County suffer with anxiety issues warranting further explorations by a mental health professional. In Lawrence county, 62.9 percent of students have expressed that they do not always feel safe within their schools. 26.01 percent of students in Lawrence County suffer from depression.

The allure of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” is that it speaks on issues that so many of our students in our community are suffering with; being a 14-year old-boy, Junior relates to his high school readers more clearly than any psychology book about mental health issues or any teacher could.

This story teaches fellow teenagers that we are not alone in our feelings. The novel allows us to recognize that other people in our world and community are struggling with similar issues. Junior gives us the strength and encouragement to speak up and seek out help.

The board seems to be so consumed in this one fragment of the page, that they fail to see the beauty within the rest of the book (because they did not read the book).

I want to introduce you, and the board members, to the specific quotes that have touched me, and my fellow peers: “If you care about something enough, it’s going to make you cry. But you have to use it. Use your tears. Use your pain. Use your fear. Get mad.” “I draw because I want to talk to the world. I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I may grow up to be important.” “It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they are put together. You can do it. I can do it. Let’s do it.”

There are countless quotes within this text that resonate with students, quotes that encourage students. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’’ conveys important lessons on a variety of issues, making it unrealistic to ban.

Junior’s life is a play-by-play on how to keep going, how to use the hardships of your life to motivate you, how to convert your negative energy into a positive light and how to encourage others to take part in the changes you are.

This is the lesson I would want my children to learn, this is the lesson that I want my fellow peers to take out with them into the real world. I urge the students of Fairland High School, and members of the community, to utilize the negativity Mr. Ward, Mr. Sowards, Mr. Appleton, Mr. Gorby and Mr. Lewis released within our community on Nov. 15, and transform it into positivity by speaking out for change.

As Junior would say, “You can do it. I can do it. Let’s do it.”

Alexus Steele is a senior at Fairland High School.