School district removes 4 books after complaints about portrayal of indigenous experience

Associated Press

The Juneau school district has removed four books from its elementary language arts program because critics said they didn't accurately portray the experiences of American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Superintendent Mark Miller decided to remove the books after Alaska Native critics complained they trivialized sensitive indigenous topics like the loss of culture when students were sent to border schools and forced to speak only English, the Juneau Empire reported (http://is.gd/IFIwxL).

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The books will be replaced with ones developed in collaboration with Goldbelt Heritage and Sealaska Heritage Institute, he said Thursday.

Most of the original books will be returned to the publisher, McGraw-Hill, with an explanation of why they did not meet the district's standards.

"We are respectful of the feelings of the Alaska Natives and Native American communities; the four supplemental titles in question are designed to meet the curricular objectives for historical fiction and informational text, and we believe they are appropriate at a fourth-grade level as starting points for discussion around the experience of Native Americans," McGraw-Hill spokesman Brian Belardi said in an email to The Associated Press.

He said McGraw-Hill also understands that teaching and learning work best when materials are personalized to the needs of students and educators, and it respects the district's decision.

"We look forward to a long, collaborative relationship with the district and to helping its students and educators achieve success," Belardi said, adding he wasn't aware of any other complaints with the series.

The district will keep a few copies of the books in its office. Children with parental permission can check them out, but the books will come with an assessment from the district saying they are not accurate.

Miller said his decision "was not based on my determination that the curriculum is racist — although some feel strongly that it is — or that it is revisionist history — and some feel strongly that it is.

"Instead, it is my belief that we can do better. The time that a teacher has with his or her students is limited and needs to be honored, respected and leveraged. . Our students deserve better," he said.

This was the only decision that could have been made, said Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand President Freda Westman. She called the books "offensive."

Harborview Elementary School teacher Shgen George initially complained about the text when she was setting up her classroom in August and saw the text depicted a young Native American girl at a boarding school and a young Native American boy removed from his home, walking the Trail of Tears.

"My immediate reaction was I just felt so trivialized," George has said.

Cross-Cultural Specialist Paul Berg assessed the books, and his findings served as a formal complaint to the district's Native Education Advisory Council.

People attending a meeting in October said they believed the books inaccurately depicted and "sugarcoated" Native experiences.

A challenge committee was formed and voted 7-2 in November to remove the books. Miller acted after that vote.

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com