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Coeur d'Alene Ad Hoc Committee Recommends Bumping Steinbeck Novel From General Reading List


An ad hoc committee recommended Monday to the Coeur d'Alene School District Board of Trustees to bump the 1937 John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men from the ninth grade general reading list to a small group reading list.

"Too much profanity, negative," state the minutes of the April 22 meeting.

The initial challenge came from committee member and Magistrate Judge Gene Marano, who moved to approve the novel for small group instruction, seconded by Cary Miller and passed 4-1-1 at an April 22 committee meeting. Their criticism: Of Mice and Men contains profanity and negative themes that may not be appropriate for ninth graders.

Committee member Mary Jo Finney told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that she found 102 profanities, including "bastard" and "God damn," in 110 pages, and that the book doesn't belong in the canon of American literary classics.

"The story is neither a quality story nor a page turner," she said. 

Marano told the Spokesman-Review that he thought the book was "too dark for ninth-graders," and that "it needs to be in a small group to explain away the dark part of it."

The novella has long been a staple of high school reading lists, and has been on the Coeur d'Alene School District's required reading list since 2002.

Current approved titles on the ninth grade whole group reading list are "Romeo & Juliet," Animal Farm, Great Expectations and The House on Mango Street. Titles on the small group reading list include Go Ask Alice, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Odyssey.

Now, the issue is in the midst of a 30-day comment period in which the public can weigh in on the book's appropriateness and merits as a learning text. The Board of Trustees will take that testimony into account at its upcoming meeting Monday, June 1, when it will have the final say on whether Of Mice and Men meets the expectations of the class and is relevant to student needs. If the school board agrees with the ad hoc committee, Of Mice and Men would switch from the whole group reading list to the small group reading list during the 2016-2017 school year.

"This is part of the process the district has defined," said Coeur d'Alene School District Director of Curriculum and Assessment Mike Nelson, though he said that the opinions of those on the ad hoc committee "are not universally shared" by students and instructors. He said he expects vibrant public comment on the topic ahead of the June 1 school board meeting.

Ad hoc committees regularly review public school reading lists, but according to the American Library Association, Of Mice and Men was one of the five most challenged or banned books in America between 2000 and 2009.

Last year, readers learned about a challenge to Sherman Alexie's young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which had been challenged during a West Ada School Board meeting on the grounds that its references to racism and sexuality were inappropriate for high school students. The book was ultimately reinstated on the West Ada School District's supplemental reading list, though students must obtain permission from their parents to access the book, and it is not allowed to be read aloud in class.