MENDOTA HEIGHTS, Minn. -- Henry Sibley High School administrators have put a stop to lessons on two novellas, citing complaints about their content.
The Mendota Heights, Minn., school told parents last week that it had asked staff to “pause teaching” on John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” which had been assigned to ninth-grade language arts students.
The letter cited recent “communication from families and staff expressing concerns about racist stereotypes and slurs used in the novel,” which first was published in 1937.
The n-word appears nine times in the book, which last made the American Library Association’s most-challenged books list in 2004.
The school also has “paused” the use of Larry Watson’s “Montana 1948,” citing “concerns about the content … from our American Indian community.” In the book, the protagonist’s uncle sexually assaults, and later murders, the family’s Sioux housekeeper.
It had been assigned to 10th-grade American Literature classes. First published in 1993, it too has been censored elsewhere.
In both cases, students have been reassigned a series of short stories that teach the same skills, the school said.
The two books had been part of the school’s curriculum for several years. No decisions have been made about whether they’ll be assigned in the future.
Carrie Ardito, spokeswoman for the West St. Paul–Mendota Heights–Eagan school district, said the book complaints have highlighted a need for the district to develop a policy for reconsidering instructional materials.
She said the district has reached out to several school districts about the steps they follow. There is no timeline for when such a policy would go before the school board.
English language arts teachers at Sibley did not respond to requests for comment.
Watson, who grew up in North Dakota, said by email Monday that any attempt to defend “Montana 1948” could be dismissed as self-serving.
“When I wrote that novel I didn’t have an audience of adolescents in mind. In fact, I had no certainty that the novel would be published and read at all, much less that it would go on to be adopted in classrooms in this country and in others. That it has still astonishes me, 27 years after the book’s publication. But of course I’m grateful and honored,” he wrote.