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Originally published Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 4:15 PM

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Seattle School Board postpones decision on pulling 'Brave New World'

A Native American mother of a Seattle Public Schools student appealed to the Seattle School Board Wednesday to remove the novel "Brave New World" from the district's list of approved books for language arts classes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Native American mother of a Seattle Public Schools student appealed to the Seattle School Board Wednesday to remove the novel "Brave New World" from the district's list of approved books for language-arts classes.

"We are assembled here today to take a stand against institutional racism," Sarah Sense-Wilson told board members at a special session before their regular meeting Wednesday evening.

Sense-Wilson, whose daughter read the 1932 classic in class at Nathan Hale High School last year, took issue with Aldous Huxley's numerous uses of the word "savage" and negative depictions of Native Americans.

The board ran out of time Wednesday and will schedule another session to deliberate and vote on the issue.

Kathleen Vasquez, who chaired a school-district committee that selected the 75 books on the approved list, told board members that racially charged language in "Brave New World" is satirical. She conceded that whether teachers place sensitive issues into context could be an issue.

She said one of the committee's priorities was "text complexity," referring to books that have multiple layers of meaning or "are intentionally misleading sometimes."

Nathan Hale administrators dropped the book from its sophomore Language Arts class after Sense-Wilson's initial complaint, but Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson denied her request that the book be removed from curricula districtwide.

Appealing to the board is Sense-Wilson's final option, according to district rules.

"Historically this derogatory term has been used in an effort to dehumanize American Indian, Alaska Native, and First Nations people," she wrote in a letter to Nathan Hale High Principal Jill Hudson last March. Her daughter "reported feeling inferior, embarrassment and misunderstood, she also felt invalidated and stereotyped," she wrote.

"Brave New World" has stirred controversy in schools for decades, but most criticisms have focused on its depictions of drug use and orgies.

The novel depicts a dystopian society in which people are physically and socially segregated into castes. The "World State" forces consumption of a hallucinogenic drug to control the population, and the deities are Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud.

The book's main character, "John the Savage," grew up in a remote "Savage Reservation" but was taken as a young man to civilization, where he struggles to accept the high-tech, drug-addicted, sexually promiscuous, "civilized" world.

Sean Collins Walsh: 206-464-3195 or swalsh@seattletimes.com

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