District Rejects Book That’s Too ‘Diverse’ And ‘Sad’ For High School English Class

A Wisconsin school district removed a book about Japanese internment camps from assigned readings, citing it as being too diverse.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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Japanese internment

The Muskego-Norway school district in Wisconsin has removed approval for a book about Japanese internment camps that was to be assigned reading for high school sophomores. This is based on the premise that the award-winning novel is “too diverse” and lacked the proper balance. It comes at a time where many public schools have allowed pornographic materials to be kept in school libraries for the sake of supporting the LGBTQ+ community. 

During a June 13th Educational Services Committee Meeting, parent Anna Zielke took notes and released them for public viewing. She questioned why the committee was rescinding approval for, When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka. This historical fiction novel was released in 2002, has won numerous literary awards, and is based off of her own experiences in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. 

One committee member noted that she didn’t like the book because the characters were nameless and that the work had many bad reviews. Another committee member defended this position also noting that it was chosen as a “diverse” book but did not meet the educational requirements because it could not be all about “oppression.” While the material in question does display a one-sided view of the sensitive history of America’s Japanese internment camps, many parents support their children learning about this tragic truth. 

While school boards fight against parents to allow LGBTQ+ books with graphic sexual images to be allowed in school libraries, they are, in some cases, also fighting to restrict content that discusses serious historical events. The school board President, Chris Buckmaster, did offer further perspective. He noted to committee members that the book in question would disrupt classroom balance as students were already set to research Japanese internment camps through a 10-page excerpt of a nonfiction book. 

In order to offer unbiased material, Buckmaster discussed also teaching about The Rape of Nanking. His philosophy is that it would display the desperation that Americans felt regarding the Japanese during WWII. This incident was ordered by Japanese General Matsui Iwane, who led an attack on the city of Nanking. During this process, 20,000 women and young girls of all ages were raped, tortured, and murdered. 150,000 male war prisoners were killed along with 50,000 male civilians. His theory is that the basis for Japanese internment camps should be taught alongside nonfiction accounts from within them instead of fictional best-sellers. 

Japanese internment

The sentiment surrounding Japanese internment camps is painful for many. Teaching the history of how and why they were created is a serious subject that many parents agree needs to be included in lessons, but opinions on how it should be approached differ. While the fictitious novel by Julie Otsuka was based on some real-life events, they are not 100% factual accounts. Those wishing to teach history as it was prefer nonfiction details to offer solid evidence of what happened. The book in question was sent back for approval under these pretenses. Whether it will be re-assigned is unknown, but there are numerous books on this subject that parents can advocate for.