Dade County School District, a small Georgia district with four public schools, attracted attention for yanking a National Book Award winner from its reading list after facing parental objections over sexual content and profanity. Sherman Alexie’s best-selling young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, had been assigned at Dade County High School as part of a unit on discrimination awareness.1 The book tells the story of physically challenged teen growing up on an Indian reservation and the prejudices he must surmount.
Typical of parental objections was that expressed by Mechele Berry, whose 15-year old son was assigned the book. Although the school informed parents by letter that the novel contained sexual references and profanity, “I returned it back with a note talking about how I didn’t approve of it… He showed me some of the things that were in it and it was just disgusting,” she said. “You know, perversion.”2 One passage in the novel refers to masturbation. Other parents raised objections about profane language that offended their religious views. School district policy allows parents to request that their child be assigned alternative reading if they find any book objectionable. In this case, however, school administrators pulled the book completely off the reading list and removed it from the school library shelves.
Dade Superintendent Shawn Tobin convened an advisory committee of parents and teachers to discuss the specifics of Absolutely True Diary as well as general guidelines for assigning reading material in the future.
One of Tobin’s proposals generated intense disagreement among parents and teachers: “Employee will confirm reading material is free of vulgar language, sexual content, racial insults or demeaning religious connotations.” In the words of one teacher, this provision would eliminate "Chaucer, Shakespeare and huge tracts of the Bible. Books without sexual content or profanity? They don’t write ‘em.”3 The district will continue to work on establishing a book selection process that satisfies the conflicting expectations of some Dade County parents and educators.
1 Alison Morris, “An Absolutely Great Novel by Sherman Alexie,” Publishers Weekly, 6 August 2007, accessed 29 November 2010, <http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/shelftalker/?p=158>.
2 Robin Ford Wallace, “Novel Pulled After Parents Complain,” Dade County Sentinel, 9 November 2011, accessed 29 November 2011, <http://www.dadesentinel.com/v2/content.aspx?module=ContentItem&ID=227007&MemberID=1338>.