The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexis has been called into question by parents in the USD 231 school district for content they don’t believe is suitable for their children to be reading in their English classes.
Carrie Schmidt, a parent of two teenage children in the school district, said the book came to her attention after asking for the class curriculum.
“I looked it up and noticed that it was one of the most challenged books for sexual content, offensive language, racism, religious beliefs, and how it’s inappropriate for school age children,”she said. “From there I spoke with another parent and we decided to get the book and read it.”
The book is a National Book Award winner, but has been questioned by parents in school districts across the country over the past decade.
National Banned Book week this year is September 18 to September 24 with the theme “Books Unite Us. Censorship Divides Us.”
Banned Book Week is a national event hosted by a coalition of publishers, teachers, booksellers, journalists, librarians and others who support the freedom “to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular”
According to the American Library Association, in 2021, there were 729 challenges to materials in libraries, schools and universities which targeted 1,597 different books. These numbers are up more than 570 challenges and more than 1,320 books from the previous year.
A “challenge” to a book is an attempt to remove or restrict access to that item, whether in a library or school or elsewhere. A “ban” is when an item has been removed from the public’s access.
The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian is the sixth most challenged book in the country, the ALA said.
Schmidt said there is an underlying theme to the book that the white man is privileged over the Indian, but other themes are disturbing.
Bud Campbell, parent of four students in the district, said other parents made him aware of the book.
“There were two books brought to my attention,”he said. “The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian and The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Campbell said he sent an email to the principal of GEHS, Frank Bell, and was told that the True Diary book was being used as instructional material but the Handmaids Tale was not.
“The Handmaids Tale book was donated to a teacher and put into the classroom without any inspection,”he said.
Schmidt, Campbell and a few parents met with the school district’s new Superintendent Dr. Brian Huff, who told them he believes the school district needs more controversial content discussed in school.
“He said he ‘gets’ it because there are parts of the book that are ‘embarrassing’ and difficult’,”she said. “However he also told us that it is hard to find books that keep students attention these days.”
Schmidt said that concerns her.
“To me that is telling me that the school believes that in order to keep a students attention and get them to read a book, that the book must have edgy, sexual content in it,”she said.
Campbell said they were told by Dr. Huff that he feels it is necessary for students to experience books and materials that are controversial.
“I completely agree with that statement, but, there are thousands of controversial materials out there that can give the students the same result without subjecting them to vulgar language or pornographic material,”he said.
Schmidt said talk and conversations about sex are pushed on students daily.
“It’s bad enough what they get exposed to outside of the school doors,”she said. “I just don’t think that we need to have it shoved down their throats at school.”
Campbell said The Handmaids Tale is a graphic novel which includes pages of pornographic drawings, and The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian includes racial jokes involving n***ers f***ing buffalo, a chapter titled Naked women + right hand = happy happy joy joy, and multiple explanations and directions to masturbate.
“I am not exactly sure why the district feels the need to subject students under the age of 18 to pornographic materials and thoughts of sexual activities? These are children we are giving into the care of the district,”he said.
Schmidt said school is a place for learning.
“It is not a place to talk about how to pleasure yourself or teach that it’s ok to call people derogatory names,”she said. “If a student were to call another child the ‘N’ word, like a character in the book says ‘as a joke’, do you think that would be accepted in the school as appropriate behavior. If a child called another child a ‘retarded fag’ or ‘faggot’ would that child be punished even though it was okay to be in a book they had to read for a grade.”
Campbell said he also doesnt understand why in todays society “where we are striving to become more inclusive, the district thought it a good idea to approve a book that uses the N-word in an attempt to say that black people are involved with beastiality and the result of that act is an Indian baby.”
Schmidt said it is confusing and goes against the district’s behavior and bullying policy.
She said she put in a request to review the book. The district has met in two closed door committee meetings this month.
Schmidt said she is grateful the book is being reviewed and appreciates the board members looking into its content.
“I believe that the committee and our school board members will see that this book is not an appropriate required reading book,”she said.
Schmidt said she isn’t a naive person and knows that books can be edgy.
“However, this book crosses so many lines, so it makes it almost impossible for a person to actually hear and understand the actual lesson the book is trying to tell,”she said.
Schmidt said she is not trying to ban the book despite how it appears.
“I just don’t believe that this book is appropriate to have children read for a grade,”she said.
Schmidt said she knows a different book can be requested as an alternative for a child to read, but it segregats and isolates the child from the rest of the class every time the teacher has a lesson on the regularly assigned book.
“When a child reads a different book than the one in the curriculum they have to leave the room and go to the library,”she said.
Schmidt said Superintendent Dr. Huff told parents in a meeting that public school might not be the place for their children and should look into private schools.
“What Superintedent says that to parents,”she said. “ We are just asking for the District to follow their policies on Instructional Materials where it clearly states that ‘Appropriateness of the resource for the age of the students with whom the resource is intended to be used considering the following: Emotional development, Social Development and the absence of gratuitous vulgar language, sexual explicitness, or violent imagery; and appropriateness of the resource for the circumstances of use.’”
Schmidt said she doesn’t see how the book qualifies to be an approved instructional material based on the district’s own policy.
The item is up for discussion on the agenda for the school board’s Monday, September 12 meeting.
Schmidt said she plans on reading passages of the book out loud to the board and public at the meeting.
Campbell said he is hoping they can get a review of the current instructional materials.
“I am hoping we can get a policy enacted that sets a known team in place that will review all instructional materials for approval,” he said. I am hoping that we can get this book off of the list effective immediately.”
The school board has not been reached for comment by press time.
Schmidt said not all parents read the books their children are assigned, and she doesn’t judge because she used to be that parent.
“I would have appreciated it greatly if another parent would have informed me of an inappropriate book that our children were required to read in class, even if it was in a different grade, because one day my children will be in that grade,”she said. “I have learned that I have to be vigilant and it is not only for my children, but for the children of Gardner.”
The school district’s book policy reads as follows:
IF Textbooks, Instructional Materials and Media Centers IF
(See IKD and KN)
The district shall provide a wide range of quality learning resources for
students to support, enrich, and assist in implementing the district’s educational program. Learning resources shall be defined as textbooks, library acquisitions, websites, technology tools, and ancillary materials for classroom use, and any other resources used for formal or informal teaching and learning purposes. Learning resources may be print or non-print and may be acquired through purchase, as gifts, or as loans.
Criteria for Selection of Learning Resources
Learning resources shall be selected by the professional staff to help
schools meet curricular, instructional, and assessment objectives. The selections shall also be based on long-range plans, existing collections of materials, and the availability of other resources.
The following criteria shall be considered in the selection of learning resources:
Ties to the Curriculum
1. Contribution that the resource makes to the curriculum and to the
interests of the students, based on state and district standards;
2. Contribution the resource makes to the breadth and depth of
representative viewpoints on controversial issues;
3. Contribution of representative viewpoints, including, but not limited to,
multicultural, disability awareness, and gender-fairness concepts;
4. Appropriateness of the resource for the age of the students with whom
the resource is intended to be used considering the following:
• Emotional development,
IF Textbooks, Instructional Materials and Media Centers IF-2
• Ability level,
• Learning style,
• Social development, and
• The absence of gratuitous vulgar language, sexual explicitness,
or violent imagery; and
5. Appropriateness of the resource for the circumstances of use.
Quality of Resource
1. Favorable reviews found in reputable professionally prepared sources;
2. Favorable recommendations based on preview and/or examination of
materials by district certified staff;
3. Reputation and significance of the author, producer, and/or publisher.
4. Potential user appeal;
5. Artistic quality and/or literary style;
6. Quality and variety in format, content, and production;
7. Overall strengths;
8. Timeliness or permanence;
9. Integrity and accuracy of the content with respect to materials that are
not intended to be presented as works of fiction; and
10.Value commensurate with cost and/or need.
The superintendent shall be accountable for assigning educational services personnel to oversee and coordinate the process for selection of learning resources and to assure compliance with the policy.
Students, along with their parents, have the right to request an alternate
selection if an assigned novel is not considered by the family to be acceptable
IF Textbooks, Instructional Materials and Media Centers IF-3 for the student to read. The principal shall develop guidelines for parental notification and alternate selection of assigned communication arts novels. Committee Approval
The District Technology Review Committee shall review and approve or disapprove all requests for instructional technologies. The District Educational Services Committee shall review and approve or disapprove all videos, digital video disks, and trade books.
Conflict of Interest
A person shall be deemed to have a conflict of interest when the person’s
personal or financial interests may influence, or appear to others to influence, the person’s ability to review learning resources objectively or to otherwise participate in the review process.
Library Media Programs
Library media programs shall be an integral part of the instructional program of all schools, providing organized information resources and technologies for both teaching and learning and providing students with experiences and training for lifelong interaction with information resources.
Each instructional item shall be selected in accordance with the Board’s policy for selection of resources. Records held in libraries that connect specific individuals with specific resources, programs or services shall be kept confidential and shall not be used for purposes other than routine record keeping.
The District shall operate its library media programs according to the following guidelines adopted by the American Library Association:
IF Textbooks, Instructional Materials and Media Centers IF-4
1. Books and other library resources shall be provided for the interest,
information, and enlightenment of all people of the community served.
Materials shall not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views
of those contributing to their creation.
2. Library media programs shall provide materials and information presenting
all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials shall not be
prescribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
3. Library media programs shall challenge censorship in the fulfillment of
their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
4. Library media programs shall cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to
5. A person’s right to use library media program resources shall not be denied
or abridged because of sex, age, race, color, creed, religion, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation or disability.
Library media programs that make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms
available to the public shall make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
Any person having a complaint about textbooks, media center or other instructional materials shall meet with the principal. If the matter cannot be resolved, the principal shall notify the superintendent or designee and ask the
IF Textbooks, Instructional Materials and Media Centers IF-5 complainant to use a request for review form which is available through building principals or at the district office. After receiving the completed form, the superintendent shall meet with the complainant to discuss the complaint.