Sherman Alexie Book Assigned to Students Stirs Controversy at Miami School

By Willard Shepard
|  Tuesday, Jan 14, 2014  |  Updated 2:40 AM EDT
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There is controversy over a book given to some South Florida school students some parents say should never be in their hands. NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports.

There is controversy over a book given to some South Florida school students some parents say should never be in their hands. NBC 6's Willard Shepard reports.

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There is controversy over a book given to some South Florida school students some parents say should never be in their hands.

"The contents of the book: sex, it spoke of masturbation, spoke of racism, just blatant throughout the entire book," said parent Edward Johnson.

The book is called “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” and it was given out at Miami Northwestern Senior High School in Miami-Dade. The parents of two students headed to the school on Monday said something had to be done.

The book overall is about a Native American teen who goes to a predominately white school and what happens to him there.

The school board told us they believe Northwestern Senior High is the only school to hand it out, but it's what's inside the book that had the principal sitting down face to face with the families on Monday.

“The book speaks of masturbation. Like I say, it speaks of men sticking things in different holes and having sex with trees. It speaks of African-Americans having sex with buffaloes to make Indians,” Johnson said.

That's what parent Edward Johnson says he found when he finally saw what his daughter – a 14-year-old freshman at Northwestern Senior High – was assigned to read during the recent holidays. The book was assigned to students in a personal career development class.

"You need to give a child a choice. This book was I feel forced upon a child," Johnson said.

He spoke about his initial reaction when his daughter handed him the book.

"I looked in the book and I said ‘wow.’ So this should not be presented to young ladies nor young men in the high school system,” Johnson said.

The book is written by Sherman Alexie, an author of Native American heritage who has awards from literary groups. And it was banned from a New York City school during the summer.

Johnson said: "I can't say the words on TV. I can't print these words. "

The parents said the principal was very open in listening to their concerns.

Santriness Johnson, the student's mother, said, "I don't believe the things they have in the book should be told to these kids at this age."

“You try to find the best positive, if not role models, but the best literature for them to read. Some of the language in here is like gutter, what you would hear from guys talking on the corner or whatever – around strip clubs or whatever, " Edward Johnson said.

The family's attorney David Kubiliun said they're calling on the Miami-Dade school board to notify parents in the future so something similar doesn't happen.

The school board says the principal worked it out so that the students, whose parents didn't want them to appear on TV, can now read another book to finish their assignment. The board says this assignment for the other students is over and no other kids will be given this book during this school year. The parents are happy about that and the board says it always wants participation from parents.

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