In the Classroom

West Ada students sign up to read 'Indian' book; author coming to Boise

Five months after Sherman Alexie’s book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” was restored to West Ada School District’s 10th grade supplemental reading list, 29 percent  of students in classes where the book is offered have signed up to read it.

And Alexie, the author of the prize-winning book that was drawn into an emotional debate last year as some parents sought to have it yanked off the reading list, is coming to Boise next month as part of The Cabin’s Readings and Conversations series.

His appearance is sold out.

In case you missed the dustup last year, some parents objected to Alexie’s book about a Native American teen growing up on a reservations near Spokane. Parents blasted the book as anti-Christian, racist and filthy. They pointed to the lead character’s boasting about his masturbating as on example of material they did not want their children reading in classrooms.

“Part-Time Indian” was pulled from the reading list about a year ago and over the summer, the school district reviewed more than 200 books on supplemental reading lists for grades six through 12.

At a hearing in September, West Ada School Board returned ”Part-Time Indian” to the supplemental reading list.

Supplemental reading lists have many books and teachers usually pick several from which students choose one to read for the class.

A total of 177 students out of a possible 608 signed up to read the book this year. Forty five students at Meridian High School; 87 students at Mountain View High School; and 45 student at Centennial High School.

Teachers decided not to use the book at Rocky Mountain High School, “just because of the issues that are out there,” said Principal Mike Hirano. Teachers said they “can still teach the content and material and not use that book,” Hirano said.

“Part-time Indian” isn’t on the reading list at Eagle High School, either.

Leslie Younger, a 10th grade English teacher at Mountain View High School, wasn’t in the district last year when the controversy erupted, but followed news on the “Part-time Indian” flap. She decided to offer the book to her students this year. “I just felt our focus was culture and how culture is harmful and helpful to a person,” she said. “We don’t get a lot of …stories from Native Americans about their perspective.”

Students have discussed the book, but not the controversy surrounding it, she said.

She is following rules that accompanied “Part-time Indian’s” return to the classroom:

-- Only students with parental permission can read "Part-time Indian" for the class.

-- The book is discussed in a literary circle of students reading the same book, so those without parental permission won't hear the discussion.

-- Teachers are prohibited from reading the book aloud.