As a Buncombe County, North Carolina school district review committee prepares to make a recommendation to the school board on a challenge to The Kite Runner this week, CBLDF has joined the National Coalition Against Censorship’s Kids’ Right to Read Project and other free speech advocates in urging committee members to keep the book in the high school curriculum.
Khaled Hosseini’s critically acclaimed novel was challenged earlier this year by parent and former school board member Lisa Baldwin, who objects to depictions of “homosexuality and sexually explicit scenes.” A school-level review committee decided in May that the book was appropriate for the 10th grade Honors English class, especially since teacher Brooke Bowman gave students the option to skip the potentially disturbing rape scene or choose an alternate reading assignment, All Quiet on the Western Front. Baldwin appealed the first review committee’s decision, meaning that according to district policy the book cannot be used in the classroom until the challenge is resolved. The entire class read All Quiet on the Western Front instead.
Now a district-level review committee has had a chance to read the book and will make a recommendation to the school board this week. The board will then take a final vote as to whether The Kite Runner can return to classrooms. In a letter sent to the review committee today, NCAC said:
We urge you to uphold the decision of the building level [review committee] and follow your district’s policy, according to which “[b]ooks and other instructional materials may be removed from the school media collection only for legitimate educational reasons and subject to the limitations ofthe First Amendment”….We hope that in your review of this challenge, the overall high literary and pedagogical merit of the novel will be weighed over words and individual scenes taken out of context. We are sure you will agree that, even though the book remains in the library as optional reading, class discussion of literature that addresses complicated and disturbing themes gives students a forum for grappling emotionally and intellectually with these events and is highly preferable to reading on one’s own.
Separately, Buncombe County Schools may also consider changes to the challenge policy so that no one will be able to keep a book out of the classroom simply by challenging it repeatedly. Associate Superintendent Susanne Swanger issued a written statement about potential pitfalls of the current policy:
In its current form, this process could be used again and again to effectively keep any text from being used — which is clearly outside of the spirit of the policy. It is the practice of our board to review and adjust policies as necessary, and I would expect future conversations regarding this policy.
Although we would prefer that the district follow the generally recommended procedure of keeping challenged books in the curriculum until the challenge is resolved, we applaud them for taking steps to prevent one person from dictating course materials through a misuse of policy. We’re hoping for good news when the review committee makes its recommendation this week! Read the full letter sent to committee members below.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.