Students at Williams Field High School in Gilbert, Arizona are looking for answers after Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner was abruptly pulled from the curriculum district-wide, just as Honors English 10 classes were to start reading it. Higley Unified School District issued a statement implying that the book had not been through a required approval process, but the Williams Field online student newspaper counters that it was approved and has been used in classes for five years.
According to News From the Nation, English teachers received an email from the district’s Director of Secondary Education late in the afternoon of March 27, “informing them that The Kite Runner was no longer to be used as required reading, nor as an option for an independent reading novel.” With the fourth quarter of the school year starting the following day, teachers had to act fast and modify their lesson plans to cover the replacement title, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men–which News of the Nation rightly points out is also a frequently challenged book due to profanity and racial slurs.
As to The Kite Runner, HUSD has offered no explanation for the abrupt removal, but most students who have read it in previous years assume that parents probably complained about the novel’s description of a sexual assault against a young boy. Indeed, the book has been challenged in other school districts for the same reason–in Buncombe County, North Carolina in 2015, and in Waukesha, Wisconsin the year before. In both cases the school districts observed their challenge policies, and the book was ultimately retained after careful consideration and public input.
In a separate editorial, News From the Nation gathered some thoughtful quotes from current Honors English 10 students, as well as their older classmates who have read The Kite Runner in past years. More than one student said that the book broadened their horizons, and senior Natalie Davis opined that “if [the district] banned this book for a mature paragraph, then high schoolers might as well read picture books, because every book we read in class deals with mature themes.”
Another senior, Emily Knight, pointed out that students always have the option to choose an alternate reading assignment if they or their parents are uncomfortable with the primary title. In fact, Knight said she has selected the alternate assignment herself in the past, but “I object to the banning of any novel, especially…a respected and accepted one.”
Even if The Kite Runner was properly approved for classroom use, HUSD’s challenge policy would do little to protect it. The policy allows for the superintendent to unilaterally pull a book from use as soon as a complaint is received. If the complainant is unsatisfied with the initial decision, they may appeal it to the school board–which may then refer the matter back to the superintendent.
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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.