Parental Rights and The Kite Runner Controversy

Buncombe’s School Board Policy 3210 allows parents to question supplemental materials used in the classroom. And that’s exactly what I did when my child told me he would be reading ‘The Kite Runner’ in 10th grade Honors English class instead of the time-honored classic, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. ‘The Kite Runner’ is a dark and disturbing adult fiction novel set in war-torn Afghanistan and has been frequently challenged by concerned parents for its sexually explicit content. The American Library Association reported that it’s one of the most frequently challenged books of the 21st century.

Interestingly, when the teacher and administrators met with me, no lesson plans were presented nor were any verbal explanations given on exactly how the book in question, The Kite Runner, would be used in the classroom. The low reading level (6th grade), mature adult themes (graphic homosexual rapes of children, extreme cruelty and violence, murder, profanity demeaning to women, and a suicide attempt) didn’t matter to the teacher, only that the book was about Afghanistan. The teacher had not disclosed to parents at the curriculum fair or the spring open house that this book would be taught during the semester. During the open house I asked the teacher how she was incorporating the common core standards into the English Language Arts curriculum. She did not tell me that she planned to teach this common core novel in place of the classic my other three children had studied in 10th grade Honors English class.

I expressed concerns that the book description on the “opt-out” form didn’t fully disclose the adult themes nor did it ask parents to sign an “opt-in” form/permission slip. The issue here is “full disclosure” and the opportunity for parents to “opt-in” in regards to this and any book’s content. An “opt-out” form without specific disclosure does not empower parents. Such a procedure speaks to the negligence of this system. When dealing with explicit sexual content, not only do the parents of minors have the right to know, the school system has the legal responsibility to inform. The system failed in this responsibility from both a legal and ethical perspective.

It is well-known that “opt-out” forms remain in students’ backpacks or never make it home. Last year a parent publicized this problem during the school board’s public comment period. He had not received the “opt-out” form for his child’s sex education class and requested that “opt-in” forms be sent home when sensitive topics are to be taught in school.

Parents do have the right to “control” what their “minor” child reads and asking for such disclosure and an “opt in” process is well within parent rights. It is quite apparent who has “control issues” – our public school administrators and local media. They continue to demonize any and all who question “their” position. After all, it was the Reynolds High principal who took my objection to the Asheville Citizen-Times.

The teacher did not fully disclose the deeply disturbing elements of the story to parents: the detailed, graphic description of an older boy raping a younger boy, the rape of a child by a man, a suicide attempt related to the child rape, cruelty, murder and profanity demeaning to women. The child rape is the central theme of the book, not just an isolated incident. How can students, “if they wish”, do as the teacher suggested, skip “a key scene, critical to the plot”?

The rape scenes might trigger emotional, traumatic or painful memories and experiences among some of the students. Even colleges have “trigger warnings” at the top of the syllabus to alert students to disturbing content; at least one college provided a “safe space” for students when a controversial topic became overwhelming for them. Is the teacher qualified to handle potential psychological issues?

Everyone needs to understands that sexual abuse as a child carries over into adulthood and parenthood and impacts any children in that situation. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.

Nonetheless, I tried to offer a compromise but the principal rejected it. I suggested that the class continue to read the classic, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, comparing and contrasting the World War I soldiers’ experience with that of modern warriors in Afghanistan/Iraq, using appropriate excerpts from ‘The Kite Runner’ and other books. Reading the classics helps us understand the past, preventing us from making the mistakes of our predecessors. Critical and analytical thinking skills are developed when reading more complex works.

Instead, the principal suspended the book from classroom instruction (it is still available in the school library) until these issues can be sorted out. No books were banned or censored. The school’s Media Technology Advisory Committee will review the objection and make a decision. If I disagree with their decision, I can appeal to a district-wide committee.

What The Asheville Citizen-Times Didn’t Disclose…

Buncombe’s School Board Policy allows parents to question supplemental materials used in the classroom. And that’s exactly what I did when my child told me he would be reading The Kite Runner in 10th grade Honors English class instead of the time-honored classic, All Quiet on the Western Front.

When I offered a compromise, the teacher and adminstration ignored my request. Below I detail how I asked to continue reading the classic, All Quiet on the Western Front, comparing and contrasting the WWI soldiers experience with that of modern warriors in Afghanistan/Iraq, using appropriate excerpts from The Kite Runner and other books.

Interestingly, when the teacher (and the administrative entourage) met with me, there were no lesson plans presented or any verbal explanations on exactly how the book in question, The Kite Runner, would be used in the classroom. The low reading level, mature adult themes (homosexual rapes of children, extreme cruelty and violence, murder, profanity demeaning to women, and suicide attempt) didn’t matter to the teacher, only that the book was about Afghanistan. I expressed concerns that the book description she gave didn’t fully disclose the adult themes nor did it ask parents to sign a permission slip. She expressed that this would be the first time she has taught the book in the classroom.

After the principal contacted the media, I followed up my response to the Asheville Citizen-Times reporter with the documentation below.

The article in the newspaper :http://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2015/05/01/school-suspends-use-kite-runner-following-complaint/26736581/

From: Lisa Baldwin <lisabaldwin4kids@gmail.com>
Date: Fri, May 1, 2015 at 4:32 PM
Subject: The Kite Runner Issue
To: Julie Ball <jball@citizen-times.com>
Cc: Joshua <jawtry@gannett.com>, “Ponder, Brian” <bponder@ashevill.gannett.com>

Hi Julie,

Thanks for calling today; I wanted to follow-up before you finished the story. Please include that The Kite Runner is a 6.8th grade reading level (lexile) book but is classified as an adult book, not a young adult novel like All Quiet on the Western Front (9th grade reading level.)
Emails below include:
  1. The compromise I suggested.
  2. Request for full disclosure to parents of the adult themes in The Kite Runner. I also requested that a permission slip be sent home to parents; an “opt-in” form rather than an opt-out form.
  3. The link to an article about the situation from Andrea Dillon’s blog at the bottom which details the meeting with the teacher (Ms. Sellers, the principal, and Eric Grant, ELA Specialist, also attended.)
While I understand All Quiet on the Western Front has profanity and wartime violence, it is not in the same category as The Kite Runner (homosexual rape of children, sexual profanity demeaning to women, graphic descriptions of extreme cruelty and violence, including murder, beatings and a suicide attempt.) 
My best,
Lisa Baldwin

Compromise on English Honors II book, The Kite Runner

April 30, 2015

Dear Ms. Sellers,

I am concerned by your silence when I asked for transparency and full disclosure to parents of the issues involved in replacing a classic young adult novel in the English Honors II curriculum with an adult-themed book written at a low reading level.
Perhaps you are still mulling these facts over, trying to make a good decision. I have been thinking, too, and have a suggestion that may help.
Has the question been asked as to why students can’t continue to read the time-proven classic All Quiet on the Western Front, comparing the WWI soldiers’ experience with the modern war in Afghanistan/Iraq? Appropriate excerpts from The Kite Runner could be used along with excerpts from other books like The Lone Survivor (http://amzn.to/1EFSorK) or the bio of Malalai Joya (: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malalai_Joya), a courageous woman elected to Afghan’s parliament 

As a parent, my main concern is that classic novels are being removed from reading lists without parent input. Sometimes the classics are not easy to read but teach us perseverance and other lessons.
I know ACRHS has always had high standards for Honors English. I would support using appropriate excerpts from modern literature while continuing to read and examine the classics.
The compromise I have proposed doesn’t lower the bar but would enrich the class discussion for all students.
Thank you for considering my thoughts and I hope to get a response soon.
Lisa Baldwin
On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:06 AM, Lisa Baldwin <lisabaldwin4kids@gmail.com> wrote:

Ms. Sellers,

I remain concerned about the disingenuous process used to let parents know about the change from a Young Adult to an Adult fiction book for Ms. Bowman’s 10th grade Honors English students (from All Quiet on the Western Front to The Kite Runner.) No mention of this was made at the Open House and it was never posted on Ms. Bowman’s website. I understand she was not certain the book would be approved (for obvious reasons) but important information has not been disclosed to parents.
I am asking that you please contact parents immediately with:
  • a revised form, asking for parents’ permission for their child to read the book (opt-in form), and
  • full disclosure of the reading level (grade 6.8), the name of the 9th grade reading level book being replaced (All Quiet on the Western Front) or give parents a choice (All Quiet on the Western Front or The Kite Runner); include The Kite Runner’s graphic descriptions of extreme cruelty and violence, including more than one episode of the homosexual rape of children. The Kite Runner also includes profanity demeaning to women, murder, beatings and a suicide attempt. Let parents know this is an adult book, not a young adult book.
Please do the same for Ms. Latini’s class; I understand there are adult themes in the A Thousand Splendid Suns book as well. My letter is posted below with the details of our meeting and a request for the names and positions of all those on the MTAC committee who approved this book.
Sincerely,
Lisa Baldwin
Andrea Dillon’s blog about the meeting I had with the administration: http://ladyliberty1885.com/2015/04/30/another-nc-reading-assignment-questioned/

Another NC Reading Assignment Questioned

Lady Liberty 1885

Former Buncombe School board member, Lisa Baldwin, recently raised an issue with school staff at her child’s high school.

The reading assignment was the book, The Kite Runner, and was given to her child in their 10th grade Honors English class.

The book, according to Baldwin’s research, apparently has a lexile score of a 6.8th grade range, yet it contains a number of sexually explicit scenes and accompanying strong language.

I’ve read this book. If you haven’t, you didn’t miss anything but here’s the Cliff’s notes.

Rape is consistent and recurring theme. It’s violent. It’s depressing. If they are using this for ‘cross-curricular’ purposes with AP World History, to which one has to ask, exactly what purposes?? Other than being set in Afghanistan, I’d like to hear this…

View original post 816 more words

The Kite Runner is an adult fiction book featuring several episodes of homosexual rape of children, graphic descriptions of extreme cruelty and violence, including murder, beatings and a suicide attempt. It is being read in Buncombe high schools by 15 and 16 year olds.

The Kite Runner is an adult fiction book featuring several episodes of homosexual rape of children, graphic descriptions of extreme cruelty and violence, including murder, beatings and a suicide attempt. It is being read in Buncombe high schools by 15 and 16 year olds..

The Kite Runner is an adult fiction book featuring several episodes of homosexual rape of children, graphic descriptions of extreme cruelty and violence, including murder, beatings and a suicide attempt. It is being read in Buncombe high schools by 15 and 16 year olds.

April 28, 2015

Ms. Sellers, Ms. Bowman and Mr. Grant,

Thank you for listening to my concerns. I hope we can reach a resolution by Friday. Here is a summary of the meeting. Please send me any corrections/clarifications.
Also, please send me a list of the members of the MTAC committtee that approved The Kite Runner, identifying the which members are parents (not BCS employees) on the committee.
Present at the 3:15pm meeting were the A.C. Reynolds High School principal, Doris Sellers, 10th grade Honors English teacher, Ms. Brooke Bowman, and Eric Grant, the BCS ELA Specialist.

1. Why was the book, The Kite Runner, chosen? For the setting in Afghanistan; content relevant to today; part of the standards.

2. Who chose the book? 10th grade honors English teachers, Ms. Latini and Ms. Bowman, chose to use A 1000 Splendid Suns (Latini) and The Kite Runner (Bowman), respectively. The two classes will come together to discuss the two books during an enrichment period.
3. It was explained that the books were on the “approved list”. I asked where the list came from? The MTAC committee decides what is “approved”. I asked if there were any parents on the MTAC committee and no one knew the answer.
3. I made the point of the book’s 6.8th grade reading level and thus its inappropriateness for a 10th grade Honors English Class. The teacher said that the content was important. Cross-curricular plans have been made with the AP World History class.
4. I also made the point that the book includes graphic descriptions of extreme cruelty and violence, including homosexual rape. (Also includes murder, beatings and a suicide attempt.) I asked the principal to explain to me what the word “cunt” on page 7 meant as an example of the crass language in the book.  She did; I had to look it up on-line (According to Wikipedia, “Scholar Germaine Greer said in 2006 that cunt “is one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock.”
5. Another point I made was that this normalizes abnormal behaviors and desensitizes teens. Of course, the argument was made was that this was reality. (This is a fiction novel.)
6. Apparently, this book is taking the place of the 9th grade reading level book, All Quiet on the Western Front. This will be the book my son reads as an alternative. (It is written on a 9th grade reading level.)
7. The teacher said she would draw my son and his book into the discussions.
8. I said I didn’t want my son in the discussions of the other book. I would like him to be separate and have a certified ELA teacher.
9. I expressed that my son reads Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn and I expect classical literature to be taught in his Honors English class.
10. The teacher mentioned that there is “language” in All Quiet on the Western Front; I will look into this.
11. I expressed my disappointment and even called it a “black mark on Reynolds HS” to read this book. I also explained that I was unhappy with the opt-out form; it should be an opt-in or permission form. Inevitably, there will be parents who never see the form. The principal said she would bring up the form at her next principals’ meeting.
12. What I didn’t mention was the racism in the book. My concern is how the discussion on this topic will be guided in light of riots in Ferguson and Baltimore.
 After the meeting, I found an interesting review by Cath Murphy, review editor at LitReactor.com:
 “This is the reason The Kite Runner became so popular. It’s not the boys or the kites or the satisfying yet overworked theme of betrayal and redemption. If this book had been set in Greece, or Brooklyn, or Iceland, there is no way in a month of Sundays it would have become required freshman reading and graced the reading lists of High Schools. The Kite Runner caught the popular imagination because it allowed us to learn about one of the world’s troubled places, discover that the Taliban really are a bunch of bad guys, learn a little Farsi, and do it all from the safety of our own armchairs….Far from being the saving grace of The Kite Runner, Afghanistan is its fatal flaw. The book played a cruel trick on us: it allowed us to feel we were learning something about a tragedy, when really it was presenting us with a revisionist view of history…”  You can read more details of the history left out of this historical fiction novel at LitReactor.com.
Thank you,
Lisa Baldwin