Tag Archives: buncombe county schools

‘The Kite Runner’ Challenge

Lisa Baldwin’s ‘Kite Runner’ Challenge delivered to the Buncombe County Schools District-Level Media and Technology Advisory Committee on June 16, 2015 (WARNING: Contains Sexually Explicit Material):

‘The Kite Runner’ is in the top 10 challenged books of the 21st century for these reasons:

Profanity demeaning to women, inaccurately assigning Judeo-Christian characteristics to a Muslim god, graphic descriptions of rape, child sexual assault, molestation, sodomy, murder, cruelty, and a child’s suicide attempt pervade this fiction book which was written at a 6th grade reading level.

I am in favor of high academic standards but due to misinformation, I’ll first address what this is not about:

  • This is not about a First Amendment violation. I understand that the American Library Association and National Coalition Against Censorship have threatened lawsuits are possible if this book is removed from the library. This is a false threat; I have not asked that the book be removed from the library. I have only questioned its suitability for classroom instruction and asked for its removal from the approved book list.

  • This is not about book banning or censorship. Stanford University professor, Thomas Sowell, puts it well: “To call a book “banned” because someone decided that it was unsuitable for their particular students would be to make at least 99 percent of all books “banned.” Few individuals or institutions can afford to buy even 1 percent of the vast number of books that are published annually. They must exercise judgment and that judgment is necessarily in the negative most of the time.

    If we are not going to call every book that is not purchased [or approved] by an institution “banned,” then how will we define this nebulous but emotional word?

    Usually some school or library officials decide to buy a particular book and then some parents or others object that it is either unsuitable for children or unsuitable in general, for any number of reasons. Then the cry of “censorship” goes up, even if the book is still being sold openly all over town.

    If the criterion of censorship is that the objection comes from the general public, rather than from people who run schools and libraries, then that is saying that the parents and taxpayers have no right to a say about what is done with their own children or their own money.

  • Do you like to give books to your kids to read? The book is still available for you to do so, if you like. This is not about one parent controlling what your child reads – your child can still read the book in the library at Reynolds High School.

  • Do parents want their child to participate in an adult-guided discussion of this book? Then why don’t these parents discuss it with their children? This is not about stopping discussion. The ACRHS Media Committee received the teacher’s lesson plans; I did not. As it turns out, the teacher planned to focus on racism and compare The Kite Runner to Baltimore and Ferguson. This is quite a reach, in fact it borders on absurdity to compare US police forces with the Taliban and the deaths of the two African-Americans in Baltimore and Ferguson with the ethnic cleansing of the Hazara Race in Afghanistan. A discussion of this kind can only create further racial division and disrespect for our police forces. We should celebrate our civil rights laws and the abolishment of slavery. America is an exceptional country.

  • Yes, there is profanity of the worst kind in the book, even demeaning words like cunt, a description of female anatomy. Some say students hear those words every day. “Although students may hear profanity AT school should they hear “cunt” FROM the school? It sends the wrong message.

I support reading the time-honored classics: meat for the soul. As a parent I want to provide proper guardianship of my children, making sure they receive good nutritious foods and exercise for healthy bodies along with healthy food for their minds. Buncombe County Schools  has a goal of nurturing the “whole child”. When we teach the state-mandated character education and abstinence-only sex education classes, we are nurturing mind and body. It is a contradiction to then teach sexualized literature, particularly that which is abusive. This is not mere pornography but child rape, molestation and sexual assault. The graphic description makes the reader co-conspirator with the The Kite Runner’s protaganist Amir. Not just observer but participant in the act:

Assef knelt behind Hassan, put his hands on Hassan’s hips and lifted his bare buttocks. He kept one hand on Hassan’s back and undid his own belt buckle with his free hand. He unzipped his jeans. Dropped his underwear. He positioned himself behind Hassan. Hassan didn’t struggle. Didn’t even whimper. He moved his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face. Saw the resignation in it. It was a look I had seen before. It was the look of the lamb….From just around the corner, I could hear Assef’s quick, rhythmic grunts.”I pretended I hadn’t seen the dark stain in the seat of his [Hassan’s] pants. Or those tiny drops that fell from between his legs and stained the snow black.”

Even though the teacher said students could “skip that rape scene” which is in Chapter 7, the reader is continually reminded of what happened. Bare buttocks, thrusting and the drops of blood are recurring scenes in the book NOT JUST AN ISOLATED PASSAGE. When considering the book as a whole, one cannot escape the horrors of the child rapes and their consequences. The protaganist, Amir, is haunted by the scene for much of his life and the guilt is overwhelming.

This should not be about forcing children, who are not mature enough, to read this book. It should not be about forcing those who have been sexually assaulted to read a book that can cause repressed feelings to surface which may cause a child to withdraw or act out. Our heads are in the sand if we think “opt-out” forms make it home to the parent. Even if they did, the mature adult scenes and graphic description of child rape were not fully disclosed on the form. When the ACRHS SIT met last week to decide on whether to continue the opt-out policy, the teachers on the committee said students were not responsible enough to return a permission slip to teachers, so they voted to keep using opt-out forms. If students are not mature enough to return the permission slip, how is it that they are mature enough to read Rated R or X material?

Some have had the audacity to ask me why I think rape is wrong. Is it possible that Buncombe County Schools wants to normalize rape? Some have asked me if I think homosexual rape is worse than heterosexual rape? All rape is wrong. Look at another Buncombe-approved book, The Bluest Eye. Rape, incest and pedophilia are portrayed as “innocent” and “tender” just as Hassan is portrayed as a lamb.

Something is wrong with the criteria for approving these books. Buncombe uses the ALA Bill of Rights which basically says all is permissible. But all that is permissible is not good for children; boundaries must be set by adults. The ALA also has a goal of allowing internet access to pornographic sites in the children’s section of libraries in the name of “First Amendment Rights” – permissible but not GOOD for children. Why does the school district deem it so important, so essential, to include graphic depictions of rape in classroom materials for 15 year olds?

Dear Media Committee, please don’t minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of the alternative viewpoints presented. This is about using logic and reason, not emotion.

1. I am asking that if you want to explore life in the Islamic world, put a different “New York Times Best Seller” on the Buncombe-approved book list, ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books’:  Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher secretly gathered seven female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran and fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, the girls in this class risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nubokov, Henry James. ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ is a remarkable exploration of resilience in the face of tyranny and a celebration of the liberating power of literature.

  1. Examine your criteria for selecting books for the approved list. Make adjustments to ensure Buncombe pursues high academic standards and rigor. Require committee members to read the books before putting them on the list.
  2. Why should any sexually explicit book, that cannot be quoted in the Citizen-Times, be on the list? Why not use the movie rating system or audio visual rubric for judging which books to put on the list? A child cannot go to an R-Rated movie if they are under 18 years old without parent permission. If you keep sexually explicit books on the list, then let’s have permission slips for all minor children, under age 18. There is a way to indicate permission electronically with the parent portal.
  3. Be transparent and fully disclose the explicit materials in the book. The teacher told me the last minute inclusion of The Kite Runner was because she had to “wait for approval.” The truth is, the book had been on the approved list for years. The 10th grade honors class reading list she sent home at the beginning of the semester said “All Quiet on the Western Front”, NOT The kite Runner. How can I trust her to teach my child when she is not honest with parents?



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.
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/

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