The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was challenged for sexual content and graphic language by a school board member and one community member. The school board member has proposed amending the district’s current media policy to apply standards for audio and visual materials including books. In direct violation of district policy, the Superintendent told all schools to suspend use of the book pending a review. NCAC and five organizations sent the following letter to the Superintendent and School Board:
See also: The Kite Runner Challenged in Indianapolis.
David Burleson, Superintendent
Members of the Burke County Board of Education
700 East Parker Road
PO Drawer 989
Morganton, NC 28680
February 26, 2008
Dear Mr. Burleson and Members of the Board of Education:
We write to oppose efforts to remove the book, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, from Burke County Schools. We understand that a community member has submitted a formal complaint objecting to the book, and one school board member wants to circumvent the normal procedure for challenging books to have The Kite Runner removed because of its vivid descriptions of sexual violence and graphic language. In the meantime, in direct violation of district policy, the Superintendent has told all schools in the district to suspend use of the book pending a review by a Media Advisory Committee.
We also understand that the same board member who objects to The Kite Runner has proposed an amendment to current media policy to ban audio and visual materials “containing sexually inappropriate content, profanity, and vulgar and obscene language or the insinuation thereof.” Books should be evaluated using educational criteria, and “objectionable” content must be viewed in the context of the work as a whole. The proposed amendment, however, which would apply to all materials including books, demands that educators evaluate literature based on inherently subjective criteria and places an overwhelming burden on schools, teachers, and librarians. Even deciding who will judge whether a book’s content is “inappropriate” raises problems. There is no way to ensure that different individuals will view the material the same way. We strongly oppose both the removal of the book and the proposed amendment and urge you to reinstate the book pending review and to adhere to standing district policies in your review of The Kite Runner.
A highly acclaimed bestseller, The Kite Runner is an American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book and has received, among other awards, the ALA Alex Award for books “written for adults that have special appeal to young adults.” The book is indeed concerned with mature, complex themes and historical events that are playing out in the world today. These elements recommend the book, rather than disqualify it, as a teaching tool.
Class discussion of literature that addresses violent, complicated and disturbing themes gives students a forum for grappling emotionally and intellectually with these events. Precluding students from reading literature with difficult themes and language, or even “the insinuation thereof,” would deprive them of exposure to vast amounts of important material, including Shakespeare, major religious texts such as the Bible, the works of Flaubert, Joyce, Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, and Nabokov, contemporary books such as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Beloved, and many of the texts regularly assigned in high schools throughout the State of North Carolina, including books currently on the 10th grade reading list such as Night, Les Misérables, and Things Fall Apart. The school district would potentially put its students at an educational disadvantage in college if it did not introduce them to challenging literature of this sort in high school.
The views of those who object to the book are not shared by all, and banning the book would violate the First Amendment rights of parents who want their children to read Kite Runner. As many courts have observed, public schools have the obligation to "administer school curricula responsive to the overall educational needs of the community and its children." Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003). No parent has the right "to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught." Id. Any other rule would put schools in the untenable position of having "to cater a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the school’s choice of subject matter." Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc., 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). See also Swanson v. Guthrie Indep. School Dist., 135 F.3d 694, 699 (10th Cir. 1998); Littlefield v. Forney Indep. School, 268 F.3d 275, 291 (5th Cir. 2001).
Furthermore, the practical effect of acceding to any request to restrict access to materials will be to invite others to demand changes in the curriculum to reflect their beliefs and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting, demands. The normal response to a parent or student who objects to a particular assignment is to offer a different book. This addresses the concerns of those who object to certain words and ideas without infringing the rights of the many others who are eager for a more inclusive and expansive education.
Circumventing the district’s normal review process for a board member would be both unfair and unreasonable. Review procedures should be applied on a uniform and non-discriminatory basis, to ensure that educational standards are not compromised. Challenges to instructional materials, no matter who files them, should be initiated only by a written complaint indicating that the complainant has read the entire work and specifically identifying the grounds for objection. As the district’s policy prescribes, the review should be based on a professional assessment of the book’s educational value and interest to students, “considering the whole item instead of isolated passages,” and not on whether some individuals may consider the content “objectionable.” Such a process is essential to guard against subjective judgments and to ensure that books are only removed for pedagogically sound and legally sufficient reasons. Books should never be removed unless complaint procedures are followed and never prior to the completion of the review process.
We strongly urge you to keep The Kite Runner available in Burke County Schools and to refrain from applying standards for audio-visual media to literature. Those who object to The Kite Runner are entitled to their view, but they may not impose it on others. They have no constitutional right to restrict students’ access to a book because it conflicts with their personal values. We urge you to stand by the principle that is so essential to individual freedom, democracy, and a good education: the right to read, inquire, question, and think for ourselves.
If we can be of assistance in this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.
|Joan Bertin||Chris Finan|
|National Coalition Against Censorship||American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression|
|Kent Williamson||Judith Platt|
|Executive Director||Director, Freedom to Read|
|National Council of Teachers of English||Association of American Publishers|
|Judith Krug||Larry Siems|
|Director, Office for Intellectual Freedom||Director, Freedom to Read and International Programs|
|American Library Association||PEN American Center|