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N C A C

Kids Right to Read Project

A project of the National Coalition Against Censorship


CO-SPONSORED BY

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression Association of American Publishers Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Members, Reconsideration Committee Watauga County Schools 175 Pioneer Trail Boone, NC 28607 November 26, 2013

Dear Committee Members, We are writing concerning a recent challenge to Isabel Allendes The House of the Spirits in 10th grade English classrooms in Watauga High School. We understand that some parents object to the book because of language and sexual content and that a district committee will soon meet to review the challenge. We hope that the information we provide will be useful in the reconsideration process. In brief, widely accepted legal and educational principles suggest that there is no basis for removing the book and doing so would raise serious constitutional questions. We understand that the book underwent a formal reconsideration after the parent of one student objected to sexual situations and violence in the book, calling it graphic and immoral. The language and situations in this work, as in any text under study, however, must be seen in the context of the entire work. The ethical and literary value of a work is distorted if one focuses only on particular words, passages, or segments. While there is shock value in isolating and listing selected passages from a book, doing so reveals nothing about the fundamental message or theme in a work nor does it provide insight into its literary and educational value which must be the focus of school officials responding to such challenges. Isabel Allende is one of the best-known living Latin-American writers, whose works are used frequently in high school classrooms as exemplars of magical realism and world literature. The House of the Spirits, Allendes best-known novel, follows several generations of a family in South America during the twentieth century as they grapple with personal and political upheaval in Chile. It is frequently taught in high school classrooms as a way to expand students worldview, introduce them to foreign cultures, socio-political climates and histories while connecting the larger picture to the individual lives of the books characters. The House of the Spirits is included in North Carolinas Common Core Curriculum for 10th grade literature and excerpts from the novel appear in Watauga High Schools state-adopted textbook for all sophomores, World Literature (Glencoe). We understand that it is taught in a 10th grade honors English class at Watauga High School that seeks to prepare students for Advanced Placement English in their final years of high school. Isabel Allende is a recommended author and this book is a recommended work by the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate lists. Finally, English 205 is an elective: no student has to take the course. Despite this fact, an alternate text is offered to those who request one, with comparable assignments and assessments. Curricular choices are uniquely within the discretion of local school authorities so long as they are based on legitimate educational grounds. Brown v. Hot, Sexy and Safer Productions, Inc. 68 F.3d 525, 534 (1st Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1159 (1996). Thus, courts have held that a parent has no right to tell a public school what his or her child will and will not be taught, Leebaert v. Harrington, 332 F.3d 134, 141 (2d Cir. 2003), or to direct how a public school teaches their child. Blau v. Fort Thomas Public School District, et al, 401 F.3d 381, 395 (6th Cir. 2005). See also Parker v. Hurley, 514 F. 3d 87, 102 (1st Cir., 2008). Any other rule would put schools in the untenable position of having to cater
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a curriculum for each student whose parents had genuine moral disagreements with the schools 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) The House of the Spirits was evaluated by a school committee of educators and administrators which found that the book was perfectly suitable for 10th grade classrooms. This meeting was governed by the procedure defined in Section V. B. of Board policy 4.02.40 - Selection of Educational Media Resources which notes, When items are challenged, the principles of the right to read and free access of information shall be upheld by the Board of Education. While parents are free to request an alternative assignment for their children, they have no right to impose their views on others or to demand that otherwise educationally worthy materials be removed, merely because they consider them objectionable, offensive, or inappropriate. To go further and remove the book violates the right to read and to the free access of information of other students and parents. Whats more, the practical effect of acceding to any parents request to censor materials will be to invite more challenges, and to leave school officials vulnerable to multiple, possibly conflicting demands. Literature helps prepare students for the future by providing opportunities to explore issues they may encounter in life. The freedom to read, inquire, question and think for ourselves is foundational to a quality education. We urge you to uphold the highest educational standards for your students, and to respect both the decisions of your professional staff and the intellectual freedom of your college-bound students and retain use of The House of the Spirits in Watauga High School. Sincerely,

Joan Bertin Executive Director National Coalition Against Censorship

Chris Finan President American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

Charles Brownstein Executive Director Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Judy Platt Director, Free Expression Advocacy Association of American Publishers

Kent Williamson Executive Director National Council of Teachers of English

Alexandra Owens Executive Director American Society of Journalists and Authors

Larry Siems Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs PEN American Center

Lin Oliver Executive Director Society of Childrens Book Writers & Illustrators

Barbara Jones Director, Office for Intellectual Freedom American Library Association