On February 27th, the Watauga County Board of Education will vote on keeping or removing Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits from Mary Kent Whitaker’s sophomore Honors English class at Watauga High. On the eve of this vote, let me list three reasons why I believe House should remain in the curriculum.
1.) The book is optional. No sophomore has to take Honors English. If they do, they can choose to read an alternate text. Some parents against House complain that the alternative is flawed, and these parents should continue to work with the WHS administration to achieve what they consider a instructionally-equal alternative. They should not, however, take away the rights of parents like me who want our kids to read House. In fall 2013, over ninety percent of students (in consultation with their parents) chose to read House in class but couldn’t because of this challenge. This is unfair.
2.) The book is appropriate for North Carolina sophomore Honors students. It is a recommended state Core Curriculum text. Its high reading level is challenging for Honors students, Isabel Allende is a highly-regarded contemporary author, and House’s subject matter–recent Chilean history–follows the state’s 10th-grade focus on world literature.
3.) Whitaker teaches House in a responsible, intellectual rigorous way. House includes adult material, but Whitaker, a Watauga County Teacher of the Year, treats the novel with sensitivity and tact. At the December 12 Board of Education meeting, Dr. Clinton Zimmerman, citing research by Harvard media specialist Dr. Michael Rich, noted that reading a novel like House in a classroom with a teacher who answers questions, is receptive to individual readers’ needs, and conducts intelligent discussion can increase reader empathy and have a positive, moral effect on students. Ms. Whitaker is that kind of teacher. That is why Dr. Zimmerman, along with everyone else on the two review committees for this book challenge so far, have voted to keep House in the sophomore Honors curriculum.
On February 27, I hope the Board of education members will also vote to retain The House of the Spirits. It’s the right thing to do.