Feb. 26, 2014. Dear Editor,
We are parents of a 10th grader at Watauga High. Unfortunately, last semester our daughter was denied the opportunity to read and critically analyze The House of the Spirits with the benefit of her teacher’s, Ms. Whitaker’s able guidance, or in concert with her peers, who would have surely expanded her range of perspectives and questions regarding the many important ethical/moral reflections that are required of its readers. Deliberation of these issues—such as rape, prostitution, abortion, and torture—are required of all of us who wish to be informed, responsible, and compassionate actors for the good and the just in our complex world. One of the most important functions of education is preparing the mind and heart toward becoming critical, ethical, empathetic actors in society. We understand the purpose of teaching HOUSE to 10th graders—apart from exposing them to beautiful language, complex characters, masterful storytelling, unfamiliar cultures, and a pivotal historical moment—is to help them learn the practices of critical reading and ethical/moral deliberation.
All we have to do to know these issues are as significant for teens as they are for adults is to pick up a newspaper, open a digital news site, or consider some readily available statistics. Just today, at the top of a search with keywords “rape, news,” is the headline: “Campus on alert after weekend gang rape, sexual assault,” which leads to a story of 19-year-old student, badly beaten and raped at the weekend. Contemplate this reality: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 15% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12—29% are between the ages 12-17—and 44% are under age 18.
In NC, the Age of Majority—legal adulthood—is 18. Do we wait until a person crosses this line (after which they are no longer compelled to be in school) to begin teaching him/her about difficult issues—or more importantly, how to engage in critical and ethical/moral argument, or to develop empathy (which brain research finds is a byproduct of reading great literature)? We hope not!
While we respect others’ decisions for their own children, we adamantly oppose the prospect that an individual’s personal opinions about literature, teaching and morality should negatively impinge upon our child’s—and others’—education. As has been pointed out ad nauseum, since students are not compelled to read HOUSE, and with alternative material offered, any question at this point should be settled. We support the trained professionals at our high school, whom we trust to be responsible and sensitive teachers of difficult subject matters. We believe this board would be making a grave error by contradicting two prior decisions by committees that deemed unwarranted Ms. Lesesne’s appeals to withdraw House from the curriculum on the basis of her claims.
Eliminating HOUSE from the honors curriculum would send a message to our bright young people that you’ve not the trust or faith in them to know the difference between the condemnation and endorsement of morally reprehensible situations. Its removal would send this school district down a dangerously slippery slope—at the bottom of which are the kinds of violent repressions and anti-democratic forces that, ironically, HOUSE highlights and condemns.
A phrase from Allende’s HOUSE keeps ringing in our ears: “…as fragile as a sigh…”. We hope this phrase will ring in your own ears tomorrow evening as you consider the consequences to education and democracy when books are banned and great teachers are effectively censored.
Susan Reed and Frankie Kelly