The Champaign Unit 4 school board set a dangerous precedent last week by voting to censor the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini from the sophomore honors English curriculum. Certainly, the passage in question, a male rape scene, is disturbing. But so are many, many other passages in great works of literature presented to high school students (works by Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck and William Faulkner immediately come to mind). Great literature, and all art for that matter, has a way of expressing the full range of human experience so as to challenge readers to understand what it is to be human and learn in a safe way about the world and its problems.
Supporters of this school board decision are quick to point out that the book has not been banned or censored from the curriculum entirely, merely removed from this particular level of study. But by dictating curriculum on any level, the board starts down the slippery slope of second-guessing classroom teachers and curriculum administrators, all who take the task of material selection very seriously.
Indeed, by voting to censor the curriculum, the school board undermines the very process that the district has in place to deal with sensitive curriculum issues. This summer, a committee of parents, teachers and administrators took a careful look at the educational value of this work and, as educational professionals and community members, voted to keep The Kite Runner on the reading list for Honors English students. The school board should honor the work of this committee, so that subsequent curriculum committees retain their validity and sense of purpose.
Certainly, Unit 4’s educational program should not be subject to the personal preferences of individual school board members, all the more so when controversy and strong emotions surround the decision-making. And if school board members start down the path of micro-managing curriculum in response to parent complaints, then where does the censoring stop?
In fact, this very concern was expressed by a federal court in California in the Monteiro v. Tempe Union High School District case (1998). The court there found that the removal of books that some parents might find objectionable from the curriculum violated first amendment rights and would establish a dangerous precedent. The judge stated that if the school district started removing books found objectionable by some parties, then all kinds of ideas and books could be called into question.
It is imperative then, that our community takes every step to protect the professionalism and integrity of our educational system and ensure the tolerance of diverse ideas and expression to benefit our children.