District Cuts the Strings to The Kite Runner: A Tale of School Censorship
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Gilbert, AZ- A recent development on the Williams Field campus has been an unexpected, and unexplained, complete ban of Khaled Hosseini’s contemporary classic, The Kite Runner. At approximately 3:37 pm on March 27th, 2017, the Director of Secondary Education for the Higley Unified School District, Dr. Randy Mahlerwein, sent a direct email to faculty members of the English Departments at both high schools, informing them that The Kite Runner was no longer to be used as required reading, nor as an option for an independent reading novel. No reason whatsoever was given for this unprecedented, and frankly illegal, action.
The Kite Runner is considered a work of considerable academic and literary merit and has been featured on national and state tests, such as the AP Language and Composition exam. For it to be dropped and prohibited from classroom education displays an unfounded act of censorship. Having gone through an extensive and legal vetting process by the Trade Book Committee, this book has been approved by the the School Board and deemed as an appropriate and required read for honors-level sophomore English students for the past five years. Such explains the surprise that understandably came to various English teachers who had planned to include this novel as a part of their students’ upcoming reading during the fourth quarter.
The cancellation email was given abruptly and past the designated teacher contract hours, leaving staff to presumably scramble to make sure their students would have materials to work on the following day. Despite faculty objections on the basis that no reason has been given – and more importantly, that no prior discussion between the schools and district office regarding the possible removal of the book had been conducted – the Higley Unified School District has remained stalwart and apathetic to their concerns. The removal of the book applies equally to teachers at Higley High School, despite the fact that students at that campus have already read The Kite Runner as part of their curriculum earlier this school year.
As The Kite Runner contains a few brief allusions to mature themes such as rape, it is understandable that it should be introduced at an age-appropriate level which was determined to be the sophomore Honors English classes. Parents have always been informed of what their students would be reading, giving their consent through a signed parental form. If, in the instance a parent wished for their student to not have access to the text, they could either sign to have them read all but the areas with mature themes, or otherwise work on an alternative assignment. Such has been deemed fair and unobjectionable in the past, until now.
This incident represents a slippery slope in which First Amendment rights in school are restricted on the basis of containing ideas, language, or themes objectionable to a student audience. Historically, this has been based on anything from race and religion, to politics or sexuality. Past banned texts have included classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, and To Kill a Mockingbird. Without further transparency and explanation from the Higley Unified School District, it is impossible to know exactly why The Kite Runner has been singled out. Instead now, Williams Field students will be reading Of Mice and Men in replacement; ironic as it, too, has been a previously banned book.
For further reference on book banning, The American Library Association has a list of the top 100 most frequently challenged books by decade:
Likewise an article by ASU Now titled “ASU Experts: Banning Books is ‘just wrong’” sheds light on further relevant matters: