Within education there is always potential tension between truths one is taught and values that one holds. Education is a process of challenging the way people view the world by exposing them to new ideas.
For the past month, Watauga County schools have been dealing with this conundrum in the fight over the teaching of Isabel Allende’s “The House of Spirits.” Objections from parents over the graphic portrayal of sexuality and violence in the novel have led to an effort to have the book removed from the curriculum, an effort that was rejected by a committee in late October, according to the Watauga Democrat. An appeal has since been filed to continue the process of challenging the book. It should be noted that the school has agreed to offer “Moby Dick” as alternate reading, the Watauga Democrat reports. In some ways, this is more difficult than other education controversies. With backlash against the teaching of evolution, for example, we have hard science to answer the protest. Literature is different. It is by nature more subjective and value-centered, so shouldn’t parents be able to exercise control over what their children are exposed to? To a limited degree, but if we indulge it too far, we have an education system that does not fulfill its purpose. Any book worth reading and studying is likely to be offensive to someone. Such books provide opportunities to discuss values and ideas, and why it is that the books can be offensive. “The House of Spirits” has been particularly acclaimed for the way it deals with these themes, and for the sophistication of its prose, as measured by the Lexile Framework for Reading. An unsettling element to the discussion came up at a recent joint meeting of the county commissioners and the school board. Commissioner Perry Yates said during a hearing on the matter, “As a Christian, as a believer, as a morally decent human being, that would not be read or taught in my house, and I don’t feel like it should be taught in Watauga County Schools,” according to the Watauga Democrat. Another commissioner, David Blust, expressed a desire to have a rating system in place for books. This view of education is much more detrimental to education than anything in the book. Education is about broadening the range of ideas students explore, and the way they discuss them. This should certainly be the case in high school English classes. Narrow views such as those expressed by the commissioners and those opposing the teachings of the book are working against that key purpose of education. Students have been offered an alternative book. The appeal against the book should ultimately fail.Opinion: KEVIN GRIFFIN, Opinion writer