Watauga teachers threatened for supporting Allende’s book ‘The House of the Spirits’

houseLocal law enforcement officers in Watauga County are investigating threatening letters that were sent to some Watauga high school teachers who have supported keeping Isabel Allende’s book, ‘The House of the Spirits,’ in the 10th grade honors English curriculum.

Last fall, parents complained to the school board that Allende’s book contains graphic scenes that are inappropriate for tenth graders, including rape and executions. The novel spans four generations of the fictional Trueba family’s encounters with post-colonial social and political upheavals in Chile.

“It is one thing to disagree with a policy or a procedure or a book used in the schools.  It is a completely different and unacceptable thing to threaten someone because they hold a different opinion,” interim superintendent David Fonseca said in a statement.

“This threat is a despicable attempt to intimidate a very professional and accomplished group of educators who deserve our respect.  It is also a criminal act, and we are cooperating fully with local law enforcement in their efforts to find out who is responsible for the letters.  We will support the prosecution of that person or persons to the fullest extent of the law,” Fonseca said.

Tonight at 7 p.m., the Watauga County Board of Education will consider a third and final appeal by the parents challenging the book. The ACLU plans to join a community rally this afternoon in Boone, just hours before the school board will vote on whether or not to keep ‘The House of the Spirits’ in the curriculum.



ACLU seeks records related to book banning effort

As noted here yesterday, it’s not at all clear that the book banning efforts of religious conservatives in the Brunswick County schools were put to rest with the recent vote to keep Alice Walker’s The Color Purple  on the reading list for some students. Happily, the good folks at the ACLU of North Carolina are digging a little deeper to find out what’s really going on and what’s behind the book banning efforts. This was released this morning:

BOLIVIA, NC – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) yesterday sent a public records request to the Brunswick County Board of Education and the Brunswick County Board of Commissioners seeking all communications between officials related to recent efforts to ban Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Color Purple,” from Brunswick County Advanced Placement (AP) English classes.

The public records request, filed under North Carolina public records laws, also seeks communications regarding any other proposed curriculum changes or plans for banning other works of literature from Brunswick County public schools going back to the 2012-2013 school year. Read more


Brunswick County School Board may consider banning The Color Purple

Parents and community members brought concerns about language and inappropriate content in Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple to Brunswick County school board members last week, prompting a discussion that will take place next Tuesday at the board’s monthly meeting regarding the future of the book’s availability to public school students, according to school board chair Charles Miller.colorpurple

“We’ve been contacted by parents across the community with concerns about language,” said Miller, who is also chief deputy in the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office. “One grandfather contacted me and brought me excerpts of the book. I have since ordered the book and started reading it myself.”

The Color Purple takes place in rural Georgia and focuses on the plight of southern Black women during the Depression era. Rape, violence, racism and sexism are common themes in the novel. The book is taught across the United States as part of the AP English curriculum. The Color Purple has been referenced five years out of the last 15 on the AP English Literature and Composition exam, according to The College Board. Read more


Students in Randolph County can get free copies of banned Invisible Man

Last week, school board members in Randolph County decided to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from school libraries in response to one parent’s 12-page letter in which she accused the book of being filthy and too much for teenagers.

School board members imposed the ban in spite of the fact that Invisible Man is one of the most frequently referenced texts on the AP English Literature exam.

Now students can obtain copies of Invisible Man for free, beginning Wednesday at the Randolph mall’s Books A Million.

Former Randolph County resident Evan Smith Rakoff, an editor at Poets & Writers magazine in New York, worked with the book’s publisher, Vintage Books, and Salon.com to make the book offering possible.

School board members will reconsider the ban in a special meeting tomorrow night at 5pm.


Randolph County’s ban of Invisible Man may hurt students seeking AP college credits

News of last week’s vote by Randolph County School Board members to ban Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man from its school libraries has circulated far and wide.

Would school board members have taken this drastic step if they knew that the AP English Literature exam has featured passages from Invisible Man for 13 out of the last 15 years? It’s one of the most frequently referenced texts that require a free-response essay during that time—only surpassed by Great Expectations, according to the College Board.

Since 1955, the AP Program has enabled millions of students to take college-level courses and exams, and to earn college credit or placement while still in high school. More than 32 percent of U.S. public high school students in the class of 2012 took an AP Exam at some point in high school.

At a time when college costs are soaring, many prospective college students rely on AP courses and exams to gain college credit for college-level competencies gained while in high school at a much reduced cost.

Randolph County Schools’ Superintendent, Dr. Stephen Gainey, couldn’t be sure yet if the school board’s vote to remove the book from library shelves would also prohibit teachers from teaching the Invisible Man  in their AP English Lit classrooms. “There is an issue there,” Gainey said, but before addressing it, he wanted to wait to see how the school board votes when they convene Wednesday night to reconsider their move to ban the book from school libraries.

North Carolina Teacher of the Year, Karyn Dickerson, teaches high school English at Grimsley Senior High School in Greensboro. “Books that deal with difficult content are important,” said Dickerson. “With teacher-led discussions in the classroom, hopefully students can carefully process and learn about these issues and, in the future, bring about change to these social injustices.”

Access to books is made much easier today thanks to the Internet and hand-held devices like Kindles and Nooks. Banning a book may compel students to find a way to read it anyway. “Wouldn’t you want your child to read these books with a caring and knowledgeable teacher helping them understand the people and events they have not, and hopefully will not, ever experience?” said Dickerson.

Ellison’s Invisible Man deals with the African American narrator’s search for identity in the context of societal stereotypes and discrimination, along with many other themes. The book won the 1953 National Book Award for fiction, and Time magazine included it in its list of the 100 Best English Language Novels since 1923.