2012-03-01 / Schools

CVUSD book selection sparks debate during school board meeting

Trustee Dunn objects to novel’s child rape scene
By Anna Bitong


MIDDLE-EASTERN TALE— Khaled Hosseini’s story about an Afghan family, “The Kite Runner,” was approved as an option for 12th-grade reading lists by the CVUSD board of trustees last week. 
Courtesy of Penguin Group USA Inc. MIDDLE-EASTERN TALE— Khaled Hosseini’s story about an Afghan family, “The Kite Runner,” was approved as an option for 12th-grade reading lists by the CVUSD board of trustees last week. Courtesy of Penguin Group USA Inc. A contemporary novel added to Conejo Valley Unified School District’s high school curriculum has been criticized by a board member for its violence.

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini was approved by the school board last week as an option for 12th-grade reading lists at its Feb. 21 meeting. But trustee Mike Dunn voted against introducing the book in classrooms because it depicts the rape of a child.

“I wouldn’t want my child to read this book,” said Dunn, who has not read the book.

But Superintendent Jeff Baarstad, who has read the awardwinning novel, said the controversial rape scene is one page in a 500-page novel.

“It is not the central theme of the book,” the superintendent said. “The themes in the book are about cultures and people growing up, about the revolution in Afghanistan and how that impacted the lives of children and families.”

Board president Betsy Connolly, who has also read “The Kite Runner,” said it’s appropriate for 12th-graders “about to step into adulthood.”

“I don’t think that the material is unfamiliar to that age group,” Connolly said. “I think that the treatment of it is in many ways far less graphic and far less intrusive than what they would be seeing on a 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock television show . . . let alone the news.

“It really is a thoughtful treatment of a difficult subject. Those sorts of books provide the kind of material that allows students to write thoughtful essays.”

Carol Boyan-Held, CVUSD director of curriculum and assessment, said that studying Hosseini’s novel would prepare students for SATs and Advanced Placement exams, where the book has been referenced.

“The Kite Runner,” published in 2003 and adapted into a 2007 film of the same name, was requested by teachers from Thousand Oaks, Westlake and Newbury Park high schools, said Janet Cosaro, deputy superintendent of instructional services.

It is now one of five choices in the contemporary novel category of the 12th-grade core literature program. The other works are “1984” by George Orwell, “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clark and “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus. Students read the book that is chosen by their teacher.

The other 12th-grade required reading categories are Shakespeare, 19th-century literature including “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, drama narratives such as Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and a category that includes works by playwrights Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Jerome Lawrence.

“The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins was also added to the CVUSD high school curriculum on Feb. 21. Approved as an option for the ninth-grade reading list, the novel was chosen in part for its “compelling plot and complex characters, who struggle . . . against an unjust, totalitarian regime,” Boyan-Held wrote in a recommendation to the school board. Collins’ 2008 novel is the first in a trilogy.

“The goal is to get as many . . . students as possible to read the other two novels independently,” Boyan-Held said.

The ninth-grade selection is one of 10 book options in two mandatory reading categories, with seven and three books in each category.

One book is chosen from each unnamed category, where options include Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” In addition, freshmen are required to read Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

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