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Originally published: 2013-11-15 15:07:09
Last modified: 2013-11-15 15:07:09

Commissioners decry controversial book

by Kellen Short

A joint county commissioners-school board meeting on long-term budget needs was derailed Thursday when several commissioners chimed in on a controversial book now under review by the school system.

The parent of a Watauga High School sophomore challenged the usage of Isabel Allende's "The House of the Spirits" last month, saying the book was "graphic" and "immoral" in its descriptions of sex and violence. Chastity Lesesne is seeking to have the work removed from the curriculum for high school students.


English teacher Mary Kent Whitaker and others have argued that the novel, despite dealing with adult themes, is a world-renowned work that challenges students to consider the political, social and artistic context.


The book is a recommended reading for 10th graders in the state's Common Core curriculum and is considered to have a high Lexile score, a measure of literary difficulty.


"It's filth," said Commissioner David Blust. "For a 14-, 15- and 16-year-old to read this, to be forced to read this, I think is a joke."


Blust said he had read parts of the book, more than just excerpts, and was shocked by the content. He said he understood an alternate book was available but felt that students were "forced" by peer pressure or respect for their teachers to read the material.


He said he would like to see a book "rating" system put in place, and argued that "The House of the Spirits" offered no life lessons.


"Honestly, what normal family is like this book? The Manson family, maybe, Ted Bundy? I think this is just so wrong," Blust said.


Chairman Nathan Miller concurred with Blust, noting that the film based on the book was rated R.


"There are alternatives out there that will teach the same message, and I don't understand why an X-rated message is being taught to someone who can't go see the movie," Miller said.


He also suggested that the school system deviate from its book review process due to this "egregious violation."


Commissioner Perry Yates said he felt society's priorities had been warped and needed to get back on track.


"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," Yates said. "This book is despicable."


Commissioner Billy Kennedy did not share his thoughts on the book challenge, and Commissioner John Welch was absent Thursday.


Board of Education members also did not comment on the issue.


Interim Superintendent David Fonseca reiterated that the school system was following its review process outlined in policy, but disagreed with Blust's assertion that students are "forced" to read the book.


He also encouraged the commissioners to focus on the meeting's stated purpose: long-term planning for the school district.


"I don't want that to overshadow the importance of the huge bigger picture, that is, to provide the education to our students on a daily basis," Fonseca said.