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ASHEVILLE—At a hearing Tuesday to weigh an appeal by Lisa Baldwin, a parent of an A.C. Reynolds High School student and former Buncombe County Board of Education member, a committee representing the school system at large recommended that the novel “The Kite Runner” remain available to classes at Reynolds.

The 2003 novel, about the travails of an Afghan boy, has sparked controversy in Buncombe County, where school officials have been flooded with public comments about the matter, most of which support keeping the book in play.

Baldwin has argued that the book is improper class material, while the novel’s advocates have said its content and themes make it prime teaching fare, both because it fulfills curricular requirements and tackles difficult topics in a way that high school students can benefit from.

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A committee at Reynolds recently judged the book acceptable, saying it “possesses sufficient literary, thematic and aesthetic merits to warrant its inclusion for study at teacher discretion.”

Baldwin appealed that decision, prompting Tuesday’s higher-level review.

Baldwin’s appeal

Under school-system policies, Baldwin was given 10 minutes to make her case at the meeting.

In her opening remarks, she summed up what she said were her main objections, which were drawn from her formal appeal.

“‘The Kite Runner’is in the top 10 challenged books of the 21st century for these reasons,” she said.

“Profanity demeaning to women, inaccurately assigning Judeo-Christian characteristics to a Muslim god, graphic descriptions of rape, child sexual assault, molestation, sodomy, murder, cruelty and a child’s suicide attempt pervade this fiction book, which was written at a 6th grade reading level.”

Baldwin insisted that she wasn’t trying to squelch free speech or attack academic standards, and suggested an alternative text, along with a book-rating system similar to those used for movies.

The committee’s response

The Buncombe schools’ committee that responded was composed of about two dozen people who are principals, parents, school system administrators and staffers.

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Eric Grant, a Buncombe County Schools English-language arts and social studies specialist, gave the official response to Baldwin’s appeal. In his presentation, he argued that “The Kite Runner”has been and will continue to be a valuable addition to classes.

“In this case, as with many other texts in our courses — for example, Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth,’ ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ and ‘Night’ — understanding violence in literature, under the guidance of a trained professional, is appropriate,” he said.

In a unanimous voice vote, the committee decided to reject Baldwin’s appeal and forward on the prior recommendation that the book be kept in class.

The Buncombe County Board of Education is slated to make the deciding vote on the matter at its June 30 meeting.

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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