"The Kite Runner" novel stirring up controversy among some Holt High School parents

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By Anna Shaffer
Holt Journal Staff Reporter

Remember all those books you had to read in high school? Some you liked, some you didn’t, but did your parents ever not approve of any?

Some Holt High School parents are upset about a book choice in the curriculum of 10th grade students, “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.

"The Kite Runner" cover, courtesy of Khaled Hosseini's website.

“The Kite Runner” cover, courtesy of Khaled Hosseini’s website.

According to Wikipedia, “The Kite Runner” tells the story of Amir, a young boy from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul. The story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the Soviet military intervention, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime.

The book has stirred up some controversy among Holt High School parents due to some graphic content, including the same-sex rape of the main character, Amir, detailed in the book.

The book is a required read for 10th grade students at Holt High School. However, some parents feel that it is not appropriate for their students of that age.

“I don’t feel this book is appropriate discussing rape of one boy by three other boys. Its disgusting having children that are influenced and going through puberty reading this as a way to teach them about good qualities. I am sure I can find other ways to teach them about the society and culture from another country,” said Jason Worden, a parent of a Holt High School 10th grade student.

“The good qualities they are trying to illustrate can be found elsewhere,” he said. “In no way should our schools be deciding if our kids can read sexual violence when we are asked consent over sex ed.”

In an excerpt of an e-mail from Worden’s daughter’s teacher, Amy Clark, the book was added to the 10th grade curriculum nine years ago.

“It was done with careful consideration. The administration, groups of teachers, parents and students read the novel in its entirety to determine the appropriateness and relevance for 10th grade students. The book was then approved and adopted by the Holt Public Schools Board of Education and purchased by our curriculum director at the time, Pat McNeil,” said the e-mail from Clark.

“We felt that the story was challenging to our students and it also connected well with the world history curriculum,” the e-mail from Clark said.

The e-mail also refers to the themes of the book, including redemption, friendship, honesty, and loyalty. “The novel also lends itself to meaningful class discussions. As you know Afghanistan, the setting of this novel, remains in the headlines on a daily basis, and students gain a greater understanding of Afghan culture and the political context of the novel,” said the e-mail.

Margaret Mills, a retired Ohio State University Professor and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, as well as a faculty associate of the Center for Folklore Studies and the Mershon Center for Strategic Studies, feels that this book was highly successful in making the point to the general United States and other readers that Afghanistan is not just a war zone.

Mills also felt that some of the graphic content the books covers, students may already be familiar with.

“I think half of them, maybe more, are at this point likely to be sexually active themselves, and some proportion of them will have been the object of inappropriate sexual attention, so I don’t think it’s terrible,” said Mills. “But maybe there should be a spoiler alert for the kids themselves and the parents, that there are scenes of sexual violence and child abuse.”

Worden said he wishes he would have known about the content his daughter was going to be reading in the book. “I feel they should ask parents yearly first and foremost. Had they asked I would have said no and I am sure her mother would have too,” said Worden.

Worden said once he contacted his daughter’s teacher, they offered an alternate book for her to read by the same author, called “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”

Mills also said she feels some of the harsher topics in the book may be beneficial for students to learn.

“Child trafficking is real, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, though not generally as dramatically novelistic as in the book, it certainly damages the kids and their families. So yes, there are probably parents who would rather not have their kids thinking about child abuse, but if my own experience is anything to go by, kids may not tell their parents when they themselves face problems,” said Mills. “Maybe this generation of kids is different from mine, but we were largely not counseled effectively about such dangers, and they were certainly there.”

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