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If I were a student at a North Carolina high school— well, I’m too darn old but never mind—I would be dying to get my hands on a copy of The House of the Spirits just to see what all the fuss is about! I mean, if you want to get kids reading, tell them they can’t and see what happens. I sure hope that’s how things play out for the kids in the honors English class at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina, where a group of parents tried to ban Isabel’s book from the curriculum. (So far, thank goodness, they have been unsuccessful. Last fall the county board of education voted unanimously to uphold its use in the classroom but there’s another hearing on the subject in a couple of weeks.)
Intellectual freedom and students’ rights aside, book banning is just a bad idea. Joseph Bathanti, poet laureate of North Carolina, agrees, and sent a letter in support of the book to the board of education. Here are a few choice paragraphs from that letter:
Isabel Allende’s novel The House of Spirits is quite simply a magnificent piece of literature – because of its inimitable use of language, imagery, sweeping narrative, vision, its fundamental belief in the sacrosanctity of love and family, its belief that the human spirit in inextinguishable, and because it takes head-on and clear-eyed what William Faulkner called “the human heart in conflict with itself.” Books, like The House of Spirits, are also magnificent precisely because they wrestle with difficult topics – which have been cited as reasons to discontinue it in the curriculum. The House of Spirits transforms, through language, through the art of its author – in this case one of the world’s acknowledged masters – what is ugly into beautiful acts of survival, everlasting love and even spirituality.
As a culture, we habitually discuss the safety of our children. Nothing is more important. As a teacher, I take very seriously the safety of my students inside and outside the classroom – as seriously as I take the safety and well being of my own beloved children. Prohibiting access to life-enhancing texts like The House of Spirits impinges, in a sense, on their safety. Our students’ intellectual safety is crucial not only to their lives, but to Watauga County, to the great state of North Carolina, and well beyond. We must keep them safe by permitting them – under the guidance of expert teachers and citizens like Mrs. Whitaker – democratic access to literature like The House of Spirits.
Well said, Mr Bathanti, and big kudos to Mary Kent Whitaker for teaching The House of Spirits. Let’s hope she gets to keep on teaching books of her choice. Alternative books are available to students, so a ban of one book seems to me like you’re just asking for more attention. Maybe the parents at the school really just want more people to know about The House of the Spirits? Here’s an article with more on this story.