The Watauga County Board of Education narrowly defeated a motion to ban a book from its classrooms on Thursday. Those of us who believe in freedom of expression and the importance of high school students receiving a strong foundation in literature should applaud the decision of the three board members who voted to keep Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits a part of the 10th grade Honors English curriculum.
I haven’t read Allende’s book, so I can’t judge whether the Watauga parents’ concerns about its sexual content are valid. But, having lived in Boone for five years and spent plenty of time in the company of some of the pent-up natives, my guess is its fairly tame. We’re not talking about a book like Tropic of Cancer, to be sure.
A school board should never, ever ban a book. The fact that two board members voted in favor of the ban is terrifying.
Part of the purpose of art is to challenge our vision of the world. That purpose is doubly important for places like Watauga County, which is somewhat isolated as a result of its geography and culture.
A good book can prove to an inexperienced youth that there’s a world out there that is far larger and complex than anything they’ve experienced in their short, sanitized lives. There are fundamental human problems we all have to face, and I think you can argue that it’s far better to come into contact with those issues through the lens of art and the classroom, where the issues can be openly discussed and debated, rather than in the real world with real consequences.
The Watauga County school system does offer an alternative book for students to read, in this case, and that is perfectly acceptable. But we should always be wary of squeamish moralizers who want to make our education decisions for us.
They should be allowed to stay in their fantasy worlds, but they can’t expect the rest of us to go along with them.
Michael Gebelein is managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.