House of Spirits controversy
8:32 am
Fri February 28, 2014

The House of the Spirits Will Stay at Watauga High School

Watauga County School Board members settled the debate over a controversial book with a split decision.

Thursday evening, February 27, about 200 people filled Courtroom 1 in the Watauga County Court House. They listened to the final appeals for and against the book, The House of the Spirits. Written in 1982 by the award-winning Chilean author Isabel Allende, it follows three generations of one family as they deal with the Chilean Revolution. This is the selected reading for the Sophomore Honors English class at Watauga High School.

Parental consent is required for this course. But Chastity Lesesne feels the book is inappropriate for 15 and 16- year- olds. “This book is saturated with sexually explicit material that is confirmed to create images in our students’ minds and is intentionally distributed to students without review,”  said Lesesne.

Last year, Lesesne signed the consent form for her son to read the book. But after reading it herself, she decided it was too graphic. She wants the book removed from the curriculum but available in the school’s library. Last September, she formally requested the Watauga Board of Education take it off the required reading list for all sophomore honors English students. She believes it contradicts numerous school policies.

“Watauga High School takes steps to block questionable content. Watauga policy exists to prevent sexual or violent lyrics in pregame music.  From Watauga policy, video resources, any PG-13 or R requires prior approval from principal or parent," explains Lesesne. "Yet this book, The House of the Spirits, is required with no analysis of inappropriate sexual content or the impact on students and no principal or parent review is required.”

Sophomores have alternatives to this book. They can read Moby Dick, take a different English class or take honors English online. Also, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction lists The House of the Spirits as appropriate reading for sophomores in our state. 

Mary Kent Whitaker is a 30-year veteran English teacher. She says the book teaches students how to critically think through difficult issues. “This book has been vetted extensively. It passes the test for appropriateness for the Honors sophomore curriculum.”

Whitaker first taught this book during the 2012-2013 academic year. But Lesesne’s protest stopped her from teaching it this year. Thursday night, she reminded the board the disturbing material in The House of the Spirits is minimal. “One percent of the entire text these excerpts contain violent and sexual content. If you remove it from the curriculum even if you leave it in the library, you’ve gone against rock solid evidence from North Carolina and other education experts who deem the book appropriate for honors sophomores and not pornographic," said Whitaker.

She added, "With two years of data, you can see that 93% of students either read the House of Spirits or desire to read it. It represents the support and permission of 300-400 parents.”

The meeting was held in the Watauga County Court because earlier in the week, several teachers at Watauga High School reported receiving threatening letters for wanting to keep The House of the Spirits in the sophomore honors English curriculum. Boone police are investigating.

Thursday evening during a special meeting, members of the Watauga County School Board finally settled the controversy. With a vote of 3-to-2, they decided to keep The House of the Spirits in the curriculum for sophomore honors English. School board members Ron Henries, Brenda Reese and Barbara Kinsey voted to retain the book. Board members Chair Lee Warren and Vice Chair Delora Hodges voted against keeping the book.