Should “The Kite Runner” Be Taught in High Schools?

The notion that a child’s innocence should be maintained is ingrained in the minds of today’s society; however, children have become more sheltered in recent decades, and that can only damage their view of the world, leaving them naïve in an environment that becomes more violent every second. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini has been selected to be read in some high school classes because it offers great opportunities  for literary analysis and  discussion; however, parents and other members of society condemn it for its  inclusion  of sexual and physical violence, requesting it be pulled from classes.  One of the main reasons this novel has been banned is for its depiction of rape between two children of the same sex, which has brought outrage from parents because they believe their child’s innocence is being damaged, but this is not the case.  By reading  this novel, students are able to develop empathy, and see how  their actions may affect  others, something that might not  happen if their parents never allow them to be exposed to the realities of today’s society.   The  Kite Runner should be taught in high schools because these students, many of whom will soon be able to make life-altering decisions, need to have knowledge of not only how to complete effective literary analysis, but they also need to develop their empathy in order to become better functioning members of society.

To make the argument that  The Kite Runner  should be allowed to be taught in high schools, first one must look at why it is a great book to teach students how to complete effective literary analysis.  In an article from the Minnesota English Journal Online titled “Theory in Practice in the High School: Using  The  Kite Runner to Teach Literary Theory,” the author, a high school English teacher and Master’s degree student, defends the right to use  The Kite Runner  in high school classrooms.  She says,

The novel is rich in character development, figurative language, and historical significance. Yet these are not its only selling points. In an age of educational reform, what I and many other high school teachers appreciate most about Hosseini’s text is its ability to hold up under the close study of multiple critical lenses. While literary criticism has not always been, nor does is continue to be, a major aspect of the secondary English classroom, it is texts like  The Kite Runner  that prepare the way for high school teachers and students to begin to delve into theory in a way that is both un-intimidating yet still scholarly and enriching (Sazama).

Traditionally,  in high school,  students just study the surface of a work of literature, often looking at character development, figurative speech, and historical context.  What makes  The Kite Runner such a desirable work of literature to teach in high school classrooms is that it can be analyzed both in this way, and so much further, under many different types of critical lenses.  Marxist, Psychoanalytic, Feminist, and Disability Studies lenses can all be applied to this novel.  However, this article will look at only the Disability Studies lens to further the argument that The Kite Runner should be allowed in high school classrooms.   Parents might note the argument that there are books that do not contain sexual and physical violence  that can be analyzed in the same way in the classroom.  They might ask why their children cannot read that book instead, to save their innocence.  However, one of the main reasons why this book  should  be read in high school classrooms is exactly for the reason  that it contains sexual and physical violence, which can be analyzed through the Disability Studies lens.

High school students, especially juniors and seniors, should be assigned  The Kite Runner  specifically because it contains sexual and physical violence.  By studying this violence through the Disability Studies lens, they will be able to develop their empathy, and become better-functioning members of society. These young adults will soon be entering either the work force or college campuses, at which point they are able to make choices that can have dangerous consequences for not only themselves, but their peers as well.   Reading literature that explicitly deals with issues of rape, religion, gender preferences, etc., can help young adults learn about people in different situations in a way they might not be able to otherwise.  Many parents, especially those that try to ban books such as The Kite Runner, are most likely more concerned with protecting their child’s innocence than teaching them specific values, like how to treat those with whom they are trying to have an intimate relationship.  That means, without access to a trusted adult to teach them how their actions can affect others negatively, they turn to their peers to teach them what is okay and what isn’t.  Peers teaching peers about the logistics of sexual relations is not always desirable as it can result in teens gathering the wrong information.  Instead of being taught that “no means no” from a young age, some teens are taught by their peers that it is okay to, in essence, “take what they want.”  This is why there is such a large percentage of rapes committed, especially on college campuses. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), “among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of  males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation”  (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network).  These statistics only include the sexual assaults that have been reported, many victims don’t come forward out of fear or embarrassment.  If books that discussed sexual assault and showed the after effects of it  were allowed in high schools, could this number be lower?   An article in  The Atlantic, “How Banning Books Marginalizes Children,” states, “…52 percent of the books challenged or banned in the last 10 years feature so-called ‘diverse content’ – that is, they explore issues such as race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, mental illness, and disability”  (Ringel).  There is obviously a correlation between the lack of “diverse content” taught in high school English classes and the staggering number of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses.  In fact, an article published by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) says that, depending on what you read, literature can boost empathy.  The article, titled “Can reading boost your empathy? Depends on what you read, study says” notes, “A 2013 study published in ‘science’ found that subjects were more adept at discerning the emotions of people in photographs after reading works of literary fiction” (Mumford). So, if the 52 percent of books that were challenged due to issues with race, religion, sexuality, etc. were not taken out of the classroom, would those students have been able to build more empathy?  Would at least one sexual misconduct case not have happened because that student had more knowledge about the subject?  The answer is most likely yes.  This is exactly why  The Kite Runner should be taught in high schools, for its graphic depiction of rape and how it affects one of the main characters, Hassan.

The rape occurs towards the beginning of the novel, when Hassan is participating in the kite running tournament with Amir, for whom Hassan is a servant.  The chapter that describes the rape is a bit graphic, and it reads,

“’I don’t know,’ Wali was saying.  ‘My father says it’s sinful.’  He sounded unsure, excited, scared, all at the same time.  Hassan lay with his chest pinned to the ground.  Kamal and Wali each gripped an arm, twisted and bent at the elbow so that Hassan’s hands were pressed to his back.  Assef was standing over them, the heel of his snow boots crushing the back of Hassan’s neck.

‘Your father won’t find out,’ Assef said.  ‘And there’s nothing sinful about teaching a lesson to a disrespectful donkey.’

‘I don’t know,’ Wali muttered.

‘Suit yourself,’ Assef said.  He turned to Kamal. ‘What about you?’

‘I…well…’

‘It’s just a Hazara,’ Assef said.  But Kamal kept looking away.

‘Fine,’ Assef snapped. ‘All I want you weaklings to do is hold him down.  Can you manage that?’

Wali and Kamal nodded.  They looked relieved.

This part of the passage, before Assef is actively raping Hassan, shows how kids and young adults can be manipulated into thinking sexual assault is okay.  Even though Wali and Kamal seem to question what is about to happen, Assef essentially bullies them into believing that it is okay, and they let him continue on with his plans. Hopefully, if students were able to read this novel in class, they would notice the manipulation happening, and see that they, too, could be manipulated in the same way.  Hopefully it would elicit conversation between peers, or even between peers and their teachers, so that they would not be subjected to the same situation that Wali and Kamal were in.  Assef used his position of racial superiority over Hassan in order to justify the rape.  He said that there was no shame in teaching a donkey a lesson, which, unfortunately translates to arguments used to justify rape in other ways. Too often, the perpetrator will use the arguments of “oh, she’s drunk, she won’t even remember it” or “it’s okay, he wants it” to justify the rape.  When perpetrators use “logic” such as this, bystanders become complacent, and accept what is about to happen, no matter how bad it is.  Instead of being bystanders to a rape, those that read this novel would have higher empathy, and would hopefully be able to stand up to these perpetrators, saving at least one person from significant emotional trauma.

Moreover, the novel does not only describe how bystanders are affected, but how the victim is as well.  The rape scene continues,

Assef knelt behind Hassan, put his hands on Hassan’s hips and lifted his bare buttocks. He kept one hand on Hassan’s back and undid his own belt buckle with his free hand. He unzipped his jeans.  Dropped his underwear.  He positioned himself behind Hassan.  Hassan didn’t struggle.  Didn’t even whimper.  He moved his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face. Saw the resignation in it” (Hosseini 63-64).

Obviously, all victims of sexual assault will react differently; in Hassan’s case, he avoided telling anyone right away, and experienced traumatic constriction.  Hassan’s rape was brutal, especially because he was so young.  The novel notes,

His chapan had mud smudges down the front and his shirt was ripped just below the collar.  He stopped.  Swayed on his feet like he was going to collapse.  Then he steadied himself… Hassan dragged a sleeve across his face, wiped snot and tears.  I waited for him to say something…He began to say something and his voice cracked.  He closed his mouth, opened it, and closed it again… And that was as close as Hassan and I ever came to discussing what had happened in the alley (Hosseini 65-66).

Students that read this novel will be able to see how badly Hassan was affected by this traumatic event.  He experienced traumatic constriction after he was raped because he needed to feel like he could control something in his life.  He did his chores and then went to his hut to sleep and cry.  He felt that this kind of life was something he could control, and he was overcompensating because he could not control Assef when he raped him. The point of having this novel in high school classrooms is that students can see how their actions might affect others.  They might realize that physically making have someone have sex with them can be detrimental to the mental health of another human being.  However, there is the reality that, at some point, a student will come through the school that has been sexually mistreated.

Would making a teen that has been sexually abused read The Kite Runner be too much for them to handle?  Teens tend not to take these matters very seriously, and there is the chance that some student will make fun of the issue of rape.  This could alienate students who are survivors of sexual assault. How can instructors deal with this?  Many young adults may not feel comfortable coming to their teacher with the news that they have been sexually abused, in fact,  they may not have told anyone.  They might read this novel and have dreaded flashbacks of their own sexual mistreatment.  However, it is worth possibly subjecting them to this because they will have an opportunity to talk about it with someone, and hopefully get the help that they need to get through this stressful time in their lives.  Also, sometimes young adults don’t realize when they are being sexually abused, they might think what is happening to them is normal.  Giving them this novel to read might allow them to realize that they are being abused, and that they need to tell someone right away to stop further mental trauma.  Overall, though there are some possibilities that The Kite Runner could bring about unnecessary remembrance of past trauma, it is important that books like this are taught in the high school classroom.

The Kite Runner should not be banned in high school classrooms.  Not only does it give teachers the opportunity to teach a novel at surface-level, through character development and figurative language, but it allows for deeper conversation as well.  It fosters conversation between teachers and students about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to sexual relationships, something that students might not get in their own households.  Teaching The Kite Runner in high school can only make students better functioning members of society because, not only are they learning more about English literature, they are learning how to treat others respectfully as well.

Works Cited

Sazama, Taya. “Theory in Practice in the High School Classroom: Using: The Kite Runner to Teach Literary Theory.” Minnesota English Journal Online, 30 April 2015, https://minnesotaenglishjournalonline.org/2015/04/30/theory-in-practice-in-the-high-school-classroom-using-the-kite-runner-to-teach-literary-theory/

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” 2014, https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence

Ringel, Paul. “How Banning Books Marginalizes Children.” The Atlantic, 1 Oct. 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/10/how-banned-books-marginalize-children/502424/

Mumford, Tracy. “Can reading boost your empathy? Depends on what you read, study says.” Minnesota Public Radio, 20 Sep. 2016, https://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/09/20/books-reading-fiction-increases-empathy

Hosseini, Khaled.  The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003. Print.

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