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'In Cold Blood' too bloody for students?

Teacher wants to add seminal work to curriculum

some have reservations.

September 25, 2011|By Megan O'Neil,
  • Glendale High School English Dept. Chair Holly Ciotti's AP Language class for juniors discusses Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" at the Glendale School on Tuesday, September 20, 2011. Ciotti has requested to add Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" to the district's AP English curriculum. "In Cold Blood" has some graphic descriptions of a murder. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)
Glendale High School English Dept. Chair Holly Ciotti's…

Since its publication in 1965, Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” has been widely recognized as a seminal work in American literature, frequently appearing on high school and college reading lists.

But the contents of the nonfiction novel, which detail the brutal murder of a prosperous Kansas farmer and his family, are apparently too macabre for some Glendale Unified officials and parents who are seeking to block a request by a high school English teacher to add the text to the district’s English curriculum.

“I think ‘chilling’ is far too benign a word to use,” school board member Mary Boger said of the book during a recent meeting.

The debate started midway through the 2010-11 school year when long-time Glendale High School English teacher Holly Ciotti submitted a request to add “In Cold Blood” to a list of books approved by the district for use in AP Language.

The class enrolls the top 11th grade English students, and focuses on rhetoric and debate.


Capote’s work is a great fit for the class, Ciotti said, because it introduces students to the American judicial system and the death penalty, among other contemporary topics. It is also superbly written and allows students to form their own opinions, she said.

“In Cold Blood” is used in classrooms across the country and Ciotti said she considered the request little more than a formality.

But while the book received unanimous support from the district’s English Curriculum Study Committee, which is composed of high school teachers, it hit a snag with the Secondary Education Council. Its membership — made up of high school principals — expressed reservations, as did members of the PTA.

“I was totally surprised by this opposition, really surprised,” Ciotti said.

Like all books, “In Cold Blood” must be approved by the school board before it can be taught by a teacher in the district. At a meeting on Sept. 13, school board members split two and two on the issue, with Vice President Christine Walters reserving judgment until she read the work.

Opponents said teens are already overexposed to violence via video games, television and movies. Boger acknowledged that “In Cold Blood” has literary merits, but added that what she reads at home is not the same as what she can recommend to the district’s students.

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