A 'Cold Blood' teaching moment

The question of teaching of Truman Capote's “In Cold Blood” in Holly Ciotti's Advanced Placement English class (“'In Cold Blood' too bloody for students?” Sept. 25) strikes me as a great teaching moment for the whole community.

I certainly sympathize with the concerns of PTA and school board members who have been disturbed by the book's graphic description of a Kansas family's killing, and their worry that it may be too much for teenage students, especially in a culture saturated with gratuitous depictions of violence. Thank you for taking violence seriously.

I do think that barring this book misses the real problem, however.

The problem is that for all the entertainment-as-violence on television, in movies, in video games and even on the news, the killing of human beings is rarely taken seriously in our culture. To be taken seriously it must be shown as it is — with a recognizable (not monster) human face and with permanent human consequences, not just as score for a bad guy or action hero who then moves on to the next, or as an excuse to provoke general fear or anger.

“In Cold Blood” disturbs the reader, yes, but because it shows what human killing looks like, smells like; it shows what it does. The book takes seriously the experience of victims, what actually occurs in courtrooms, what surviving family members live with forever.

I have spent much of my professional career, as a newspaper reporter, prosecutor, law professor and minister, dealing with violence and it strikes me that a book like this is exactly what young people need to read — and not just in AP classes.

At the age of 16 or 17, we have young people in this county charged and convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Too many young people go out daily armed with knives and guns. They truly do not understand the consequences of killing.

Our popular media is a part of that problem; accounts like “In Cold Blood” can be part of a solution. The book is disturbing; its accounts are ugly. The reality is much worse.

Cancer is not treated with aspirin and bed rest. Violence cannot be treated with general admonitions and avoidance. Its ugliness and essential stupidity must be portrayed in detail.

My hope is that when this issue comes up for final decision, Glendale's Secondary Education Council unanimously approves the use of Capote's classic work. It's not without flaws, but I think it would be a great addition to the curriculum of any junior or senior English class.

Samuel H. Pillsbury


Editor’s note: Pillsbury is a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and published author.

Why let kids go off campus?

I agree with Dale Lopez. The Crescenta Valley High School campus should be closed (“Keep campuses closed at lunch,” Sept. 22).

With all the security measures in place at schools, why let the kids go off campus? School is a place for learning, not a place to come and go during the day.

I attended Crescenta Valley High 35 years ago. Yes, we had open campus then, but that was then — today's world doesn't allow for such freedom.

Katie Watson


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