RARA-AVIS: Perhaps You Could Help

From: jimdohertyjr ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 17 Dec 2004

To my brother and sister Rara-Avians:

This letter was received by the Central Office of the MWA recently, and has been forwarded to the National EMWA list, to some of the regional MWA lists, and to the Short Mystery Fiction list.

The writer, a high school English teacher who teaches a course on crime fiction and has for the last five years, has gotten in trouble with ONE parent, and has asked for the assistance of professional mystery writers to make her case. She has given permission for her letter to be forwarded to other e-mail lists that include mystery writers and fans.

Dear Mystery Writers of America:

I am a high school English teacher in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. I created and am currently teaching a literature class for juniors and seniors titled "History of the Mystery."

The class, and I personally, have been under attack (via letters to the editor, radio talk shows, and inaccurate news broadcasts) for approximately a month. Why? Because as a creative writing component of the course, the students were assigned to write their own murder mysteries. One parent objected and has since advertised to the media that I specifically assigned my students to "plot a murder." He has also suggested that "thoughts are the seeds of words and deeds" and the students, as a result, will be more likely to commit murders themselves. My life has been a living hell as a result, but that is not why I am writing this letter.

The one parent who has a problem with the assignment (even though his daughter was offered an alternative assignment) is pursuing his agenda of having the Murder Mystery writing component ELIMINATED entirely from our curriculum. He will be presenting his "case" to our Curriculum and Instruction Committee and then the school board. This is where I would like to ask for your help.

As mystery writers, surely you understand that writing a mystery in which a murder takes place will not make you a murderer. (If it did, I guess you would all be in prison as opposed to free citizens who belong to this organization.)

This seems to have become an issue of "morality," as if by writing about murder, the author is somehow glorifying or condoning the act, or again, be tempted to "try it" himself. I am concerned that the school board will agree to eliminate the assignment based on this erroneous "morality argument."

I am writing to ask if any of you, several of you, or even all of you, would consider writing a letter to our Curriculum and Instruction Committee and school board, addressing any of the following:

1. The "morality" issue 2. The fallacy that writing a murder mystery will create a murderer 3. The literary merit of constructing a well-thought out mystery 4. The skills that can be strengthened by writing a mystery 5. The purpose behind writing a mystery and/or the end result of the mystery story (to restore order, see good triumph over evil, etc.) 6. Anything you see as relating to the importance/relevance of this assignment, in specific

It has been suggested by our administrators that we change the assignment to just be "any kind of mystery." (e.g. the kids can write about surprise birthday parties or searching for the holy grail) While I know that mysteries can effectively be written about anything if the author is skilled enough, that is not the point.

We study mystery authors all semester who write, specifically, about the solving of murders: Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, as well as several other lesser known authors. When the murder mystery assignment was created, its goal in part was to "test" the kids on what they had learned about the construction of a murder mystery, in specific.

As one of the teachers of this course, I do not see a benefit in changing the language in our curriculum to assign the students "any kind of mystery." (Please note: as an educator, I do not force students to do things with which they have personal issues. We have always offered an alternate assignment on a case-by-case basis and will continue to do so.) The big deal here is that ONE parent wants to force us to change our curriculum. One parent, of the over 500 students who have taken this course in the last five years.

If you are inclined to help us retain the integrity (and EXISTENCE) of the murder mystery writing assignment, and willing to write a letter on behalf of the course and the assignment itself, I would appreciate it if you would address it to:

Kaukauna School District Curriculum and Instruction Committee 112 Main Ave Kaukauna, WI 54130


Kaukauna School District School Board 112 Main Ave Kaukauna, WI 54130

Thank you in advance for any help you would be willing to offer. If you have questions, or merely wish to contact me, please feel free to do so at:



Rebecca Van Cuyk English Department Kaukauna High School

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> Make a clean sweep of pop-up ads. Yahoo! Companion Toolbar. Now with Pop-Up Blocker. Get it for free! http://us.click.yahoo.com/L5YrjA/eSIIAA/yQLSAA/kqIolB/TM

RARA-AVIS home page: http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/
  Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 17 Dec 2004 EST