For the last five years, Rebecca Van Cuyk has taught a high school English course in Kaukauna Wisconsin called "History of the Mystery." Now’s she under fire in the local media for corrupting young minds… all because one parent has objected to the curriculum…a parent who believes the course will turn her child into a murderer.
In a letter to the Mystery Writers of America, Ms. Van Cuyk writes:
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
Here’s a sample of the grief she’s been getting from 105.7 WAPL radio:
We are proud to name as this week’s Rick and Len Weenie of the Week…. Kaukauna High School teacher Rebecca Van Cuyk who this week it was revealed that she assigned her English class to plan a murder as a writing project.
For replacing reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic with means, motive and opportunity
For instructing kids to plan a homicide which is the worst instruction given to anyone since someone instructed Anna Nicole Smith to wash down a hand full of Secanol with quart of cheap tequila before the American Music Awards.
For encouraging high school students to think about killing someone without realizing that the 5 hours they spend each week suffering through Algebra class is probably spent doing little else.
We are proud to name Kaukauna High School Teacher Rebecca Van Cuyk who assigned students the task of planning a murder as this week’s Rick and Len….. WEENIE OF THE WEEK!!!!
The person they should be ridiculing is the parent who objects to the course but, sadly, that isn’t the case.
Ms. Van Cuyk, in her letter to the MWA, is asking mystery writers for their support in her battle to keep her course from being axed over this ridiculous controversy.
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
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: email@example.com.
Rebecca Van Cuyk
Kaukauna High School
If you are as outraged as I am, I hope you will consider writing a letter in support of this teacher and her program.