When it comes to banning and censoring things, it’s a tough issue (duh).
I just listened to the most banned YA author in the country, Lauren Myracle, in an interview she did yesterday on Louisville’s NPR station (click here for the interview—it’s the edition titled “Is your government doing enough in the recession?“, and the part on book banning is 2/3 into the podcast), where she went head-to-head with a school board member trying to get Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian banned from his school system for vulgarity. Exciting stuff.
Yesterday, I told this story of censorship from my teaching days. Go check it out, and then come back!
THE OUTCOME OF MY CENSORSHIP STORY
My principal saw my point and didn’t have too much else to say on the matter. I knew she still wanted me to do it, but I went back to my classroom asserting I would not.
I was never asked to write the letter I offered to draft, the subject was never brought up again, and no one ever blackened out anything in the books.
As for my part, I did my best not to choose stories with certain four-letter words in them (but, as I mentioned in my previous post, the point of the Great Books program was to stir the pot a bit, so it’s not like the stories from which I had to choose were about unicorns and teddy bears), and no parent ever complained to me about any of my choices.
This told me was that it was probably only one parent who’d complained in the first place.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE MATTER
I think you, as a parent, reserve the right to decide what books you introduce to your children, but I also think you should trust schools to know what, developmentally, your kids are ready to handle. They are supposed to be experts in the field of teaching kids. Not to diminish your mad skillz, but schools aren’t full of a bunch of rabble-rousers who want to corrupt your kids.
You must agree, right? That’s why you’re sending them to school and not homeschooling them, right?
Going along with that, you should also trust that teachers know how to handle these subjects in their classrooms, should they come up, in a thoughtful way. They are professionals. And if you don’t feel that way about the school . . . then I say MOVE to a different school district.
But I’d be willing to bet the parents of my class of sixth graders—the ones who’d complained anyway—had no idea their kids were capable of such maturity and insight with regard to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” and the countless other selections in those Junior Great Books. We really had fantastic discussions—regardless of whether or not the kids always wore deodorant. (While we’re at it, could you have that discussion with your kids??) We got to the core of why the authors had made the choices they did in terms of putting something in and what that meant—it was never gratuitous language or violence.
To me, when you hide words with a Sharpie or cover a kids’ ears (earmuffs!) or ban books, it’s probably going to work against you. It highlights that there’s something “naughty” or “bad” about whatever you’re censoring—and that’s going to pique interest.
Look at how this situation in Missouri has escalated. It has prompted many people to start giving away the books this professor spoke against—just to get the word out about them. About half the people I follow on Twitter have put “Speak Loudly” on their gravatars in support of Laurie Halse Anderson and her 2000 Printz Honor book Speak as well as the two other books being protested: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five—poor Vonnegut just couldn’t catch a break, could he?—and Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer.
Also? I’m pretty sure, by the time your kid is in the fifth grade, unless you don’t allow him to ever watch TV, your kid is going to know what kissing is. And that people get shot. And swear. I’d be willing to bet your kid knew who Snooki was before you did.
It’s if you’re not there to discuss it with him—if he’s watching Jersey Shore unsupervised—that’s the time to panic. (Not that I think 5th and 6th graders should be watching that show, but I bet there are kids who do . . . )
What I’m saying is, communication is key in all of this.
AS A WHOLE
Also, a few words, taken out of context, don’t necessarily give an accurate picture of author intent or even reader perception.
I mean, at one point in that BBC interview, the school board member sparring with Myracle asked if it should be okay for Hustler magazine to be in schools then, if we are to have books like Alexie’s book.
Taken out of context, he sounds like quite a lunatic, doesn’t he? Within the context? Well, that’s for you to decide.
But that’s my argument. You miss the point of what someone is saying when you take out the most “offensive” or outrageous passages and use them to serve your agenda. Without looking at something as a whole, there can’t be intelligent discussion—nor can informed decisions be made.
FURTHERMORE . . .
When school boards try to get books banned, how many of those people do you think have read the whole book? Or even more than the page the “offensive” part is on? I would be willing to bet zero.
So, this is why I think banning books is wrong. I think, as parents, you have the right to decide what your children will read—particularly outside the classroom. You don’t need to be a democracy at home—I totally get that. Although I don’t think you should go along with it if your school puts Hustler in its summer reading, I highly doubt that would ever happen.
At the same time, I don’t think it’s right to get a book banned from a school library or any library for that matter. Myracle makes the point in the interview very similar to the one I made above: school media specialists are trained and hired to make good choices.
If there’s a particular book your child is reading in school that gets you a bit fired up, I would urge you to read it yourself. Have discussions with your kids about it. This is where learning and growth take place.
And if there’s no discussion about these things? If you just put a black mark over the bad words? Well, I’m sure your kids will find out what’s under there eventually and they WILL discuss it with someone.
Wouldn’t you rather they discussed it with you first?
*gets down off her soapbox*