Censorship Story Conclusion & Censorship Discussion (Part 2)

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!


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.


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 Fivepoor 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.


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.


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.

It's not that hard, people. And if you start young, it won't be so awkward to keep having these discussions when they're older.

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*

Myracle & me last year, after I interviewed her in Cleveland. 🙂

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Charlotte Babb

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is science fiction writer Charlotte Babb.


This writer/Web designer/teacher has most recently published two science fiction story cycles in a collection called Port Nowhere. Eppie-winner Babb also writes poetry for children, including her anthology, The Thing in the Tub, and she has various short story and article credits, such as “Fairy Frogmother.”

She runs two blogs, Maven Fairy Godmother and Be Your Own Fairy Godmother. For more information about her work, please visit her Web site.


RS:  How did you get into writing?

CB: I have always wanted to write, and [I] wrote stories in elementary school for myself.

I wanted to grow up to be Jo March [of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women], and did to some extent, going into teaching instead of writing for a career.

RS:  What keeps you writing?

CB: I need to write. I use writing to find out what I think. I use it to build worlds where the good guys win and where people can do magic.

It gives me a sense of personal power to shape the words—when I can get them lined up like I want them.

RS:  What do you do when you’re not writing?

CB: I am a web designer for Sherman College of Chiropractic, and I teach college writing for the University of Phoenix online.

When I am not writing or reading, I am grading papers, studying web analytics or watching movies from Netflix.

RS:  What draws you to the science fiction category?

CB: I am fascinated by other cultures, other ways of looking at the world.

I grew up during the space race—my first grade teacher actually brought a TV to school so we could watch Alan Shepard fly into the sky and fall back down in 1957—and when I was a senior in high school, Neil Armstrong took that one small step onto the moon.

I fell in love with Spock Prime. Along with Louisa Alcott and Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I was reading Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and eventually, Stranger in a Strange Land.

The feeling is mutual, Charlotte. 😉

The golden age of science fiction was about “know how” and using science to solve problems, most of which were caused by people who were ignorant and thought that physical laws could be repealed. Like many people, I felt like an alien in my own land, so it was comforting to know that there were other places, other times, other ways. I find historical novels interesting for the same reasons, but history lacks the sense of wonder that is necessary for good science fiction.

I also love fantasy, but I am weary of vampires, which to my way of thinking is just the Gen-X reversal of the James Dean syndrome: Die first and live long as a beautiful corpse.

RS:  What are you currently working on?

CB: I am plotting out the sequel to my first novel, wherein my fairy godmother has to deal with the repercussions of her first week on the job.

I have some other stories in mind, and they are clamoring for my attention. I have a lot of research for a science fiction novel, but the characters have not shown up yet.

I am also doing some research for content pages for my day job, which will promote the college where I work. I teach online, so a good bit of my writing is explanation and conversation with my students, teaching them the finer points of writing for college.

Bibbity bobbity boo! Babb encourages you to be your own fairy godmother.

RS:  What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet?

CB: I’d love to learn better copywriting, compelling sales copy for my day job.

I miss the academic work that I did for my master’s and the pulling together of information about myth and folktales to make analysis of popular culture and re-tellings of those stories.

RS:  What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

CB: I’m reading Jodi Picoult’s Second Glance, and my Facebook book club has started Sherman Alexie’s [The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian].

I’m looking forward to the second book in Kate Elliott’s Spirit Gate trilogy, when my chiropractic intern finishes it.

I have the most recent copies of [Analog: Science Fiction and Fact] and [Asimov’s Science Fiction] for research on the current science fiction market.

RS:  Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

CB: Robert Heinlein’s books [and] YAs written for boys in the late ’40s and early ’50s showed me a world where it was assumed that girls make better pilots than boys because they understood math better.

Heinlein’s characters believed that anyone should be able to cook, diaper a baby, pilot a starship or do any other task that might be needed. I started reading Heinlein in third grade, just after graduating from Dr. Seuss. While his female characters were always beautiful and sexy, especially in his adult novels, they were also smart and independent.

I was also reading Alcott and Montgomery, who had a strong feminist thread in their books (which were written as the women’s suffrage movement was getting started), and I was reading during the Civil Rights movement and the beginning of Vietnam.  These two influences showed me worlds equally alien to my rural North Carolina home, but told me that it was all right to be different, to see my own road and to follow it.

I like Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton, whose work has one foot in science and one in fantasy.

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

CB: I’m teaching a four-hour course called “Science Fiction,” with a look at the elements that group those books on the shelf together, although vampires, zombies and werewolves are crowding out the science fiction.

I plan to explore why that is, and how the market is changing.


For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.