The ever-common misfortune of censorship in schools–where do I begin to tackle this issue? Perhaps first I should explain some of my biases which undoubtedly affect my position on the matter. I am not a parent, and I have not personally felt the duty or desire to protect my child from the darkness or evil in this world. I have seen my mother cry when she didn’t know how to explain why my sister’s friend got shot, so I get the feeling. I am not deeply “religious” in the common sense of the term. My morality is based instead on a unique spirituality , and I believe deeply in doing to others as they would do to you. I do, however, understand the feeling of having one’s faith silenced, since as an eclectic neo-pagan, I’ve experienced countless attacks on my person and my feelings for my beliefs. I don’t know all the experiences and convictions that motivate those who object to allowing certain books in school, but I can at least empathize with them. And as Literature for Today’s Young Adults stressed, it is important to hear them out and show them respect as human beings, though it is important to reason with them to a mutually agreeable conclusion.
Unfortunately, censors like Meghan Gurton aren’t always prepared to do the same. Her arguments in her Wall Street Journal article were downright blood-boiling. I actually find it rather amusing that she believes that books describing “kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings” or other “pathologies” are “hideously distorted portrayals” of the real world. Oh yes, because these things do not happen commonly in the world, do they? Wrong.
I knew a girl in high school who was the survivor of a brutal gang-rape that happened just outside of her former school. While she was trying to keep thoughts of suicide at bay, her attackers were eventually allowed back into the school because of their value as athletes. During a webcam chat with my exboyfriend and a mutual friend, I watched horrified when my ex’s boyfriend’s stepdad ripped him up by the hair and kicked him in the face. He was a couple weeks from being 18, but he begged us not to call the cops anyway because he wanted to stay with his sick mother. And I was a student at a relatively prestigious public high school, who got A’s, hung out with a relatively well-behaved crowd, and lived in a pretty wealthy and safe county. If I, coming from such a background, saw all of this, what might other students encounter?
So censors that want to take books out of the school under the guise of protecting students from the ugliness, let me tell you: you are doing your children an extreme disservice. If it had not been for novels like Just Listen or The Burn Journals or Crank, I may not have gotten through my high school career with my heart intact. These books, the controversial ones, became my “weapons” to help me “fight [my] monsters,” as Sherman Alexie so eloquently put it. It is important for students at the very least to have access to these books, and it is even better if they can be allowed to study them under the guidance of a well-trained, well-read teacher who can teach them the nuances of the novel’s ideas.
That being said, I think there are a few ways as teachers that we can win more parents over to our cause. One idea I had was to have students form literature circles prior to Banned Books Week, choose a banned book, and read it with their parents while writing in a journal. This activity will probably work best with middle schoolers, but I still think it’s a good way to get parents involved in what their children read while also showing them that their children can tackle these “ugly” books and analyze them with finesse. What ideas do you have to prevent the censors from arriving?