“So, what about this book?” I’m inevitably asked whenever I point out that yes, I’m very much against censorship. “Why do you want children reading about this topic?”
The book in question will contain themes that maybe someone doesn’t see as “moral” or “appropriate.” I’ll refer to it as the “Fifty Shades of Grey Problem”, after the smash hit that was based on altered fan fiction. (Although I may not be happy that fan fiction is riding so high in popularity, I have to face the facts that 1. It’s a published book, selling like crazy and 2. My Perfect Strangers fan fiction is going nowhere, so I may need to switch things up a bit.) But it’s a sexy book about sexy things that happen to sexy people. The audience is very much geared towards adults. But then again, when has “gearing” something to an audience ever guaranteed that only that specific audience will read it, millions of Harry Potter fans said.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has many, many, many problems beyond the amount of sex in it. Is it my choice? No. Do I really care if someone is reading it? No. When someone brings up the “Fifty Shades of Grey Problem” what they are saying is, “I find this content morally objectionable. There are a large group of people who agree that this content is morally objectionable. Why do you want teenagers to read it?” And they point to something like “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The thing is… no, I don’t want teenagers reading it.
“Aha! We’ve caught you! You’re a filthy liar, Bad Shakespeare, and now we shall ban all the books except the ones we think are appropriate. Both books will be available in libraries tomorrow!” those people are now saying, possibly as lightning strikes behind them and they prepare the pyre to burn “The Chocolate War” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” or “The Hunger Games” or “Matched” whilst hiding “Fifty Shades” under their mattresses.
I want to be a good teacher, so I want students to read. The point of Banned Books Week is that all students have access to books. While I don’t think that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an appropriate book for a teenager to read maybe another parent does. Maybe another parent or guardian is being asked about BDSM and uses that book as a light gateway into it. Maybe another student wants to read it as a project on how fan fiction and the new media allows for a greater expansion of writers into a new marketplace. The thing is it’s not my place to say what is appropriate for someone else to read. It is my place to fight tooth and nail to ensure that the access is there.
In addition, I’d like to think that when I do have kids, or when I’m teaching and have students that they will be able to approach me with a dialogue on what they’ve just read, instead of just fighting it.
Last Spring, I read an amazing book I’ve been meaning to write about in Bad Shakespeare for a very long time called “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s about a girl who has cancer. She meets a guy in her support group. The two form a friendship, then fall in love (as two teenagers will do.) Of course, both have faced more mortality than most adults, one thing leads to another, and they have sex. People want this book banned because it contains… a sex scene between two teenagers. It’s on the banned book list because of this one scene which lasts less than four pages. (including the run up.) It also contains dealing with loss, dealing with death, dealing with anger (from death) embracing life… but we have to ban it because someone might read about two teenagers getting it on, and of course there’s no other way they’ll learn that.
I try to think of what it would be like having a student read that book. It’s an amazing book, set in present day that features so many themes I can loop back to in a heartbeat. Even the title is a reference to Shakespeare, “The fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves” from Julius Caesar. It’s an easily engaging book where the benefit outweighs any concerns I may have. And I’m not going to pretend that a student hasn’t heard about sex or won’t hear about sex at some point. Why would I scare them from it so much by declaring a book out of bounds that my kids won’t approach me about it, and learn something from it?
Of course, this is focused on one extreme example. Ellen Hopkins is a frequent targetee of the Book Banners. She writes verse novels, form the point of view of teenagers, that cover topics like sex, eating disorders, steroids, drugs, poverty… things no student has to go through, right? (that’s sarcasm, kids.)
I understand that those wanting these books banned are operating under their moral code. I can respect that. Just as they have the right to put the book down that contains objectionable material, or God forbid, get involved in their kids’ lives and find out what they are reading, I should have the right and the option to pick up a book and read it.