Yesterday, I spoke about how I felt that Banned Books week is about access to books—all books, be it a classic or a current book. All students should get the option and open access to read whatever they want, and we shouldn't create a shaming environment where they’re too scared to come talk to us about issues in a book. (Hmm. It took me 800 words to say that yesterday.)
However, there’s another issue behind all of this: what about the books that are taught in the classroom? At this point we aren't talking about access. We’re talking about “you will read this for a grade.” How does the ever expanding world of free access and not banning ideas work in this case?
I wish I had an answer. I personally hold true to what I just said and reiterate here: Students should have access to books, we should teach them not be afraid of discussing issues, and sheltering children rarely works. My personal favorite story is the R rating on the movie Bully because of “bad language… said by kids who couldn't see the movie now because it was rated R! But these are two different cases. In one, I’m picking up a book and saying, “I would like to read this.” In the other, I’m handing a book to a student and saying, “read this. Then you get a grade.”
I can remember way back to high school (way back in “the day”) there were two books a teacher asked me to read that fell into the “controversial” category. “The Natural” (again because of a dreaded sex scene) and “Huckleberry Finn” (because no one understands what “satire” is.) No one really complained, and the teacher addressed what was controversial about them beforehand, and asked us to keep an open mind.
And maybe that’s the answer. Look, there are some books I just won’t pick up unless someone tells me, and that includes the “Harry Potter” series. The point of getting an education is to expand your mind, and sometimes mind expanding is uncomfortable. Most of the time I sit down to write these posts with a clear point in mind. Today I knew I wanted to discuss a sort of counterpoint to what I’d just written – free access – with the idea that sometimes it’s not a choice. I do feel that teachers, sometimes, have to make you read something that is controversial. I think teachers have to keep in mind the maturity level of the class, and what they can handle… but I feel that the point of an education is to see what is out there.
And in reality, we live in a world where some people don’t want you to see a Harry Potter movie because one of the characters shows “mild cleavage.” (Hint: It’s not Ron.) Something will offend anyone, all the time. As educators, we have to ensure that we can defend using those materials. I already know the complaints I’m going to get when I want to use “The Fault in Our Stars” or “Matched.” But I also know that I can defend it. I know that anything controversial is outweighed by the wonderfulness of the stories themselves.
Wow. I’m enjoying getting my opinions out there on Banned Books Week, but this is getting heavier than I thought. I might have to lighten the mood a bit.