Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What Message Do We Send When We Try to Ban Books?

One of the first books I had to read in teacher training school was the young adult novel Speak, buy Laurie Halse Anderson. I really wondered why.
                “But Bad Shakespeare,” those of you who don’t know my name are saying, “Shouldn’t you be expected to read Young Adult Novels when you are going to teach English?”
                Yes, I should, but this wasn’t for an English Class. This was basically teaching 101 (but was a Graduate level course, so it was probably a higher number.) but the instructor, a professor who was the only thing that really kept me going in that first semester of Graduate School (that’s another post) insisted that we read this book, because it was that important. It was about a young girl who is raped and has to deal with the aftermath. He wanted to remind us that not every teaching story was going to be Dead Poet’s Society or something like that. We were going to have to deal with dark issues, and if we weren’t ready for it, well, we weren’t ready to be teachers. I agreed with that, and because it’s a young adult novel, I agree that students should read the book.
                Of course it’s been banned all over the place. Naturally, rather than letting students think for themselves, we have to pull a potentially dangerous book out of the schools rather than letting them read it… blah, blah, blah. At this point regular readers are wondering when I’ll step off my soap box about censorship, and why I’m rehashing something I’ll probably discuss again during Banned Book Weeks. But someone said something that really enrages me when it comes to this particular book.
                Richard Swier, an “activist” from Florida, has sent out a press release calling Speak “child pornography.”
                Let that sink in for just a moment. A book about a rape (which has happened before the story starts) and about a girl that has to deal with bullying, the aftermath of the rape (up to including slut shaming), a broken family… is being called pornography because a guy doesn’t like what is has to say.
                Perhaps he should have looked up the word “irony” before he said something “stupid.”
                He also helpfully read the book very closely and underlined all the naughty words for us, which, pardon my French, but is gosh darn helpful for me when I want to find out where the swear words are. I’m sorry for the sarcasm, but this is my least favorite practice when it comes to books, movies, plays, anything. If you have the time to look up the “dirty words” or the words you don’t agree with, you really need something better to do with your time. Please find something better to do with your time. Do you know how many cat sweaters you can knit in the time it took you to count the naughty words in a book that you think his pornography to begin with?
                Mr. Swier’s article (which I won’t link to; I’m not giving him page hits Google it if you want to read it that badly. Kinda made me sick) also includes all of the other “bad things” that students do in the book. (like stealing hall passes. I know. I clutched my pearls to when I read that there was a possibility that students might find out about stealing hall passes this way.) He also clearly doesn’t understand that a lot of what he points out, like the fact that the main character wants to kill herself, is not being presented in a wonderful light; its being presented as a reaction to not wanting to deal with people much like Mr. Swier, that would rather bury the rape victim under the rug as opposed to helping them. He also equates sexy dancing to group sex. Maybe you should read this, it’s really starts to get a little unhinged towards the end.
                The article also includes a picture of the middle school teacher who was teaching this book. Which I’m not sure why we need to include it, but hey, stirring up the masses never really made sense. By the way the number of parents complaining about this book was in the high 1’s, with one parent asking that this book be reconsidered.
                I’m not going to pretend that this is an easy book, or that everyone can handle it. But guys like Swier… he’s speaking for a lot of people here when he has no vested interest in getting this book out of the schools. They voted on it, decided to keep it, and I’m sure that teacher can deal with the student that finds it difficult. I think it’s an important book. It tackles a rough subject – rape – and deals with it in a mature fashion. And like I keep saying, sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming “lalalalalala” isn’t going to pretend that something doesn’t exist. But have a violent reaction like this to a book… a fictional retelling that was made into a not good movie starring Twilight’s Kristen Stewart… how will you react when something bad does happen? Will you stick your fingers in your ears and take the lalalala approach? Or do you want to create a world where you’ll be able to help because you can open a dialogue? Uncomfortable subjects are just that… uncomfortable. We don’t want to talk about it. People like Laurie Halse Anderson took that subject and put it down so we can read it. Absorb it. Discuss it. And that’s important. And it’s important that it’s happening with a teacher, one that cares enough to try to let her kids know that we can discuss things like this so if God forbid something like this does happen, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Bravo, Jewell DeMarco. Bravo.
                Richard Swier, Activist, is very welcome to whatever opinion he wants. But the fact remains that maybe treating a book that’s about a survivor of rape like it’s pornography is not the best message in the world to young girls who’ve been raped. Just sayin’.

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