Friday, September 26, 2014

Banned Books Week: Banning Alternatives

For information on Banned Books Week and what you can do, please visit the American Library Association’s page on Banned Books right here. 

Between the censorship, name calling, and dark issues, we’ve had a lot of fun this week, haven’t we? Banned Books week is important, because it draws attention to what I feel is an important issue: the censorship of books. Removing a book from a classroom or a library, getting it out of the hands of people is censorship. Flat out censorship. 

It’s the censorship of ideas. The thing is, the more you try to censor an idea, the more you try to fight an idea, the more powerful it becomes, until it’s mythic status. There’s a great episode of South Park related to censorship(handled in true South-Parkian fashion) where the kids read a book that’s banned… and are angry. They read the whole book and can’t understand why anyone would want to ban it! It’s the same way: if you treat something like a big deal, surprisingly, it’s going to become a big deal. 

Typically on Fridays of Banned Books week, I tell people how they can take action against books that are banned, or that are in danger of being banned because they are challenged. But I’m going to take a different route today. I know I probably don’t have too many people left following this who are on the opposite side of the fence… the ones that want a book banned from the classroom or a library for whatever reason. But today, I want to address you.

When momma Bad Shakespeare and Papa Bad Shakespeare were raising me as just a Little Bad Shakespeare, they reminded me that the world is full of unique perspectives, and they’re going to run contrary to my own. They reminded me that even though someone doesn’t think the same as I do, they are human, with their own thoughts and feelings and even if I do disagree with them, it doesn’t make them “wrong” and they still deserve some respect. (They’re presumably human. If cats ever figure out how to censor books, we’re all screwed. But I’d like to remind them that they’ll need influential bloggers to recruit people to toil in their underground tuna mines.) 

What I want to address are actions you can take rather than banning a book for everyone. Actually, everyone should be doing these things in some way, because it will make learning a co-operative process.

1. Actually read the book. Too often, when I do hear of a book being banned or challenged, the reasons are vague. My personal favorite: The Hunger Games is being challenged for it’s “anti-family values.” The Hunger Games is a fun book to study, especially in this day and age, when you have so many reality shows and the whole thing is about basically, that. However, it has strong family values: the father dies working to feed his family and the book is set in motion when Katniss doesn’t want her sister going to the Hunger Games. She then forms a bond with a character who reminds her of her sister. To me, that’s the epitome of family.

I also see people who just count the infractions without really giving any real context to it.  Let’s take one of my favorite books, Huckleberry Finn, which is frequently challenged for using the dreaded “N-word.” Now, how many people have read the book? (This is a required one, so I suspect many.) How many people understand that Mark Twain, when writing the book, is actually making fun of those that would insult, hurt, or otherwise damage Jim? So, in the context it’s showing people that this is bad. Maybe that’s a good lesson.

Speaking of language, I do see some instances of people counting the bad language as if 39 “Fucks” is somehow better than 40. Please stop. If you are really concerned with language, go to a high school cafeteria for a few days. I did. The language in some R-rated movies is more tame than what I heard, and I’m not prude when it comes to language. 

2. Talk to your child about what they are reading. I know I read some things my parents really didn’t approve of. Most of it was old-school comedy/sci-fi/fantasy books, back in the day. Again… tame compared to what I see now. But they talked to me about it. They let me know what language was unacceptable in their house. 

They also talked to me about their values. So, even if I read something that went counter to what we believed, I still knew what they believed. I was always encouraged to keep an open mind, but nothing was so taboo that I felt we couldn’t talk about it. In this vein, you should also encourage your kids to ask you questions about what they are reading. Then you can address it. You shouldn’t talk so little to your kids about their beliefs or your beliefs that one sentence in a book is suddenly going to change their entire worldview.

You can’t act like you’re afraid that this book is going to change something deep inside of them. Then the desire to read it without your knowledge only becomes more intense, and they won’t have a place to talk to when they have questions.

This is a big point I keep making: THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING WHEN YOU WANT TO BAN A BOOK. Speak is a difficult book about rape, and people want it banned because it is about rape. Are you telling your child that they can’t come talk to you if something like this happens to them or someone they care about. It's a topic that's "bad" and therefor they can't speak of it, ever? Then where do they turn? 13 Reasons Why is a book about suicide, and how our actions affect others. Are you telling your kids that they can’t come talk to you if things are really bad? Are you telling kids that their actions don't matter? You are your kids’ first defense when it comes to questions. Kids should be able to talk to their parents without being afraid. Hero is about coming out to your parents, but people want it banned because of the gay issues… do you not want your kids to be able to talk to you about this?

Talk to your kids. You’ll be surprised.

3. Talk to the teacher. And I mean really, really, really talk to the teacher. Don’t walk in with an agenda and suddenly get angry when they don’t adhere to only what you want. 

Fun story, back when I was a Little Bad Shakespeare, I was a lifeguard. (I mentioned this… I also attempted this as a Bigger Bad Shakespeare, but that’s a more embarrassing story.) I remember one day I was sitting in the stand, as Lifeguards do, when I was approached by a woman who was having a party, and her kids weren’t strong swimmers, so they wanted part of the pool roped off. Of course, I was in the stand, and she probably should have gone to the guard in the office, but didn’t mention that to her, I said, “Let me see what I can do.” 

Those were my words. “Let me see what I can do.” We were busy, there weren’t many areas to rope off, and I was in the stand and I couldn’t, legally, get down without clearing the pool. That’s why I had a guard in the office, to handle this, so I needed to see what he was able to work out.

Her reaction was to walk away in disgust saying “That means you aren’t going to do anything!” 

I was taken aback. Fun fact, later, her kid that she wasn’t watching, actually needed to be rescued. That was kind of an awkward exchange later. 

But, the message is the same. Don’t be this lady who just says “That means you aren’t going to do anything!” when the teacher doesn’t immediately bow down to your whim. Remember what I said before: Teachers, when choosing texts, already have one hand tied behind their backs, and are aware they won’t make everyone happy with their choice. Come in with a list of questions, like what you feel this book is going to teach them, or why was this book selected. Ask them how they are going to address the content you find objectionable. 

Now, before I get slammed with suggesting extra work, remember that the teacher has already done this work, and you are the one with the concern. If you have a concern, you may have some extra work. 

If you still feel strongly about it, ask if there is an alternative assignment. Ask if there’s another book your child can read. Be reasonable about things. Shouting, throwing temper tantrums, and going right to the school board takes up valuable time, and just continues to disrespect teachers. Respect they need to teach your kids.

4. Understand that your way is not the only way of thinking. It may sound glib that I’m throwing this in, and believe me, I’m not. This is difficult to get over. We ALL need to learn this. However, I throw this out there because I do understand that part of the reason anyone wants a book banned is not because you’re so evil super villain making the finger pyramid of evil and scheming to make someone’s life difficult. You just want to make things better. But your “better” may not be someone else’s better. The teacher wants to make your child “better” by reading a book they think is interesting. 

But remember, at some point your kid is going to go out in the world, and they’re going to encounter other people, and their way of thinking. How are they going to interact with them? Sticking their fingers in their ears until they go away? That makes the world a smaller place. Teaching them early how to deal with things they don’t agree with is going to make things easier for them. 

This ends my week long coverage of Banned Books Week. I promise next week we’ll go back to movies, my quest for College Professordom, and all of the other fun usually associated with Bad Shakespeare. (I mean, this weekend alone Kevin Smith turns a guy into a walrus AND Liam Neeson runs around Liam Neesoning. HOW CAN IT GET ANY BETTER FOR MOVIES? Take THAT, Guardians of the Galaxy.) But this is something I am passionate about. This is the 21st Century. Just today I downloaded an album, watched a movie, and read a book all from the same location because I was able to access everything. We can’t cut off access of books for kids because we think something is that “wrong”. We need to give them an opportunity to speak, and opportunity to think, and an opportunity to read. As one of my very favorite professors and now friend says, “Student Voice” is the most important thing. Let’s not ban books and take that voice away. Thank you all for reading this. I sincerely hope I made an impact. 

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