Censorship is so last century.
That’s why I’m always surprised when I come across articles like this in HuffPo. Specifically, a Missouri school district has banned two books from the high school curriculum and library over concerns that they’ll apparently cause high school students to swear a lot and even have sex. Or something.
Which books, you may ask, have that kind of power? The unmitigated power to cause someone to suddenly start swearing like a drunken sailor on shore leave and, quite possibly, to suddenly want to have oodles of sex on a beach?
Click to find out. Oh, the horrors.
Gentle readers, I give you the offending literature:
What, pray tell, are these terrifying books about? Well, Vonnegut’s is the story of the horrific Allied firebombing of Dresden in WWII. A young man, Billy Pilgrim, was captured during the Battle of the Bulge and he’s put to work in the city at a vitamin factory. Then the firebombing comes, and wipes out much of the city. This is the story of digging out and surviving, and it’s based on Vonnegut’s life. He was in Dresden during that terrible time, and survived the bombing.
Meanwhile, Ockler’s book is a teen coming-of-age story that incorporates themes of death and survival. Specifically, the main character, Anna, is a teenaged girl who had a brief relationship with a teen guy named Matt. Matt, however, dies and he’s the only boy Anna has ever loved. Then she agrees to go on a vacation with Matt’s family, including his brother Frankie (who is also Anna’s best friend) — neither Matt nor Anna told anyone about their all-too-brief relationship. So Anna is dealing with wondering whether she’s betraying Matt by wanting to meet another boy. She wants to meet one boy out of 20 to lose her virginity to, but she still battles the loss and grief she feels for Matt as she does find herself drawn to another boy.
Yep. Those sure look like scary reads to me. A historical portrayal of an ugly, brutal time in our collective history and a coming-of-age novel with themes of loss and death. To be fair, Vonnegut’s book gets banned all the time. Why? “Strong language, violent imagery, and sexual content.” To which I say: “so?” War is ugly. War is brutal. People swear and OMG they have sex, too. Welcome to a slice of a not-so-great time in our history.” I personally don’t think forbidding people to read stuff like that is going to prevent them from swearing, having sex, or being moved by violent imagery. See my comments about parenting below. Moving along…
Oh, and for the record? Only one of the people on the school’s board who voted to ban these books had actually read both. Who’s behind it? Here, from HuffPo:
Wesley Scroggins, a business professor at Missouri State University, who also pioneered a movement to reshape middle school sex-education classes in Republic’s schools, wrote in a column last year that Vonnegut’s classic contained enough profanity to “make a sailor blush,” and warned that “Twenty Boy Summer” was similarly dangerous.
I’ll let you mull that for a bit. One guy who apparently has a chip on his shoulder about what people are reading and about sex in general has taken it upon himself to censor books. Plain and simple, that’s what this is.
Here’s the deal with censorship, no matter how old someone is. Invariably, when someone says “you can’t read this. It’ll corrupt your mind,” doesn’t that make you WANT to read it? I remember being a teenager. As soon as a teacher or adult told me I couldn’t read something and didn’t provide a good reason for it, well, I sure as hell went out and read it. It’s one thing to tell someone “This book is about X and it does have really strong language and profanity in it” and another to say “you can’t read this book because it has lots of swearing.” How about letting the reader choose whether or not to read the book? How about saying “okay, kids, here’s the deal. This is a controversial book because of X. So as you’re reading it, think about why someone would say that X is controversial, and whether you think it is or isn’t. If you have questions, or if anything in it makes you uncomfortable, come see me at my office or we can discuss it in class.”
That, my friends, is called “critical thinking,” and it helps students develop analytical skills with regard to literature, sources, and context. And if parents freak out about it, bring them into the conversation, too. How about a parent/student reading group? There’s a novel idea (pun intended). If I were a parent, I’d like to know what my kids are reading and I’d also make recommendations of literature that Mr. Scroggins no doubt would freak over. But again, I would want my kids to read things outside their comfort zone and to talk to me about it and to their teachers. That’s what learning and communicating is all about.
Are there books out there that I think are absolutely without any kind of social value? Yes. Are there books out there that are racist, nasty, sexist, homophobic, and whatever else? Yes. But guess what? It’s not my job to police what you read. It’s also not the state’s job to police what you read, and if it starts doing that, then reading history about the Third Reich might be in order. Just sayin’.
That said, happy reading, no matter what it is! And happy writing, too!
Oh, and here’s a list of banned and/or challenged books.
And, apropos of nothing, here’s the song “Insomniac,” by 90s duo Billy Pilgrim. And yes, that is the Indigo Girls you hear in the background vocals.