Banned Books Compromise: “I’m not touching him!”

September 20, 2011

If you have a sibling, you know what I’m talking about.

You’re crammed into the backseat of the car, or maybe stuck side-by-side at the table at Applebee’s, and you exercise your natural right to torment your younger brother. Within seconds, he’s screaming. “Mom! Sarah’s touching me!”

“Stop touching your brother,” Mom says.

“Fine,” you say, raising a threatening eyebrow. Then you wave your hands directly in front of his face, blow in his ear, give him creepy looks, and otherwise annoy him to the greatest extent possible while still following Mom’s directive, proudly proclaiming, “I’m not touching him! I’m not touching him!”

Still with me on the tangent-coaster? Good. Because the whole I’m not touching him thing? That’s how I view the Republic school board’s “compromise” on recently-banned Twenty Boy Summer and Slaughterhouse Five. Last night, the board voted to put the two books back in the school library… in a “secure area” where only parents will be able to check them out.

(Remember those old school video stores—you know, pre-Netflix—where they had all the “adult” stuff in a separate back room behind a curtain? I really hope there’s a curtain at the library. Just saying.)

From the article in today’s Springfield News-Leader:

“It does keep the books there in the library, and if parents want their kids to read the book, by all means come and check it out,” said Superintendent Vern Minor. “…It still puts the decision in parents’ hands.”

With no discussion — and only board president Ken Knierim commenting on the change — the board voted 6-0 to adopt a revised draft of the book standards originally approved earlier this year.

It merely changed the way “challenged” books — the two in question and any others removed in the future — would be accessible in the district.

“…That’s what has come under scrutiny, that if parents want their children to read a book that has not met the district standards, they have to get the book from somewhere else,” Minor said. “It’s not in our library. That’s the issue that seems to have surfaced.”

In other words, we’re still censoring books by limiting access, but since everyone complained about the books being removed from the library, we’ve addressed that by putting them back in the library. You can’t get to them unless you’re a parent, but they’re technically in the library. Problem solved.

While I’m glad that the school board was willing to reconsider the original ban, I don’t believe this compromise is the answer. I’ve stated before that my biggest issue with Mr. Scroggins’ complaint is that he took the decision and discussion away from other parents. So I totally support parents who want to be involved with their kids’ reading and want to make decisions on appropriateness for their own families. The thing is, I’m not sure this should be happening at the library, before the book is even checked out. Do all parents have time or inclination to go to the school and request the books from the secure area (ahh, visions of secret parental cabals whispering together behind that curtain!)? Is the school library staying open beyond school hours to accommodate parents’ work schedules? What about the parents who’ve already made the decision to let their teens read whatever they’d like? Now those parents have to go down to the school just to check out a book? And what about the parents who just aren’t involved, one way or the other? The books are not accessible to those teens. And even if one teen has parents who can’t or won’t make the trek? She might be the one who most needs to read those books. And that’s what kills me.

Parents, what do you think? Should teens need you to check out their books from a public school library? If not, how do you get involved in your child’s reading (if you do), and what do you do if you feel something might be inappropriate for him?

Teens, what are your thoughts on this?

I’d love to hear your opinions. Because while I don’t pretend to have the answers on this, for me, the issue still stands: Limiting reading options for all teens on a broad institutional level is not the way to go.


Banned, But Never Shamed

July 26, 2011

I woke up this morning to the news that TWENTY BOY SUMMER, along with Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, has been officially banned from the Republic, Missouri school district.

That’s right, the crazy train has finally derailed. You all might remember the SpeakLoudly issue from last fall, as it took up lots of blog space here after the book was initially challenged in the district by Wesley Scroggins, a parent whose own kids don’t even go to the public school, along with Vonnegut’s book and Laurie Halse Anderon’s beautiful novel, SPEAK.

Not surprisingly, the whole thing caused a major uproar (particularly among the great citizens of Republic, most of whom find Scroggins’ actions as deplorable as I do). But that was just a challenge. Last night, nearly a year after the challenge was issued, after convening committees and discussion groups and who knows what else, the board made their decision. SPEAK stays (thankfully!), but Vonnegut and I are out. You can read the whole article in the News-Leader, but here are a few juicy tidbits:

“We very clearly stayed out of discussion about moral issues. Our discussions from the get-go were age-appropriateness,” [Superintendent Vern Minor] said.

Minor also stated:

“Most schools stay away from this and they get on this rampage, the whole book-banning thing, and that’s not the issue here. We’re looking at it from a curriculum point of view.”

Um, okay. Let’s just get this on the record right now: Twenty Boy Summer was never part of the curriculum. It was simply available in the school library for students to check out and read on their own time. So clearly, this wasn’t about the curriculum.

The article goes on:

Minor said feedback [from the committee] for “Twenty Boy Summer,” available in the library, focused on “sensationalizing sexual promiscuity.” He said questionable language, drunkenness, lying to parents and a lack of remorse by the characters led to the recommendation.

“I just don’t think it’s a good book. I don’t think it’s consistent with these standards and the kind of message that we want to send,” he said. “…If the book had ended on a different note, I might have thought differently.”

So… just so I’m clear on this (forgive me for not catching on right away — I’m a little slow, since my brain is so addled by the long hard hours it puts in each day devising ways to sensationalize sexual promiscuity and questionable language and whatnot), you’re staying out of a discussion about moral issues, yet stating that if the characters in Twenty Boy Summer had been remorseful about sex, language, or lying to parents, then you might have thought differently? That it’s not consistent with messages you want to send?

Again, I’m a little fuzzy on how morals work, obviously, since I’m so busy making sure my books influence teens not to have any morals, but… how is that not a moral discussion? How is that not a moral judgment?

Look, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more. I get that my book isn’t appropriate for all teens, and that some parents are opposed to the content. That’s fine. Read it and decide for your own family. I wish more parents would do that — get involved in their kids’ reading and discuss the issues the books portray. But don’t make that decision for everyone else’s family by limiting a book’s availability and burying the issue under guise of a “curriculum discussion.”

But you all know my views on banning books — any books. What I really want to say today is this (close your eyes, Dr. Scroggins, as you’ll likely find this content alarming):

Not every teen who has sex or experiments with drinking feels remorseful about it. Not every teen who has sex gets pregnant, gets someone pregnant, or contracts an STD. Not every teen who has sex does so while in a serious relationship. Not every teen who has sex outside of a relationship feels guilty, shameful, or regretful later on. And you can ban my books from every damn district in the country — I’m still not going to write to send messages or make teens feel guilty because they’ve made choices that some people want to pretend don’t exist.

That’s my choice. And I’ll never be ashamed of my choice to write about real issues.

You know what, just for Dr. Scroggins, I’m giving away 2 copies of TWENTY BOY SUMMER to random commenters. Happy reading, all. And thanks for speaking loudly! Update: the winners have been chosen and notified by email, but please keep those comments coming! I appreciate the discussion and I’m so grateful for the outpouring of support! THANK YOU!


Win a Wesley Scroggins Filthy Books Prize Pack!

September 19, 2010

Update: This contest is from the original book challenge in 2010, not the ban in 2011. The prizes have been awarded and the contest is now closed. Feel free to comment, though!

The outpouring of support from the book loving community over the Wesley Scroggins Crazytrain Manifesto has been amazing, especially through the #SpeakLoudly Twitter campaign. As a gesture of thanks to Dr. Scroggins for reminding me and thousands of others about the awesomeness of challenged books, I’m giving away two Filthy Books Prize Packs, containing one copy of each of his challenged “filthy, immoral” books, including:

SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by the masterful Kurt Vonnegut,
SPEAK by trailblazer Laurie Halse Anderson, and
TWENTY BOY SUMMER by yours truly!

I’m going to add some dark chocolate, too. Because it’s dangerous and naughty and it goes great with banned books!

To enter, simply leave a comment below telling us what you’re doing to #SpeakLoudly against censorship. Next Friday, I’ll randomly select 2 winners from the entries.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,018 other followers