Friday, October 08, 2010

Burn, Baby, Burn...

I've been absent from the blogosphere a bit too long, dealing with the sometimes overwhelming tasks of being a writer/teacher/mom/wife with a newly-minted teenager exploring his angst and a feisty 3rd-grader running all over.  But I have been checking in from time to time and read something truly heart-breaking.

Last week was Banned Book Week.  Censorship is nothing new and some of you may already be familiar with Risha Mullins' plight, but I am still sickened that such a witch hunt can take place in modern America.  I fear for our teachers who care about actually teaching our children and even more, about inspiring our children.  I fear for the countless kids who could learn so much and discover a love for reading by participating in innovative programs like hers.  I fear for the future of this country when small minds can level such ignorant accusations and cripple our schools and allow a fascist minority to dictate that No Child Left Behind actually means no child goes forward to discover the true meaning of critical thinking and growth because those are dangerous concepts.

Look at what a sharp, insightful, creative teacher can do and think about why our kids are in school.  Despite the moral majority's opinion, they are not there to pass a test.  They are there to learn and to grow.  Education is not about dumping information into kids' heads and hoping they can regurgitate it on an endless bubble sheet.  The word itself actually translates "to lead or draw out." It's about meeting them in their own space and helping them to explore their world and actually think about the connection between their own experience and all the world has to offer.  YA literature is an excellent place to share common experience and expand it to the uncommon.  It challenges kids to think about what they know and what could or could not be.

Do we really serve our kids by hiding the truth of human experience from them unless it fits neatly into our own little bubble of the unreal or chronologically irrelevant?  Yes, they read MacBeth and A Tale of Two Cities and Night and see some harsh truths about the human condition, but what about Speak and Soul Enchilada and Twenty Boy Summer and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian?  While the classics may be great and important literature that will surely live on in English class, AP reading lists, and college courses, can't we make room for the YA experience as well?  If we have nothing to turn our kids on to reading, will they ever even open those so-called classics?

I won't go on and on about this because Risha's case sums it up so well, but I challenge those who would keep books from our students to spend a day or even an hour in the poorest neighborhood in town or walk with a girl on her way to planned parenthood or stand for even a minute in the shoes of a teenager wrestling with the truth of his/her sexual orientation.  Tell me what your experience is in that case.  I know it's not only the white middle class conservatives lodging complaints. Any closed-minded group  can curry oppression.  I once had an African American parent complain about the film The Power of One because it showed the abominable treatment of a black South African.  Never mind that the film actually abhors the injustice Apartheid perpetuated and celebrates the power of even one small voice to make a difference.  This parent couldn't be bothered to actually watch the movie or consider the power of its message for her child.  We certainly could not have read the book, because most of the kids in this class could hardly put a subject with a verb because they had skipped through school all these years without reading anything but the inside cover Cliffnotes.

I wonder if all the kids who read The Crucible in their high school English class have any idea that they are bubbling and burning in a crucible of their own...

Check out these links:

The Kids' Right to Read Project
The Book Smugglers
Controversial & Banned Books

1 comment:

  1. Great points.

    Modern YA amps up interest in reading. Teenagers relate to the novels, are inspired by them, and are comforted by them. And they can become life-long readers through them.


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