Beware: There are spoilers as to the plot of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson contained within this post.
So, anybody that’s pretty deep in the book blogging community knows about what’s been going on today–the controversy surrounding an opinion piece by a Republic, MO man in the News-Leader of Springfield, MO. You can read his article here: http://www.news-leader.com/article/20100918/OPINIONS02/9180307/Scroggins-Filthy-books-demeaning-to-Republic-education
Dr. Scroggins questions the use of/access to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Sarah Ockler’s Twenty Boy Summer, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in the public schools of Republic, MO.
Anderson and Ockler have both taken to their blogs in response:
I am going to do the same and here are my thoughts. Of these three books, I have only read Anderson’s Speak. I can certainly say that this is one of the most moving books I have ever read. Dr. Scroggins has taken scenes and dialogue from the book out of context to portray this book as what he calls ‘filthy’. A lot of what he says is the way the book depicts high school life, is actually dialogue by the main character, Melinda, and is colored by sarcasm and negativity, due to the intense trauma that she has experienced at the hands of her classmates. Those of us who have actually read the book and taken the time to understand what it means know that this book about learning to speak up for yourself, to value yourself as a person, and to seek help without fear of embarrassment or retribution. The main character, Melinda, suffers the unspeakable–date rape at a party. After calling the cops who break up the party, Melinda is ostracized by her friends and classmates. She didn’t say anything about the rape, so nobody knows that she is suffering. Melinda withdraws and refuses to speak, as she fears that she will only make matters worse for herself. As the novel progresses, readers watch Melinda deal with her inner struggles and find her inner voice.
While I have never personally experienced something so horrible as Melinda has, there are teenagers for whom Melinda’s story is reality. This novel has and will continue to help many teenagers deal with the things that they are experiencing. It is depressing to consider that any school may ban this book and possibly prevent it from helping even one teenager who is suffering. Even teens who have not suffered any great trauma can learn a lot about valuing themselves and speaking up, even when their opinion might not be what people want to hear.
Dr. Scroggins is certainly entitled to his opinions, but I have a problem with one person trying to dictate what information all students have access to. Just like he is entitled to present his opinion, others are entitled to a different opinion. Students should have access to all opinions, so that they may make thoughtful decisions as to their personal values. In this same vein, students should have access to information and books concerning all different life experiences. (And if one person has a right to censor at all, it should only be for their own children.) Dr. Scroggins is attempting to level his own Christian agenda upon the public school system in his community. Don’t even get me started on what he thinks is ‘Christian’. Myra McEntire is a really cool Christian, who discusses this in better words than I could ever hope to (http://writingfinally.blogspot.com/2010/09/speak-loudly-in-defense-of-laurie-halse.html). The issue, at hand, is whether Christianity should even be brought up to the school board. There’s a little thing called Separation of Church and State. That means religious values have no place in dictating the workings of our public school system. As well, people of all religious ideologies should feel welcome in a public school. So, in summation, Dr. Scroggins should not expect his personal religious values to dictate what any child besides his own has access to or to dictate how his local public school system operates, no matter what the religion of the school board members.
A lot of people of spoken out on this topic and the general focus is on speaking out against censorship. One of my favorite bloggers, Liz over at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy, takes this opportunity to raise a larger question: For those of us who book blog, have we said things in our reviews that could be used to help ban a book? Read her take here: http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/teacozy/2010/09/19/tool/
After reading Liz’s article, I immediately thought , have I written anything that can be used in such a way? I was ready to read through my past reviews and change things I had written so as not to allow book banners this opportunity to use my words in a negative way. And then, I thought, wait, how terrible is this? I am about to censor myself and what I write so others cannot use my words out of context to censor access to a book. How much does that suck? Making censorship a nasty cycle. It really saddens me to think that in this world, we have to be careful about how we present a book, so people won’t take offense to it and try to censor it. My goal with this blog is to let people know about books that I liked, books that moved me, books that I think can make a difference. The last thing I want is to prevent access to books. Take heed book banners: If you ever try to use my words to support your causes, I will not react lightly.
If I could share one piece of advice regarding this issue, it would be the following: Don’t let one person or one group of people dictate how you feel about a book. Discussing books is one of my favorite things to do, but don’t let anyone force your judgment of a book. And parents, before you write a book off, pick it up and read it. Don’t censor things from your children just because someone told you it was ‘bad’. And then, if you don’t think it’s right for your child, leave it at that. Please don’t go and try to make decisions for other people’s children.
Lastly, when it comes to anything that causes you harm, be it abuse, rape, inequality, or even censorship: #SpeakLoudly. We can’t change things if we don’t try.
P.S. Best thing to come out of this is inspiration to read great books. I’m going to the library to check out Twenty Boy Summer and Slaughterhouse Five. If you know me and want to read Speak, I’d be glad to loan you my copy.
Here’s a post that I thought was cool:
Thank goodness, someone finally sat down and dissecting the literary issues here: