Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teens and Teachers on Banning Books

For our contribution to banned book week, Pam and I talked to some real-live teens and teachers to see what they had to say about the practice.


One teen I talked to had this to say:
"I think it's stupid.  I mean, it's not like a book sitting in a library is hurting anyone.  What if the kid that wants to read it can't afford to buy the book, and what if that book would have changed their life?"

Another teen took a similar view:

We should have the right to read what we want.  Just because my best friend finds a book offensive doesn't mean I will.  Really, it doesn't mean anyone else will.  Should she be required to read it?  No.  But should I not be allowed to read it because of her beliefs?  Again, no.  We're all individuals here with different levels of comfort.  As long as you're not trying to force a book down someone's throat, I don't see the issue.

Here are responses from a couple of teachers Pam had the opportunity to speak with:

I understand why there might be a banned book lists for grades K-8 because of the maturity level of some students, and I can understand why parents might be upset with their child getting a hold of a book that they would find inappropriate for them, but I often disagree with what books are specifically banned.  It's a double edged sword.  I would like to think that there wouldn't need to be a banned book list, because parents should be able to work with their children and their children's teachers to communicate which types of books are inappropriate in their opinions to read.  I think that in some cases, there ARE children who are mature enough to handle the material in controversial books, and I hate to keep them from being able to read these books if they and their parents approve, so I would like to live in a world where I could make the books available to them, but without forcing anyone to read the books, so I am not offending any parents.  I do know, though, that often times middle school is a rebellious age where I cannot necessarily trust all my students to follow their parents' wishes for censureship.  It makes things difficult as a teacher, being torn between finding literary justification to read a story that you know students will love and being careful not to offend anyone!
-Jada Parr, 7th Grade English Teacher

My thoughts on book banning are that the choice should be left up to the parent as to what they allow their children to read. No one person's feelings about a novel should dictate to everyone's choice of which book to enjoy. I believe banning books so that noone can have the chance to experience that writing is unfair. Also, who makes up the Book Banning Committee? Is it a variety of ages and cultures so that each book can be evaluated fairly? Just some food for thought. Thank you for allowing me to share.

Charlene Walker-Briggs, Reading Specialist

I also had the opportunity to sit down and talk with my friend Erinn who is a teacher and a writer who has an interesting take on the subject:

Holly: Erinn, I'd like to know, as a teacher (instead of as a writer - even though I know you are one), how do you feel about banning books?

Erinn:  As a teacher, I sort of have a different opinion about it than as a writer.  Teacher Erinn thinks there should be rating system on books.  Teacher Erinn is VERY careful about books she talks to her kids about.  Teacher Erinn skips over scenes and chapters even in approved books because I'm SUPER PRUDE.  Shocking... I know.
Holly:  That is kinda shocking

Erinn:  I know, right?
 Holly:  That's an interesting idea though.  What kind of rating system would you suggest?  Like the ones they use on video games?

Erinn:  Yeah, I think books should carry the same labels as a video game.  As a teacher, I have to assume not everyone shares the same opinions I do.  When talking to the kids I err on the side of conservative.  The school I teach in is in an area that's very religious, and although I've never had a problem with a parent, I'd rather keep it that way too.

Holly:  Well, and you teach the younger end of teens -- which I think is where you really have to be careful in the classroom.

Erinn:  Yes, I teach 13-14 year olds.   Whenever I read a book, I like to share it with the class.  Because I want my students to have a love of reading like I do.  Last year I read Across the Universe and when I was telling my students about it I told my students "there are a few scenes in the book that skew risky,  there's an attempted rape scene.   It's a great book, but it's for mature readers."   I also tell them if they are reading the book  because of the mature content then they've missed the point of the book.  And I only told my 8th graders who are above grade level reading class.  NOT my 7th graders.

While I don't feel that any book should be banned, I don't feel that every book should be in every middle school library either.

People who ban books assume a sixth grader is going to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I say, it's a good book, but a 6th grader was NEVER the intended reader.
That's very true.  Authors usually have a very specific age group in mind when they write books.  (I know I do!)

Erinn:  I think books should match the reader.  A 6th grader IS NOT the intentioned reader for ATU or Twilight or An Abundance of Katherines.  9th graders are.
Right, which is where you suggest a rating system could help.
Yes, a rating system would make it easier for parents to know about a book's content too.  The parent who went to the book store and couldn't find a book for her 6th grader was in the WRONG section.  I think labels would make it easier not only for them to find books, but to decide which ones are appropriate for their children as well.  Also, an author shouldn't be asked to remove a scene because BN won't buy YA-15 books...

I think John Green did it best.  When Will Grayson Will Grayson came out he said, "This book wasn't written for my middle school readers.  It wasn't even written for Freshmen or Sophomores.  It was written for older high school students and kids in college."
I think the author should have the final say.  The author/publishing team should give the rating and make it clear who the intended readers are. I don't think that that's banning or censorship.

Holly:  No, I think I'd call that targeted marketing.

Erinn:  Right, I think that's good marketing and making sure the content matches the reader.  I'm not a fan of blanket statements that no one can read this book.  I feel that parents should have the right to let their child opt out of the book, but they shouldn't keep someone else's kid from reading it.  As a writer, I know HOW MUCH work goes into making a book.
If a book was good enough to get past the gatekeepers, editors and the publishing team, then chances are there's literary merit to the book.  And the book shouldn't be banned.

Holly Wow.  You've thought long and hard about this haven't you?
Yes, I have.
I love it, I think you bring forward some really important points.  Thank you so much for agreeing to interview with me, it's nice to get a view from inside the classroom!
Come back every day this week for more talk about banning books


Michelle Julian said...

Thanks for sharing those perspectives!

Jaime Morrow said...

Some really good points here. The current ranges are pretty big. The difference between a 9-year old and 12-year old in the 9-12 range is vast, generally speaking as is the one between 13-18 in YA. A more targeted approach could really work.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

Interesting discussion! I'm not a parent yet but I could see how a rating system could he useful. I agree that books should never be banned but that younger kids probably shouldn't read books meant for older readers.

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