Returning the Favor and other Slices of Life

Returning the Favor
Returning the Favor
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Friday, May 04, 2007

On Teachers, Writers, Librarians and nanny States

Some of you who know me in real life might remember that I went to college to become a teacher, and English teacher specifically. A combination of low pay, early mornings and a realization that I'd be fired within a semester for telling some administrator exactly where he could shove his lesson plan led to my abandonment of this plan.

Most of the reason for me wanting to become a teacher came from the excellent teachers I had in school. One in particular taught me a valuable lesson about standing up for what you believe in, no matter the potential risks. There was a book on the shelves of our local middle school that a parent objected to. Our district had a process in place for challenging books in schools, but instead of following the procedure for challenging a book, the librarian there just removed the book. I don't remember how I heard about it, but being sixteen and full of righteous indignation (yeah, I know, not much has changed in 18 years except the mullet's gone) I wrote an editorial for the school paper about it.

Our principal reviewed the paper before it went to press, as was his custom (and Supreme Court-granted right), and asked me if I thought that was really something that I, as editor, should run in our paper. I didn't even question, my answer was "of course." The editorial ran, then the local paper picked it up and ran it, and then real reporters got involved. Eventually the book was returned to the shelves of the middle school after undergoing the proper review process and failing to meet the set guidelines for censorship.

But in the midst of all this, Ms. Hobbs, my English teacher, came up with an idea. We should do a grass roots campaign to raise awareness of censorship. So she helped up make buttons in various colors saying "I read banned books," which could be seen all over kids and some teachers around my high school.

It was these buttons that brought the issue to the attention of the public outside our school and to the local paper, which eventually led to the return of the book to the library. I didn't know until months later that there was a very good reason that Ms. Hobbs was the only teacher who wore her button for months - she was the only teacher willing to risk her job over it. Seems that the teachers at my school were told that it didn't reflect well on the school for this whole mess to be blown up in everyone's face, and that teachers continuing to sport our buttons would face disciplinary action, possibly even dismissal.

And she didn't care. She was a bit of a hippy at heart, and definitely a rabble-rouser, but she had the courage of her convictions, and that was all she needed. So she put her job on the line to back our play, and to stand up for something she believed in. That's something that's stuck with me all these years, and I still appreciate her for it. So today, when I'm reading Neil Gaiman's blog, I come across this link to Maureen Johnson's blog, telling of her current experience with book banning.

Maureen is a writer, and one of her books has recently been removed from a middle school library by a parent that objected to themes of homosexuality in the book.Now I'm not a fan of censorship in general, but even less so when the members of the committee that voted to ban the book haven't read the thing. So this got my dander up a little, and got me to thinking about Ms. Hobbs, and those buttons, and the one time a few people managed to get something set right when the censorship beasty raised its ugly head.

You see, here's my take on the whole thing. If this lady doesn't want her kid to read Maureen's book, fine. That is her right as a parent. But to take that option away from all the other parents in the area is just stupid. Of course I think there are books that aren't appropriate for all ages, but a book that was written for teens and read and defended by the school librarian is unlikely to have the same prurient material as Lady Chatterly's Lover (or anything else by Lawrence, but that's another post). Books are ideas, and the more ideas that our young people are kept hidden away from, the more likely they are to be blindsided by these ideas when they get out in the Big Bad World.

There are gay people in the world. I know that's a news flash to some folks in Bartlesville, OK (where this particular mess is going down), but it's true. There are also gang-bangers, meth heads, kiddie pornographers, serial killers dressed up like clowns (as if clowns weren't freaky enough) and Karl Rove. And forewarned is forearmed, as the cliche goes. BTW, there's a reason things become cliches - because they're true. So hiding your kid in the storm cellar is not going to protect them "until they're old enough to learn these things." Hiding them away from things in the world you don't like, be it homosexuality or Republicans, is just going to make sure that the encounter these things before they're ready to deal with them.

I know that if I hadn't read Alpha Flight comics as a kid I probably would have had a different reaction to my friend Jay telling me he was gay in college. Not that there was a whole lot of room for doubt with Jay, but having been exposed to the idea that there were gay people out there and that they were normal people just like me helped me deal with it, rather than going into the freak-out mode that someone growing up in rural South Carolina would normally have gone into when exposed to their first real live "fag." Books are how we expand our horizons outside our little everyday worlds, and it's a shame that some people don't want to see those worlds expand.

Anyway, I've got a lot of friends who stop by here once in a while who have kids, and I'm sure as hell not gonna tell you how to raise them. That's what therapy is for. But please don't hide them away from the truth. It'll only come back to bite you later.


Daddy said...

I encourage every kid I meet to read

BadBlood said...

Great post.

But I mainly wanted to comment on the Alpha Flight reference. I'm pretty sure I have like the first 30 issues or so. Go Northstar! :)