Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speak Loudly: The Rights of Americans

So this happened.

And while this is a PG blog, I'm gonna knock that rating up to PG-13 to say simply: that's bullshit.

If you've not heard (it's lit up Twitter) a man claiming to be Christian has written a newspaper article calling for censorship on certain titles, including Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK. His reasoning? He claims that the novel contains scenes that are "soft pornography."

In case you've never read this book, it's about a young girl who's raped and--throughout the course of the novel--gets up the courage to speak about this rape.

Which means that this censor's objection to the book--the "soft porn" scenes he's talking about--that's when she's raped.

Now, there's something inherently wrong (and rather sick) about someone who thinks that rape is equivalent to pornography. And there's also something wrong about someone who wants to ban a book that has made hundreds of thousands of people think about consequences:

  • the consequences of a young man taking advantage of a young girl
  • the consequences of adults who don't listen to their children
  • the consequences of friends who forget the true meaning of friendship
  • the consequences of fear and malice and jealousy and hate
  • the consequences of silence
And it is that last one, I think, that has prompted so many people to #SpeakLoudly, a twitter movement to tell the world about this book.

Others have spoken more eloquently than me about the subject, the best being, I think, CJ Redwine's account. She speaks truly, and her account is certainly more Christian than the man objecting to SPEAK's validity. And since we're arguing in terms of whether something's Christian or not, Veronica Roth's rebuttal is spot-on.

As for me, I can say that I taught this novel once in high school (I only taught American literature once). And I loved watching the hulking, towering football players crouched in their desks over this slender volume. I loved watching the kids tell me they didn't want to do an activity or watch a movie: they wanted more reading time. I loved the group of girls who snuck off on their bathroom break to run to the library and check out the rest of Laurie Halse Anderson's books.

The kids did art projects based on the book--the main characters first learns to "speak" through her art, so I gave the kids a chance to try that. 

And some of them "spoke" of harsh things. Not rape, thank God, but things I wish sixteen and seventeen year olds didn't know. But because of that book, they all knew they had a chance to speak, and that we were all listening.

On the wall of my classroom, I made a poster. It's one of my favorite quotes, and it's by the French philosopher, Voltaire:

I may not agree with what you say, 
but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

It became a favorite quote among my students, too. When debating, many students (without my prompted) would end their debates by quoting those lines. They recognized that the freedom of speech is one of our greatest rights as Americans.

I think the man calling SPEAK soft pornography is wrong, misguided, misleading, and, frankly, bullshit.

But he has the right to say it.

But he does not have the right to silence me. Or my students. Or the students in his school district.

My views on censorship are simple:
  • You should censor yourself and what you expose yourself to.
  • Parents & legal guardians have not only the right, but the obligation, to censor their children and what their children are exposed to.
  • No one else ever has the right to censor anything else.
The idea that one should stop anyone from speaking--which is, essentially, censorship--is actually a central theme of the book SPEAK. 

Censorship is about about absolutes. "If I don't like it, no one will!" When has there ever been a book that everyone liked? There isn't one. And just as there's not a book that is universally loved, there is not a book that is universally hated--and therefore, there is not a book--not a single book in the entire world--that deserves censorship.

It is fine if a parent doesn't want his or her child to read SPEAK. But it is not fine for one man to try to rip the book out of the hands of every student in a school district. 

I need your help.
Please share your experiences with SPEAK; your own response to the book, or the way you’ve seen it work in a school setting. Tahleen has already posted her thoughts on her blog. You can do the same. Please share links to your blog in Comments.
But then, please speak up to the people who can make a real difference in Republic, MO.
You can submit a letter to the editor of the News-Leader.
You can write to the superintendent of the Republic School District, Dr. Vern Minor, or to the high school principal, Daren Harris.
You can comment directly to Scroggins’ opinion piece.

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