Censorship vs. EducationSo in my high school library, we have this "Crank" series of poetry books by Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Glass, a couple others I can't think of off the top of my head) and the...

Censorship vs. Education

So in my high school library, we have this "Crank" series of poetry books by Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Glass, a couple others I can't think of off the top of my head) and the kids are EATING THEM ALIVE. After about the third one of my students had one of these books in class for their free-reading book, I got a little curious and glanced through it. The poems tell a story about the authors struggle with alcohol, drugs, abuse etc using VERY vivid and graphic language.

Now don't get me wrong - I am SO against book banning. In fact I am walking on eggshells with having quite the controversial curriculum. But should we have books of such calibre in the high school without the structure of it being taught? I mean, my kids - the basic kids - are reading it mainly because it has "f**, s***" and any other expletive word in there and the poems deal with booze and drugs.

I proposed the idea to my principal about possibly starting an after-school book-talk about the books, their content and message and he said that we couldnt teach such a controversial curriculum even if it was voluntary and after school. I wanted to do this to have the kids read the poems for what they are and not just the words in them.

If we cant teach something like that in the school, then why are we having it in the library where the kids are getting their hands on literature, that I am sorry, is too mature for them at this point? Now if it was a senior in an AP class, I wouldnt have a probem with it because they can process the meaning and all that jazz but my rugrats - especially my freshmen, but most of my seniors at this point - dont posess the higher critical thinking level to read this literature as it was intended.

I would like to start a discussion of what your opinions were or if I am just being a prude (at the age of 25...haha). Should we have books in a library we are not willing to teach even extra-curricularly? Why shouldnt we help kids understand some tough literature that is out there? I know some parents could definitely have a hard problem with this, but if their kids do the book club thing after school, then they could check out the book. If the parents dont want their kids exposed to it and shelter them, then the kids wont be in the book club. Yes? No? Maybe? Different ideas?

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mshurn's profile pic

Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

mrsmonica! Have you and I taught in the same building/system and not run into each other?! I'm thinking so.

I am not familiar with the books in question, but I, too, am amazed by the idea that some books can be read in the library but not in the classroom with the direction of a teacher to provide some context and discussion. Are you sure anybody except the librarian and the students even knows they are there? Seriously.

I also wonder what the school policy is in regard to which books will be available in the library. Is there a written policy at all? If so, has anybody even thought to coordinate it with the curriculum? Is the policy whatever your principal says it is? Especially these days, teachers need written policies in matters such as these. So, what can you find in writing to address your concerns? If there are no written policies, my advice would be to err on the side of caution. Blatant insubordination is not an option, unless you long for a new teaching position in another district far, far away!

But back to your concern for your own students and their progress. Perhaps you can find reading materials on your school's "approved" list that address some of the same issues but in a less sensational way. If so, perhaps your kids would apply what they discuss in class to what they read outside of class. All the best and good luck. Teaching is not for the weak!

 

ms-charleston-yawp's profile pic

Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

I’ve been having fun looking on the bright side this evening by contemplating this fact:  Your students are reading, absorbing, discussing, . . . and enjoying!?!  That’s something, at least!  The poor “regular” classes, always being compared to AP.  *sigh* Some great minds come out of those regular freshman classes, you know, if properly inspired.  : )  Anyway, I almost wish you didn’t approach your principal right away.  I’m more of the better-to-beg-forgiveness-than-ask-permission type.  (Scary, eh?)  But maybe you can USE this to get their attention while really and truly inspiring them.  Have you ever thought of reading these books yourself, discerning why they like them beyond the swear words (hopefully there’s something else, but then again even Spock once called swear words “colorful metaphors”) and using whatever is salvageable by saying something like, “Well, I’m certainly NOT going to make an allusion to that horrid book.  [wink, wink]  For example, I’m certainly NOT going to mention page 32 when blah, blah, blah.” Or another idea, “I know there’s this horrible book you like to read that could never have an example of a metaphor, like blah, blah, blah, . . . Oh wait!  That’s in there too!”  Or yet another, comparing a “hypothetical” negative example (of abuse, maybe?) to a character in a novel or a short story they are reading?  All as G-rated as possible, of course.  Or even if you find no positive value at all, you could use mock hatred of the book itself as humor in any classroom situation. You could teach almost any literary concept using at least one of these ways, . . . and you’d certainly have their attention.  Part of me (the goody-two-shoes part) wants to say that you should run this by your superiors first.  Yet, part of me (the devilish-risk-taker part) wants to say, “Just go for it!”  I’ll leave it to you to decide, of course.  I have to end with this, though:  kudos to you for caring so much about your students that this would encompass so much of your thought process these days!  That, my friend, is what teaching is all about!  : )

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enotechris | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

It seems incongruous that a book that can't be discussed in class, for whatever reasons, can be readily had in the school library.  But it gives those who would advocate outright censorship the argument that the book isn't banned!  It's just not being taught. Having it literally shelved resolves no issues.  It's a parent's responsibility (not the school's, school board's, teacher's or principal's) to determine what is appropriate for each student.  The "one size fits all" mentality that's easy to administer doesn't serve students -- it denies those who may be ready to appropriately consider risque material from exploring and learning.  And in this case, the students appear to be ready to explore and learn.  Why shouldn't a teacher guide them?  Those who scream "won't somebody think of the children!" should start by thinking of what's appropriate for their own.  It's regrettable that the teacher should be placed in the middle between conflicting standards, because a teacher's job is to teach and enlighten, and not to substitute for sloppy parenting.

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

I am dumbfounded that your school library would have the books on hand, yet you are not permitted to include them in the curriculum, either during the school day or in a voluntary after-school program.

My response to you is going to be pragmatic, from the perspective of both having been a classroom teacher who occasionally got knocked for using "too mature" content, as well as having been a principal. Unless you have the complete support in advance of your principal, you are taking a tremendous risk to use the materials. I am not saying this because I believe it is right; I am saying it because of the way that local school boards operate.

Even if you have the support of your principal, unless s/he has the complete support of the superintendent, it's still risky. When push comes to shove, 99.9% of the time the principal will give in to whatever pressure is brought to bear by the superintendent. The superintendent will in turn give in to pressure by the school board, who give in to pressure by voting constituents.

timbrady's profile pic

timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I don't think it's what's in the books that may make the difference; I think how the material is treated is more important.  Books can't "preach" goodness; ironically books and music often "preach" ungood (made this up because it avoids the connotations of real words).  We seems apologetic when we cover books that have an uplifting message.  I would like students to read books about alcohol and drugs that show how often they destroy lives.  And, if I may comment on #5, many of these books do not "simply relay the facts."  All stories have a point of view about their subject matter.  And the "real" world is a wide open statement; real means many different things to many different people.  I don't think things are "real" just because they "are."

I think it would be interesting to look at Plato's argument FOR censorship in "The Republic."  If you have read it, you know it's not what it sounds like, but rather an advocacy for the establishment of good values before exposure to a variety of others.

There are many interesting YA books that both interest students and examine the complex nature of the world some of them live in from a positive value viewpoint.

I know this won't go over with everyone, but it's how I see it.

engtchr5's profile pic

engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Here's a question to consider: If we as educators are going to advocate literature that exposes our children to the negatives of society, then why don't our school libraries include publications like Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, and the whole spectrum of other pornographic publications?

The answer is quite simple: While there is a case to be made for producing rational and open-minded citizens of the world, there is also a line produced by our common human conscience that tells us, "Don't go there. Danger." This is especially true when it comes to children -- we know that children beneath a certain age are not mature enough to grasp certain adult concepts, and that if they attempt to do so, devastating detrimental effects occur. Perhaps, just as you wouldn't approve of your students checking out the Kama Sutra, you equally don't approve of them filling their minds with the rubbish in certain literature. If this is the case, I applaud your sound judgment. We as educators need to use our hearts as well as our minds to produce students who are well-balanced not only intellectually, but also emotionally. Do we need to ban books in order to accomplish this? Certainly not, but we do need to use our best professional discernment regarding what is best for all our pupils. 

krishna-agrawala's profile pic

krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

A sentence in post # 2 is a good starting point for what i have to say on this subject.

. . . schools pretending certain things don't exist (sex, drugs, violence etc) when the media is full of positive images of these topics is dangerous.

Problem is there are too many things in the world - good and bad, and we can't practice or know them all them. So we have to be choosy.

I am not saying that we choose only the nice and the sweet. That would be trying to live in a land of fairies. If we have to live and be happy in this real world, we need to be know the seamier side of life also.

The choice is not between whether or not to choose, what are our criteria of choosing, and whether an independent institution like schools should play a part in determining that choice. Fact is, whether we like it or not, schools do choose a lot of things on behalf of their students - like the curriculum, the school timings, the choice of teachers, and the books to be kept in library. Choice of the school in all these matters is not, and cannot be, perfect. Yet the schools must choose.

If we accept the need for schools to decide on matters like these then we can limit our examination to whether there is a widespread incidence of wrong choices being made by schools. If this is so, the solution would lie in correcting the decision mechanism in the school rater than opposing the practice of schools making these choice.

Coming to specific question of, "Should we have books in a library we are not willing to teach even extra-curricularly", my views are as follows:

Schools are places meant for students education through interaction between group of students and their teachers. If there is something inappropriate for discussion in such interaction, I do not see the justification for making is a part of school education.

ktuvwxyz's profile pic

ktuvwxyz | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

Censorship vs. Education

So in my high school library, we have this "Crank" series of poetry books by Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Glass, a couple others I can't think of off the top of my head) and the kids are EATING THEM ALIVE. After about the third one of my students had one of these books in class for their free-reading book, I got a little curious and glanced through it. The poems tell a story about the authors struggle with alcohol, drugs, abuse etc using VERY vivid and graphic language.

Now don't get me wrong - I am SO against book banning. In fact I am walking on eggshells with having quite the controversial curriculum. But should we have books of such calibre in the high school without the structure of it being taught? I mean, my kids - the basic kids - are reading it mainly because it has "f**, s***" and any other expletive word in there and the poems deal with booze and drugs.

I proposed the idea to my principal about possibly starting an after-school book-talk about the books, their content and message and he said that we couldnt teach such a controversial curriculum even if it was voluntary and after school. I wanted to do this to have the kids read the poems for what they are and not just the words in them.

If we cant teach something like that in the school, then why are we having it in the library where the kids are getting their hands on literature, that I am sorry, is too mature for them at this point? Now if it was a senior in an AP class, I wouldnt have a probem with it because they can process the meaning and all that jazz but my rugrats - especially my freshmen, but most of my seniors at this point - dont posess the higher critical thinking level to read this literature as it was intended.

I would like to start a discussion of what your opinions were or if I am just being a prude (at the age of 25...haha). Should we have books in a library we are not willing to teach even extra-curricularly? Why shouldnt we help kids understand some tough literature that is out there? I know some parents could definitely have a hard problem with this, but if their kids do the book club thing after school, then they could check out the book. If the parents dont want their kids exposed to it and shelter them, then the kids wont be in the book club. Yes? No? Maybe? Different ideas?

I'm a senior in high school, and I have indeed read all the books by Ellen Hopkins.  In fact, I read the majority of them as a junior.  To be honest, you're not giving teenagers [not "children"] enough credit.  They aren't reading these books simply because they have curse words; they're reading these books because these issues are REAL and many students DO DEAL with such alcohol and drug abuse.  Sure, in junior high, students would read books simply because they wanted to read curse words, but it's an old, old fad once you reach the high school level.  To try to shelter students from such material is shielding them from the real world.  Yes, students are exposed to such substances in high school - don't deny it!  Teenagers these days can gain access to more alcohol and drugs than you even know!  So wouldn't you rather that they learn their lessons from a book and not from personal experience?
The books don't condone drug use, sex, or alcohol abuse.  They simply relay the facts on what happens when such things.  I recommend you read them for yourself and not just "glance through it."

ktuvwxyz's profile pic

ktuvwxyz | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I'm a senior in high school, and I have indeed read all the books by Ellen Hopkins.  In fact, I read the majority of them as a junior.  To be honest, you're not giving teenagers [not "children"] enough credit.  They aren't reading these books simply because they have curse words; they're reading these books because these issues are REAL and many students DO DEAL with such alcohol and drug abuse.  Sure, in junior high, students would read books simply because they wanted to read curse words, but it's an old, old fad once you reach the high school level.  To try to shelter students from such material is shielding them from the real world.  Yes, students are exposed to such substances in high school - don't deny it!  Teenagers these days can gain access to more alcohol and drugs than you even know!  So wouldn't you rather that they learn their lessons from a book and not from personal experience?
The books don't condone drug use, sex, or alcohol abuse.  They simply relay the facts on what happens when such things.  I recommend you read them for yourself and not just "glance through it."

frizzyperm's profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

The problem we have nowadays is that teachers have to be as prissy and prudish as the most dried-up parent imaginable. The self-righteous, low-IQ parent who believes they have moral authority can make a lot of trouble for teachers (like the mouthy women in The Simpsons who shouts, "won't somebody think of the children." all the time) We are so nervous of offending anyone's half-baked opinion that we do are terrified of covering any difficult topics at all.

Personally I think that schools pretending certain things don't exist (sex, drugs, violence etc) when the media is full of postive images of these topics is dangerous. We want to create informed adults who make informed decisions, not blinkered adults who are scared of discussing difficult issues.

Turn on the radio... 100s and 100s of 'cool' songs giving a positive message about guns, drugs, crime, anti-social behaviour and irresponsible sex. But we can't teach a poem that looks at these issues.

*sigh* what a stupid world!

My only advice is that if you are going to present your students with controversial material then make sure you've got the express support of your Head of Department. I'd encourage you to tackle difficult themes, but make sure the school has got your back.

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