First, read this blog (Censorship at its Finest: Remembering) from a teacher with a Masters in K-12 Reading. For those of you who want the short version: Communal prejudice regarding the nature of the YA books that this teacher chose to use in her reading circles resulted in her eventual removal from her teaching position.
Actually stemming from the teacher’s blog are these two periphery blogs: The Banning of Academic Rigor: Anti-censorship groups now calling enforcement of curriculum standards “censorship” and Kentucky School Superintendent Exposes False Cries of Censorship; Removes Educationally Unsuitable Books from Curriculum Despite Being on ALA’s List for Reluctant Readers. The first blog essentially says that the spent time on “literary cotton candy in a class that’s supposed to be preparing students for the greater rigors of higher education,” and the second blog says that the teacher should “work within the curriculum to continue to promote reading the best she can, then write a story about her experiences doing so.” (To put those two articles in a nutshell.)
These blogs’ responses remind me of one reason why I left my English Education major. I don’t like bureaucracy, and I don’t like hypocrisy. It is my humble opinion that hypocritical behavior is inherent to “the system;” who doesn’t agree with this, outside of those who must operate within the system? Furthermore, not only is hypocritical behavior inherent, but this same behavior – liberating students’ minds – extends to the working adult world. Students are taught to follow like automatrons. Don’t push the envelope, listen and do what you’re told. Students are told to think for themselves, yet… haven’t been taught to do so.
When I was an undergrad in a general literature class, I got an “F” on one of my tests. I asked what was wrong with my answers and literally was told that I “didn’t conform.” As students, we know very well how to conform. Read what we’re supposed to, absorb the highlights as best we can, plumb instructors in the best way in which to get by, and then regurgitate what we’re supposed to know… Rote. How does that work? I told that instructor, “I shouldn’t have to.” I addressed the question and then furthered my answer with my own interpretation; why can’t I? I am no cookie-cutter human being. While I may be unique (just like everybody else), I do have my own opinions, likes and dislikes, and point of view. Let me be Me.
I know it is “canon” which is adhered to within academia, but I don’t like canonical politics. Why shouldn’t students read something other than “the classics”? They aren’t classic. A professor I once had said that “there is no such thing as ‘timeless’ literature.” Literature is a product of history, and belongs to a place and a time. As he liked to say, “Who uses it, and what for?”
Therefore, Shakespeare’s works are not meant for high schoolers. Really: If all the individuals who want to shelter their children knew that in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s nurse talks about her “dugs” (breasts) and jokes about it, would that still be proper? It is among the classics, after all. What about Oedipus Rex in schools? A son kills his father, sleeps with his mother, and Freud later posits that all good little boys have an Oedipus complex… Is that still okay? Shakespeare is not for children or teens who cannot quite understand the material that is meant for people with life experience. (Shakespeare has his place, it’s just at a different level… college. Even then, it may not simply be college but in upper-level college English courses.)
So: My question is why YA books are not suitable for college prep courses. Novels with simpler reading levels allow students a mental breather. (Children are told to play, but are urged to be adults; adults are told not to worry when it’s too late not to worry in some way. Interesting, no?) They are easy to read, make sense the first time they are read, and are often very interesting because students preparing to enter college cannot be said to have entirely outgrown the content included in such work. These “childish” pieces may readily be used for complex jumping-off points. With complex canonical works, they must first be read (muddled through), translated, deconstructed for meaning, and then discussed. Which of these types of book, then, proves more effective?
Meanwhile: ALL students (people) learn differently. YA novels may be brief, but they still strike very integral truths about literature. They still contain plot, main character, shades of meaning, and various other literary devices. That starting point turns to complex discussion; in turn, complex discussion turns to hands-on activity. That teacher showed her students how to read well, or they would not have been so engaged. Isn’t student engagement a high priority for teachers? Lack of student engagement is one of the top reasons discipline is so difficult to maintain in the classroom.
Why is it that when a creative idea works, it is shot down due to parental “sensibilities”? I understand parents have the right to raise their child as they wish, but it seems awful close-minded to detain the child from such experiences. Children do eventually encounter previously-banned books, but such “sheltering” develops discrimination and judgmental mindsets. If children are not allowed to accept in stride certain factors of their everyday existence, those factors become marked (obvious, strange). People fear what they do not understand, and when they do not understand, they often destroy or avoid what may be very good experiences and creative outlets. Reading circles like those that teacher hosted are just one of many deprived outlets.
Today’s schools need a major overhaul. Students should not sit in small desks for the equivalent of an entire “work day,” kept from the sun and made to regurgitate what they are supposed to know. No student, no child, no teen, no adult or other person is the same. Trends exist, yes. But everybody needs that which speaks to them. Everybody should have the chance to learn in their own way. Individual learning – learning that is understood at the personal level is what stays.