Monday, September 20, 2010

Speak now, or...

If you aren't all ready aware, a man in Missouri called Laurie Halse Anderson "soft pornography." And because of that, he feels it should be banned. This is a man who is disdainful of fourth grade sex education curriculum, which mentions reproduction. And don't get him started on eighth grade, which has the audacity to mention homosexuality and condoms. Laurie's book Speak is being taught in English class--the movie has even been shown!--and he is disgusted by what it shows: sex, including two scenes of rape (he doesn't come right out and say it's the victim's fault, but his contempt for a girl who believes sex his a part of the high school experience is apparent; basically, his words indicate that she brought it on herself for being a slut). Some of the specifics he claims to have read in Speak I certainly don't remember.

He's demanding this book and others be removed from curriculum, for things like daring to show sex, the use of condoms, and speaking negatively of god. If I had to guess, I would think this man wasn't a very good literature student, or else he would understand that harsh (gritty, if you will), sexualized or blasphemous scenes taken within the context of the novel are used to make a point. If you focus on that one particular part, yeah, you might think it bad because you can only use yourself and your beliefs as a frame of reference. But if you look at the novel as a whole...

Honestly, I don't like the idea of pulling books out of curriculum or off library shelves. It's one thing to keep a place age appropriate. It's quite another to remove it because it has scenes you don't like. People refused to let their children read Huckleberry Finn because of the gratuitous use of a certain word, ignoring the fact that 1: Mark Twain believed in racial equality; 2: a lot of people talked like that during the nineteenth century (they didn't have much consideration for those of African descent...and apparently, Twain couldn't have been making a point about that), and 3: the character of Jim is ill-treated to say the absolute least, yet he is the kindest, most caring adult in Huck Finn's life. He puts himself in danger of capture to keep him safe. So why are people looking at one word, no matter how many times it's repeated?

I think Speak should be taught to high school students. It's about finding courage and strength when it has been taken away from you. It's about how staying silent about something horrible happened is just as bad as the horror. I believe these lessons are important ones to learn. Anyone who reads Speak, or Huckleberry Finn, or Slaughterhouse-Five, might be drawn to what makes them controversial, but that won't be the only think they take away from them. In between what makes their parents uncomfortable (because they have not yet learned why they themselves should be uncomfortable), maybe they'll learn about courage or kindness or making their own fate.

And damn anyone for trying to take that away under the guise of "protection."

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