Friday, February 18, 2011

When I say the C word

Get your minds out of the gutter, it's not that c word. Cookie.  It's censorship.
I've always been quiet on the censorship issue but today I figured I'd talk about it.

When I read a book I tell my students about it.  Why because it's a great way to promote the writers I like and it introduces my students to books they might not have heard of.

However when I'm in front of the classroom, I'm not a writer, I'm not a fan of YA literature. I'm a teacher. It's how I pay my bills.

I teach above grade level 8th graders.  Are they high schoolers?  Nope.  Are they adults? Absolutely not.  Have they had all the life experainces I've had... dear God I hope not.

I also keep a list of books I've read on our class website.  I make a note next to the books that I would consider to be mature.  By mature I mean the target audience would be kids in high school or college.

Do I recommend EVERY book I read to them? Nope.

While I enjoyed The Duff-- I really did, but do I want my 8th grade girls reading it?  Well if a girl found the book on her own, that's one thing.  But it wasn't a book I stood in front of the class and raved about. 

Did I rave about some of the other books I read?  Yep.

Anna and the French Kiss- yes I did.

Paranormalcy- Yep

Gone- Yep

I am Number 4- Yep

Twenty Boy Summer- I said it's not for everyone reader-- you need to be a mature reader.

At this point of the year I know which kids can "handle" which books. The students who are mature and responsible tend to head towards the books I recommend. 

Am I going to recommend these books to my on and below grade level 7th graders?  Probably not.  I did recommend Gone to them.  

I should also say there's A BIG difference between TEACHING a book and reading it for fun, enjoyment or pleasure.   When you teaching a book- your looking at several keep factors and most of the time the books have been deemed "classics" by English professors. They are normally rich in whatever topic you're trying to teach at the time.  But reading to analyze text is different from reading for pleasure which is something I always stress. 

I never stop a student from reading a book, as long as the student and his or her parents are aware of the material.   A few years ago I had a student reading the books True Blood was based off of.  I told her if she wanted to read it and her mother was aware of the content of the book and her mother was fine with it, that's cool with me.  But I asked her not to do a book review and share it with the whole class.  The student completely understood why and had no objection to it. 

So is this censorship?  Is this professional judgment? I'd like to hear your opinions on it.


  1. oh ~ it's not BAD censorship. it's perfect! Minds need to be protected and some things need to be saved for when a person is older.

    I know my (own) kids often try to get me to let them watch movies that apparently their friends have ALL seen. to which I usually say no. M rated ones like Spiderman, which I have no problem with ~ but my kids are only in primary school and I want them to savour the patch they're in and not rush them through life. there is plenty of time for them to watch movies like that when they are older.

    same with books. it's important to be responsible about it.

    LOVE this post :)

    I also do the same thing with people borrowing from my book shelf. i have to take mental note so I know which ones are okay to give my 14 year old niece, especially as she (and I) are both in Christian families, don't want to get them ticked off at me, LOL.

  2. I LOVE the way you approach this! I only hope Super Spawn is lucky enough to have a teacher like you. <3

  3. I don't see it as censorship--more like professional judgment. You aren't banning the books, and you aren't saying certain kinds of creativity are wrong. You aren't dissing or ignoring a historical element for the sake of saving your students a difficult conversation that has to do with educational topics. I assume you're mainly talking about sex and gratuitous violence and drugs being things that are innappropriate to discuss in the classroom. As a parent, I don't need my seventh-grader coming home and talking about spending their day at school learning about that stuff unless it's related to the curriculum or current events. Now a novel like SPEAK, that has some of those things in it, but is essentially about a girl dealing with rape, or WINTERGIRLS (dealing with anorexia)-- those I'm fine with. Teach away--those are great books! I guess what I'm saying is that I'm all for professional judgment. And thank you for being a teacher :)

  4. 8th graders not able to review something in the Sookie Stackhouse series?

    8th graders are getting drunk, high and having group sex at that age; I'm sure they wouldn't be corrupted by the books :P

  5. It seems to me to walk a fine line. No, I don't think you're censoring. At least, not in the bad sense of the word - the fact that you're willing to have a conversation about any book with your students is great.

    RE the 'what' should be censored... I guess it depends on where those things fit into school versus home. Who is supposed to have the conversation about sex? drug use? etc? I think the biggest issue would be how the book treats them. Is that behavior set in a light that would let the reader make a mature judgement about what's appropriate, or does it glorify a destructive lifestyle? That seems to be the bigger harm, rather than reading about the issue period.

    Now, I was a pretty shy student. If I was reading a "mature" book, I probably wouldn't have brought it in to school or written about it for an assignment. And I tended to keep my recreational reading separate from the required - I actually hated many of the classics we read in school, until I went back later as an adult and read them. (eg: pride and prejudice, jane eyre)

  6. No, this isn't censorship at all. Censorship is defined as: "the institution, system, or practice of censoring," and censoring is defined as: "to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable."

    You aren't reading any of these books with the intent to surpress, remove, delete, or withhold information from children or anyone else.

    Additionally, true censorship, despite the above definition, is often done without even examing the material in question (a la Ellen Hopkins being disinvited without anyone reading the book they deemed inappropriate to explore its context and implications).

    Professional judgement is necessary in every career. Yours happens to involve recommending or not recommending books to children based on your personal beliefs, your knowledge of their maturity level, and their parents' agreement. That is responsible teaching, which goes hand in hand with responsible parenting. It's no different than not letting a toddler watch a slasher flick.

  7. I see it as wise censorship, which makes it not truly censorship anyway. :) I was reading the Spenser novels in 8th grade because my dad realized I was mature enough to understand it was just a book, but I wouldn't have recommended them as a teacher.

    I think you handled the situation well - I probably would have asked her to find something with better writing to read. :D

  8. I work at a middle school so I understand where you're coming from. I recommend a few books to my students that I feel will help them get through some kind of problem, but if the content is too "mature," I'll check with the parents first. I'm not even completely comfortable with telling my students about my WIPs since the content is so mature (and they ask me about it frequently since they know I write).

  9. I think you handled this perfectly. Would that all teachers were so wise.

  10. I don't really think of what you do as censorship - and if it is, then it's different than, like, banning books about the Jewish religion because you don't want people to read about it or something. I believe that parents and school libraries should, at the very least, be allowed to deem books inappropriate because of sexual content or drugs or both. Wow, fail. -_- I'm thirteen years old and I sound like a freaking politician. Fail. xD

  11. I think this is more about professionalism. You are really aware of the maturity of your students, and take that into account. I think that sounds like the very best kind of teacher.

  12. I don't think what you're doing is censorship. You aren't taking the books off of bookshelves or banning them from your school. You're just deciding which books to recommend to certain readers and which not to. It's your right as a teacher to do that!

  13. Its 100 percent censorship. That statement that you know what is best and can be handled is the kind of scary thinking that leads to censor. Other than that, good article.