At Combating Censorship

So, normally I don’t post more than one of these in a week, but readers, I’ve got a little project for you.

Those of you who know me personally know that I am a BIG fan of young adult fiction in general, and also a big fan of John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska, Will Grayson, will grayson). There’s a class at Strasburg High School in Strasburg, CO which offers students the chance to study several of Green’s books and twelve other YA novels. I would have jumped at the chance to take such an elective in high school, and I bet it would have gotten readers more reluctant than me to discover the joys of the page as well. 

However, there’s a big group of parents in Strasburg who want to “cleanse” the (elective!) class’s curriculum of any book that contains “profanity, sexuality, drug use or violence”… aka every YA book ever, to some extent. I’m not for censorship of any kind, but this blatant removal of “unpleasantness” from the context of some of my favorite books is particularly offensive to me. You can read more about the case here, on John Green’s Tumblr, and then if you’d like you can write a letter to the Strasburg school board like I did. Keep it civil, please, and try to tell them what you got out of the books you read for pleasure when you were in high school. Here’s the letter I sent.

To whom it may concern:
I am a current undergraduate student at an accredited state university who spent the better part of my high school years reading and re-reading books like the ones included on the curriculum list for Strasburg High School’s Young Adult Fiction elective course. The author John Green (who wrote three of the books on the curriculum) brought it to his readers’ attention recently that the book list has been challenged by a group of parents who feel that the books on the list “contain excessive profanity, explicit sexual scenes, drug use, and/or violence”, and that these concerns constitute a “cleansing” of the curriculum.
I do not wish to argue that these books don’t ​contain profanity, sexuality, drug use or descriptions of violence; many of them do, in varying degrees of graphicness. Taken out of context, of course such material does not belong in the classroom. However, this is exactly what these parents are doing: taking the “bad” parts of these books out of context. To censor these books by removing them from the curriculum of an elective course would be a grievous misjudgment on the part of the School Board. These books have great lessons to teach their readers and could expose students of the course to wonderful, necessary aspects of the human experience that they might not otherwise hear about in their (perhaps sheltered) everyday lives. I have had the honor of reading 12 of the 19 books on the contested list, and learned about the following from their pages:
  • ​From Feed: the importance of combating a government which seeks to control its constituents’ thoughts; the pervasiveness of modern advertising; the importance of self-governance.
  • From Delirium​: again, the importance of combating a government which seeks to control its constituents’ thoughts and feelings; the vital importance and eventual triumph of human passion over robotic, chemical duty
  • From Uglies: the ugliness of a society that tries to impose strict standards of beauty on everyone; suspicion of a government that claims to know what is best for its people; the benefits of staying aware vs. staying content; how to combat the status quo
  • From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: how an autistic person thinks and feels; that an autistic person thinks and feels, and in a way that is beautifully both similar and different from the way a person not on the autism spectrum thinks and feels
  • From The Fault in Our Stars: that the terminally ill are humans, too; that the impact of a life has more to do with how deeply you touch people rather than how many people you touch; that though some infinities are larger than others, love is infinite
  • From Will Grayson, will grayson: That people can be immeasurably cruel, immeasurably kind, and a multitude of things in between; how to deal with depression; that depression does not always have a concrete cause other than brain chemistry, and that’s okay; that sometimes the best people are the ones who can be a little embarrassing to their friends; that sometimes, embarrassing yourself for a friend is the best thing you can do for them
  • From 13 Little Blue Envelopes: the value of travel; how to travel safely alone; how to deal with it when life doesn’t go exactly the way you planned; that a life can have impact long after it is over
  • From Paper Towns: that you shouldn’t put people on pedestals or make them into something greater than human beings; that adventure is good, but love and friendship are better; that people are more complicated than simply being “good” or “bad”
  • From If I Stay: that one person can be the difference between someone choosing to live or choosing to die
  • From Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: that peculiar people are the most interesting people; that your personal happiness and the greater good can sometimes be more important than the expectations your family has for you; that, sometimes, the people who look good can be evil and the people who look evil can be good; that no matter who you are, it’s important (and possible!) to find a group of people who think and feel as you do
  • From Thirteen Reasons Why: the importance of listening; to always take it seriously when someone tells you they are sad; to pay attention when someone is sad but won’t tell you; to encourage people who have been assaulted to seek help and speak out, rather than staying silent; that every single interaction we have could make or break someone’s life (or even just their day); that if I feel depressed, I should tell someone about it while I am alive
  • From The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (odds are that this is not one of the books on the list being contested, but I’ll go ahead and throw it in anyway): that second chances and grace exist for people who have done wrong; that whether you side with good or evil is vitally important; that sometimes evil can look very much like good; that magic and providence exist, but you still have to fight for what you believe in.​

This is an incomplete list. I have bolded the lessons which I feel might have special significance to students in the elective class (which no student will be forced or required to take!) at Strasburg High School. Personally, I feel that these lessons are much more dangerous than exposure to offensive language, sexuality, drug use or violence… and also that they are vital for a complete education. When considering which books to put on a curriculum, one must look at the works as a whole and not rip scenes out of their context. It appears that the person teaching this class has done an excellent job of that. She’s chosen a good list.

Thank you for your consideration. I do hope you make the right choice for the students of Strasburg High School.

 I feel it necessary to add here that, after spending my high school years reading these books and many others like them, I have made it halfway through college and remained an upstanding citizen.
P.P.S.: “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.”​ George Bernard Shaw




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