Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I Read Banned Books

Really.  I do.  I read banned books.  I even have a bracelet that says so.  

I read banned books for good reasons, mostly--because they are excellent pieces of literature, and because I choose to read what is popular with teens and young adults (my favorite genre), as well as keeping up with my kids and their peers.  For the not-so-good reasons, it's because of that bit of a rebel in me.  If you don't know it already, teachers are often the worst rule followers.  ;-)  Tell me not to do something, and that's exactly why & what I want to do.  And in case you are not aware yet, teenagers do the same thing.  When parents/teachers/school boards get involved with books and trying to ban them, it just increases the readership, by their very own children and students.  Book banning and those discussions and their ensuing battles turn out to be fantastic press for the books and authors involved.

As a teacher, I do not believe in banning books or even limiting books.  Approximate age ranges are assigned to books that teachers and librarians typically adhere to.  If you are dealing with typical students, these are pretty good guidelines--age-wise, topic-wise, etc.  If you are dealing with gifted students, for example, these are NOT usually good guidelines.  Often these students read at a level of books, and are interested in advanced topics, not contained in their school's library.  Generally, there is not an issue with advanced students reading at their advanced levels and with advanced topics.  As a teacher, I never want to keep a child from reading.  When I had middle school kids reading Stephen King, we went with it.  

They were

and if they could read what they wanted to, 
what interested them,
what spoke to their level of development and understanding, 
these students 

Do you know how rare that is in this day and time especially?  

(Please know, I am not referring to required class-read books, but those for "personal" reading where students chose  their own book to read, also a requirement.)

As a parent, I understand there are times we limit what our children read, see, and hear.  I still do not believe in banning books, but I can steer my children towards or away from what is appropriate for them at the time.  Because of my family's history, there are topics that we steer our children away from sometimes, if it's a topic that is a trigger, or hits too close to home.  That is our prerogative as parents.  And I have no trouble putting my foot down as a parent.  Often, I don't limit a book for my own children, but choose to read it as well so I can dialogue with them about what they're reading and how to handle certain topics.

My biggest issue with banning books is this:  Most people who are screaming from the platforms to ban a book from a school or library or


I cannot handle this.  
If you have an issue with a book, make sure you have read it.  

We are so quick in this technological, social media driven society to give our opinion to everyone on the internet.  Unfortunately, I see so many of these types of status posts, shared signs or pictures, forwarded videos, blogs and articles--ones in which false information, rumors, or bias is spread as truth.  And often as these things are shared, a bandwagon is formed, and no one jumping on has stopped to check the facts, look at the background information or sources, nor have they gone to sites like SNOPES, or similar resources, who weed through the false, debunk the myth, and document the history of false information shared online.

There is a PLETHORA of wrong and false on the internet.
Checking that is not that difficult.

Church people can be bad about this, really the worst.  Sorry, Church People, but it is true.

I remember dealing with this particular issue when the first of the Harry Potter books was published.  The Golden Compass also brought about similar reactions. I have even heard people complain about The Diary of Anne Frank.  Adults were jumping up and down screaming about witch craft, evil, the devil, normal sexual development, etc. about books which they had not read, but had heard about all of the evil.

When these conversations start in my presence around such topics, I always ask right off the bat, "Have you read the book?  On what are you basing your criticism of it?"  Generally, it is extremely easy to detect if someone is speaking from hearsay or from actual research/experience.

I am MORE than willing to listen to criticism, feedback, and information about a book or a topic which you have read, a movie you watched, an observation based on your experience.  In fact, I am very interested in these types of conversations.  Conversations and debates based on experience with a book, movie, or topic are educational, have an impact, and strengthen all of us no matter which side we land on an issue.  Informed conversations can communicate respect as every one has taken the time to look at and understand an issue.

If I EVER have a concern about a book, movie, television show, video game, etc., in regards to my children, I check it out.

Myself.  First.  

Only when I have done my job as a parent and completely vetted it out, can I make an informed decision for my child.  I read the first Harry Potter book, as well as many, many others, before I entered in to any conversations about it with friends, colleagues, or family.

Our son, Cade, was very interested in seeing The American Sniper recently.  We do not generally allow our children to watch R-rated movies.  However, because of the topic of this movie, we were willing to consider it.  Do you know what we did?
We saw the movie, Keith and I.  Then we talked about the movie in regards to each of our children.

Is it appropriate?  
Is it too violent?  
Are there any triggers? 
Are there topics that are too mature? 
Is there nudity?  
What is the language like?  
What will he/she gain from viewing this film?

After that process, we agreed to let Cade see the movie.  Keith took Cade to see it and they talked it over afterwards to process what he had seen.

We should model these examples and conversations and decisions for our children.  We are all confronted with different view points on various issues--whether it be books, movies, churches, religions, etc.  We do best for our children when we teach them HOW to have these conversations--how to research a topic, what kinds of critical questions to ask, how to weigh information in light of our beliefs and experiences, and how to act on that appropriately.  I did this as a teacher and as a parent.  This is critical thinking.  This is what children need to learn to do for their life.  When someone understands how to critically think and question and make decisions, we empower them for life--no matter the topic or situation.
This is called LIFE SKILLS.

For another example, this is precisely why I have NOT written about or commented on or shared others' status updates or blog posts on the 50 Shades of Grey books or movie.  I know just from the basic information I can research through the publisher that there is content in the books and movie that I have no interest in reading or taking in. However, that does not mean that I am in a position to advise others on the books or movie, so I have not done so.  And the people so against it, who are writing so much about it--even though they haven't seen it, are drawing much more attention to the books, movie, and author.

Young people growing up today do not know life without the internet and instant information.  They are adept at searching out information for themselves.  These individuals, therefore, are less likely to believe or accept something just because it's the "way it's always been done" or because "____________ said so." (insert name of expert or parent or whoever)  We, in the "older" generations, would do well to remember this not only for those who are watching and/or listening to us and whom we hope to influence, but also for ourselves.  We should want to operate as engaged, informed, and critically thinking adults.   LIFE SKILLS.

I feel the same way about the various denominations and non-denominations that make up the Christian faith community.  Who am I to criticize something or someone I do not understand?  I've currently been exploring denominations and religions, as well as seeking to understand those who claim agnosticism and/or atheism.  We all have heard things and we often think we understand people and systems.  Too many times, though, we are wrong.  We are operating off of someone else's opinion or what they've heard from a friend of a friend--or an article or picture forwarded over and over online.  Many times, there are errors in that information that is born out of fear, ignorance or hearsay.  We would do well to find out for ourselves.  Often, there is much more we have in common than not.

Oh, and those books people are trying to ban? (Even this year in Highland Park, don't even get me started...)  Often, those books prove to be good literature, opportunities for learning critical thinking skills, honest and open discussions, teaching moments, and are not the tools of the devil some have claimed them to be.

(P.S. Parenting is NOT a passive pursuit.  It takes work to stay engaged, and it is more important in the teen years.  Parents tend to be involved less and less as kids get older and have left elementary school.  From this teacher/parent's experience, the opposite is necessary.  Please know your teen's friends, teachers, and activities.)

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