Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speak Out Against Censorship


This post is in response to an opinion piece written by Dr. Wesley Scroggins. I plan to post more after telling my students about this letter. I'd like to gather their thoughts (and more of mine) and write more. I do teach Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and have taught Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut in the past. I have not read Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, though I do have it and plan to read it this week only because this man seems to suggest that it be removed from his school's library.

Tomorrow morning I will go to work. And I will start my day by teaching Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak to my freshman students. I always start the year with this novel because the book starts in the fall of the main character's ninth grade year. I think it's fitting to introduce my freshmen to my classroom, the one where we're going to talk about real-life issues and serious topics, by talking about bullying and rape.

Always, I begin this unit with guest visitors. Our local organization SAVES (Sexual Assault Victims Emergency Services) sends in our school-based advocate to talk with my students about rape and sexual assault. My students participate in activities where they learn about statistics, ways to help a friend who's been a victim of sexual assault/ rape, and what rape actually is. As it turns out, my freshmen are usually pretty surprised at how high the stats are for our area.

When I teach this book, does it feel like I'm reading aloud pornography? Absolutely not. I read this book aloud to my students so that we can have in-class, in-the-moment discussions. It is always interesting to hear what students are thinking and feeling while reading this book. When I get to the rape scene (after they've had several visits from our guest visitors), the room is silent. I get a little choked up. Even after students are told that this is going to happen, it is obvious that they feel the weight of Melinda's rape. It is serious. They take it seriously.

Like me, they want to help Melinda. Some want to shake her--wake her up. Others want to hold her, to be there for her. All of them want her to speak. To stand up for herself. To find her voice. And when she does, they applaud. They smile. They feel the victory that she has won by opening up and advocating for herself.

There is no pleasure reading about Melinda's rape. The definition of pornography does not allow for the feelings of urgency that my students and I feel as Melinda is raped. We want to scream for her; we want to help. Like Melinda, we are powerless. Until, of course, Melinda emerges from her hiding spot victorious against her rapist when he brutally attacks her for a second time. It is then, and only then, that we cheer. Not as she's being raped, but when she stands up for herself and speaks.

Rape is not sex. Melinda did not consent to having sex with Andy Evans. He raped her. And, unfortunately, this happens to girls (and boys) a lot. Too often. Too often to not talk about it. And, whether those conversations are happening around the dinner table, or in an English class, or at a church group, they need to happen.

Tomorrow, I will go into school and I will teach my students to speak. Because I can think of nothing more "demeaning" than to pretend that my students don't live in a world where they need to know how and where to get help. "Demeaning" is to think that my students are not capable of learning about rape and assuming that they'd look at a rape scene in a book as if it were pornographic. That's demeaning.

Here are some links to other posts that I've seen around the blogosphere. Feel free to let me know if you've written one that you'd like me to include in this post.

Bloggers Heart Books

Mindful Musings
Laurie Halse Anderson's Page

Babbling About Books

6 comments:

  1. I wish that my English teachers in high school has taught this book. But, I went to a Catholic school... so that would have never happened.
    Still, I can't wait to read about how your students reacted to this article!

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  2. So, so glad that you teach this book in school! Makes my day. Thanks for speaking out!

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  3. So awesome that you teach this book. THANK YOU.

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  4. Once again, I am in awe of your teaching and wish I could take your class.

    I read Scroggins letter and am still amazed that such small minded, uninformed people still exist. Naturally he has a right to his opinion, but it is obvious that he has no concept of how teachers teach and how important these teen issues are for educating our kids.But based on all the comments he received he is in the minority, thank goodness.

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  5. It's so ridiculous what this guy is suggesting about Speak. I think it's a great book and that it's awesome that you are teaching it. It definitely is so relevant to teens today. 13 Reasons Why is another book that I think is great, I wonder what he would say about that book? Great post.

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