Originally posted on Charming Farming:
For weeks now my kids have been asking me what I want for Christmas. And I have said the thing that I am supposed to say, that I always say – I don’t need anything. I just want all of my children to be happy and healthy. It’s true. I don’t need anything. And I do want my children to be happy and healthy. But they are good children, so no matter how often I say that I really don’t need anything, they will pool their money and buy me a new bathrobe or nightgown, or a maybe well-intentioned kitchen gadget. And I’ll be grateful because I know they are buying me presents because they love me and want to show me that they care.
But here’s the thing. I’m lying. I don’t just want healthy happy kids. Sure that’s the most important thing, but there are a…
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A couple of weeks ago the entire world celebrated Banned Books Week. Okay maybe not the entire world, but a lot of librarians and English teachers did. Banned Books Week usually involves such activities as handing out bookmarks and challenging students to select and read a book from a list of commonly banned books. And for the most part, that’s a good thing. There are a lot of books on these lists that I have either bought for my children, read to them, or that I hope they will read one day. I have wonderful memories of crying, no sobbing, with my kids when we read Bridge to Terabithia and Charlott’s Web. In my English classes, I have taught Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and Lord of the Flies. The Giver and Harry Potter are among my children’s favorite books. And, while certainly not my favorite, my eldest daughter has read nearly all of John Green ‘s books.
The fact is, it’s hard to imagine why many of these books were ever banned. It’s just crazy. But the crazy thing about the Banned Books Week movement is that proponents of the movement would have us believe that school libraries should be allowed to provide young people with literally any book out there without having to justify the appropriateness of the book. Any attempt to use discernment or determine age appropriateness is decried as censorship. And those who call into question a librarian’s choices are considered a threat to intellectual freedom.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating government censorship or that books be banned from public libraries. But as a mother and a tax payer, I would like to think that when I send my children to school, they will not happen across books in the school library that include passages like this one from Cristina Garcia’s novel, Dreaming in Cuban (which is actually a Common Core recommended text for 10th graders).
“Hugo and Felicia stripped in their room, dissolving easily into one another, and made love against the whitewashed walls. Hugo bit Felicia’s breast and left purplish bands of bruises on her upper thighs. He knelt before her in the tub and massaged black Spanish soap between her legs. He entered her repeatedly from behind.
“Felicia learned what pleased him. She tied his arms above his head with their underclothing and slapping him sharply when he asked.
“‘You’re my bitch,’” Hugo said, groaning.
According to the good folks at the American Library Association, any attempt to restrict this novel, or anything libraries choose to make available to children, is a violation of the First Amendment. The ALA lists Fifty Shades of Grey as one of the most commonly challenged books of 2013, but according to the ALA, a child’s right to read this book should be protected. This is apparently more important than protecting children from pornography.
I realize that censorship is a slippery slope. At least that’s what the Banned Books people want us to fear. If we ban Fifty Shades of Grey, what’s to stop us from banning every book with any sexual content whatsoever? Censorship is such a loaded word. It implies a secret plot to restrict ideas or knowledge or a Big Brother-like control over information. But what we are really talking about is limits. And don’t schools limit kids already? Students are not allowed to curse in school. They cannot make racially insensitive statements. They aren’t allowed to watch sexually explicit films in class – even those based on a classic novel. When, where, and how they can pray is restricted. And most schools have some form of a dress code in place. All of these rules restrict (censor) students’ freedom of expression is some way. Can you imagine a high school or middle school where kids were allowed to express themselves absolutely any way they wanted too?
Still, the slippery slope concerns are valid. Obviously book banning can get out of hand. Many books that are now considered classroom and childhood staples have at one time been challenged. Yet, should we really advocate, indeed celebrate, the notion that our children can potentially have access to books with virtually any content with no adult discernment as to the appropriateness of those books?
Where things get tricky is when people challenge books based on their own personal beliefs. Just because some people don’t believe that children should read books about witches and wizards, doesn’t mean the library should ban all Harry Potter books. Some people might feel that children should not read books that encourage them to challenge authority. That does not mean we need to ban Animal Farm. I get it. Discerning books is a delicate matter because what seems like a harmless story to one family might be considered gravely sinful by another.
Still, even with all the challenges involved with book restrictions, can’t we at least strive for some standard of decency? That’s all I’m asking for. A standard of decency. Can’t we at least agree that there are some things a child or young teenager should not be exposed to? Even the film industry does that much. How about this? If the contents of a book would warrant an R rating as film, then maybe it should not be made available to 14 year olds. It’s radical, I know.
It might not be easy. Sometimes we might ere too much on the side of caution. But the alternative is no standard of decency. To me, that is a much more frightening prospect than the notion that my children’s freedom will somehow be violated because their public school denied them access to porn.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a condemnation of librarians. My own children’s schools are staffed by thinking, sensitive librarians who seek to provide our kids with the best possible age-appropriate literature. We are grateful to have them.
Image credits in order of appearance…
I begin each semester in Oral Communication with “What Happens in Vagueness…” That way the kids know right off what not to say.
Originally posted on Up With the Chickens:
No long ago I happened across the article What Happens is Vagueness Stays in Vagueness. In the article Clark Whelton laments the decline of the English language. Among other things, he notes the overuse of the word “like” as a sentence filler and the seeming inability of young people to answer a question in the affirmative, but rather to respond with a vocal inflection that would indicate a question.
Whelton also quotes a Vassar professor’s assertion (way back in 1988) that high school teachers seem to no longer hold their students to any sort of standard when it comes to how students speak in class. Yikes. That struck a nerve. How often have I failed to correct (or even flinch) when a student proclaimed, “I ain’t done my homework!” or “Can I borrow like a pencil?” And there is the ever-vague, “I have this sorta headache. Can I…
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Originally posted on What Kids Are Reading:
The Giver is a dystopian novel set around the life of a young boy, Jonah, and his community. In this community everything is regulated – careers, family size, emotion, even the temperature. At the age 12, when all children are assigned to their life’s work, Jonah is given the job of The Giver. The Giver is the one person entrusted with all the memories of humanity. For decades all other citizens have been denied knowledge of the pain, fear, and joy people experienced before the community was “perfected.” They are given only “the sameness.” The job of The Giver is both beautiful and torturous. It also gives Jonah an understanding that no one else in his community could possibly have – an understanding that makes it impossible to go back to the content, secure life he knew before.
The Giver is not exactly pop fiction. It has been…
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Originally posted on Charming Farming:
Recently I wrote about how lousy it makes me feel when I read about all the ways other mothers are managing to feed their children absolutely nothing but organic, homemade, raw, freshly sprouted, GMO free, free-range, amazingly delicious, healthy food. Seriously, it’s exhausting. Well, now it’s back-to-school time and I am faced with the same kind of Pinterest-induced guilt.
For starters, there’s the Back-to-School Party.
Seriously? We are not having a party. The week before school starts my children are practically wearing sack cloth and ashes. We distract. We indulge. We don’t celebrate. We are in mourning.
There’s Back-to-School redecorating. Does making them make their beds count? I mean, we spend a small fortune on backpacks, note books, pens, markers, clothes, and Kleenex. Who has extra money to redecorate?
There’s back-to-school menu planning for the…
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Cadence Sinclair is the oldest grandchild in an old-money, east coast family. She spends her childhood summers on the family’s private island with her cousins, Mirren and Johnny and their dear friend Gat. They are The Liars.
The cousins are extremely close and fiercely loyal to each other, despite the efforts of their mothers, the Sinclair sisters, to use their children to win the favor of the family patriarch. Cadence, Johnny, and Mirren’s mothers are each paranoid that the biggest summer home and the bulk of their father’s fortune will be bestowed on another sister. They attempt to pit the cousins against one another, and each Sinclair sister urges her child to make a play for their grandfather’s sympathy and favor. Their Grandfather seems to take some perverse pleasure in his daughters’ greed. He enjoys the rivalry.
Ye even in the midst of all this dysfunction, the Liars spend magical summers, swimming, playing games, and growing up together. But the summer Cadence is 15 she suffers a a terrible accident that leaves her with memory loss and debilitating headaches. While she tries to put together the pieces of what happened, her family seems to be falling apart and her relationships with Gat and with her cousins takes a confusing turn. What Cadence discovers about her accident and that mysterious summer is haunting.
We Were Liars may not be the book for everyone. It is very engrossing – read in one sitting engrossing. But it is disturbing. The end left me a little shaken. That said, a friend of mine who read it predicted the surprise ending (maybe I’m a little dense) and wasn’t blown away like I was. Either way, we both had mixed feelings about the novel. Neither of us could put it down, but in the end, we weren’t sure liked it. We Were Liars paints a rich portrait of childhood summers and takes the reader back to those care-free days. Yet, I couldn’t help feeling that I wanted to see all of the characters redeemed, become better people. That’s what supposed to happen when things go terribly wrong. But in the end, I’m not sure any the Sinclairs are better people – just damaged in a different way and for a more legitimate reason.
We Were Liars illustrates the devastating effects of unbridled greed and selfish ambition. Their mothers’ greed ultimately destroys the family and changes the Liars forever.
Overall, the subject matter might be a bit heavy for middle schoolers. I recommend We Were Liars for grades 9 and up.
Perhaps some mild four letter words.
Cadence and Gat fall in love. They kiss and their is some hinting at additional physical contact, but there is nothing graphic. Mirren’s lies about having “a lot of sexual intercourse” with her boyfriend but in the end admits there is no boyfriend and no sex.
I don’t want to give too much away. The truth of Cadence’s accident is not so much violent as disturbing.
QUOTES FROM THE NOVEL
“One day I looked at Gat, lying in the Clairmont hammock with a book, and he seemed, we’ll, like he was mine. Like my particular person.
“Do not accept an evil you cN change.”
“A part of me died… And it was the best part.”
“Our kiss turns the world to dust. There is only us and nothing else matters.”
“He cried like a man, not like a boy. Not like he was frustrated or hadn’t gotten his way, but like life was bitter. Like his wounds couldn’t be healed.”