Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries." (Kurt Vonnegut)

The freedom to read is essential to our democracy, and reading is among our greatest freedoms. Some individuals, groups, and public authorities work to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label "controversial" views, to distribute lists of "objectionable" books or authors, and to purge libraries of materials reflecting the diversity of society. Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. The freedom to read is protected by our Constitution. Intellectual freedom is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture.

Books are banned for a variety of reasons. Materials are often suppressed due to the perceived notion of obscenity. This obscenity can apply to materials that are about sexuality, race, drugs, or social standing. Governments have sought to ban certain books it perceives to contain material that could threaten, embarrass, or criticize it. Religious authorities have banned books in order to shelter members of their faith from perceived obscene, immoral, or profane ideas or situations. But even religious materials have been subject to censorship. The Bible and other religious scriptures have all been subjected to censorship and have been banned by various governments.  

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error."

Banned Books Week doesn't just stand to protect an author's freedom to express themselves and share their thoughts and ideas with others. BBW also stands to protect your right (and your children's right), the People's right, to freely read books and materials that may show any range of viewpoints on any number of subjects in school curriculum's and in public libraries. The way facts and history are presented greatly influences the interpretation of contemporary thought, opinion and socialization. One argument for censoring the type of information disseminated is based on the "inappropriate" quality of such material for young people. The term "inappropriate", however, is completely subjective.

The first book banned in America was Thomas Morton's New English Canaan (1637). Canaan is three books: 10 chapters of closely observed Native American life (they made Morton's success possible); 10 chapters on the wonders of American nature; and the final 10 chapters is his satiric attack on the Pilgrims and Boston Puritans, warning that if their "martialist" approach to America were followed, the continent would become a Christian labor camp. No wonder Morton (who was the New England Colonies' first "criminal exile") and his book were banned - they were sympathetic toward Native Americans, admiring of nature, and contemptuous toward the self-sanctified.

According to the American Library Association, American libraries were faced with 4,312 book challenges over the past nine years. A challenge is defined as "a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness." The number of challenges reflects only incidents reported. It is estimated that for every reported challenge, four or five remain unreported. You can see the top ten banned and challenged books by year here and a list of the top 100 banned and challenged classics here. I can't say enough how confused I am that E.B. White's Charlotte's Web is on the banned and challenged classics list - #13.

Help celebrate Banned Books Week (September 25 - October 2, 2010). The New York Times has compiled a list of Things YOU Can Do To Celebrate Banned Books Week. It's full of banned books factoids and lots of juicy links to resources online - so check it out. Visit a library or bookstore with a Banned Books Week display, pick a book from one of the challenged and banned books lists to borrow/buy and read. Judy Blume once said, "It's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers." To me, that is the greatest injustice!

Have you ever been caught reading under the covers? So was the late Judith Krug, the librarian who created Banned Books Week. Her mother's reaction to what she was reading taught her a lesson about having the freedom to read that later translated into her passion for the First Amendment and intellectual freedom.

All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let's get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States -- and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!   ~ Kurt Vonnegut


Thursday, September 23, 2010

SPEAK LOUDLY Pt II: "Let Us Read & Let Us Dance - two amusements that will never do harm to the world." (Voltaire)

I came across this on Twitter today...

"ashleylawless_@TheEllenShow we need your help!!! please read my letter to you here! http://tinyurl.com/dearellen #speakloudly." 

Ashley is reaching out to Ellen DeGeneres via her talk show to fight censorship in her school (this in response to the Wesley Scroggins opinion piece that urges schools to remove certain books from classrooms and equated Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak to porn - see my previous posting, SPEAK LOUDLY: Fight For Your Right To Read, Write, SPEAK & Be Heard). Ashley, along with four of her friends, are seniors at Republic High School in Republic, Missouri - where Scroggins is recommending the removal of Speak, as well as 20 Boy Summer and Slaughterhouse Five, from the school curriculum. She wrote an open letter to Ellen on her blog in hopes to bring awareness of "serious problems that are happening in small communities all over. We want to spread the word. We don’t want this to happen to other schools and deprive other students’ educations." (you can read the letter in it's entirety here.)

I think what these young people are doing is AMAZING! Help me show my support for them and the cause (which is something I myself am very passionate about). Retweet her tweet, share their letter with everyone you know and contact Ellen in support of their cause. Ellen reaches millions of people everyday through her talk show and could be a HUGE voice in the fight against censorship. You can contact Ellen via her show's website here, her official Twitter page here, and her official Facebook page here.

To Ashley, Alivia, Lauren, Weston and Kaity...I think that what you are doing - standing up and bringing awareness to something you believe in - is truly incredible! We live in a society that, unfortunately, is growing more and more apathetic to real issues, instead spending countless hours discussing the most recent escapades of Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashian sisters. Most people just sit and complain about things anymore, rather than speaking up and taking action.  Elie Wiesel once said, "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." It is exciting and hopeful to see young people stand up and take action on such an important issue as censorship. KUDOS to you all and Best of Luck!

*Also, a reminder to continue to follow and support Paul Hankins' #SpeakLoudly Campaign on Twitter. You can find the #SpeakLoudly Twitterfeed here and you can now get your #SpeakLoudly Twibbon for your Twitter avatar and Facebook HERE, as well as #SpeakLoudly Twibutes and backgrounds HERE.

You don't need to burn books to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them.
~ Ray Bradbury

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

SPEAK LOUDLY: Fight For Your Right To Read, Write, SPEAK & Be Heard

I have been a bit distracted lately and have been away from blogging as to not bore you with incoherent ramblings of a fractured heart. When I finally sat down to catch up on my emails, I came across an email forward about Banned Books Week (September 25 - October 2, 2010). The email included a list of the most challenged books of the last decade (insert shocked face here...reading further...midway through list...frustrated/angry face here). So here I am, back and ready to blog.

I am against censorship. It is an issue that I have been passionate about since I was a kid and Tipper Gore pushed to put warning labels on records. To me, the idea of censoring, and in turn controlling ones intellectual freedom is terrifying - especially in the arts and literature. So every year during Banned Books Week I pick a book (or two) from the Banned and Challenged Classics list to read. Can you believe that E.B. White's Charlotte's Web is on the list?

Every year hundreds of books are challenged and reported to The Office for Intellectual Freedom. Last year alone there were 460 books challenged. Just in time for Banned Books Week, and the beginning of the new school year, the book banners are grabbing their pitch forks and lighting their torches preparing to rid America's schools and libraries of the evil that is YA literature. This year's stand out lit-slayer is Missouri State University associate professor Wesley Scroggins. Scroggins wrote an opinion piece for the News-Leader of Springfield, Missouri in which he targeted Laurie Halse Anderson's award winning book Speak, the story of a teenage girl who is raped and chooses not to speak at all rather than report it, saying the book "should be classified as soft pornography." I'll give you a moment to reread (yes, he really referred to rape as porn) and gather your thoughts.

Anyone who thinks Speak is porn needs to step back and take a good LONG look at themself and the world around them...and maybe they should spend some time with teenage rape victims and see if their perspective has changed (my guess would be - absolutely). Rape is NOT porn. It is an issue that girls need to feel they can #SpeakLoudly about. Actually, it is an issue that girls, boys, women and men need to feel they can #SpeakLoudly about. Unfortunately, many rape victims, particularly teenage victims, are too scared and feel too ashamed to speak about what has happened to them. Often they feel alone and are afraid that if they do speak out that no one will believe them or that they will be blamed for what happened to them. This can lead to depression, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, cutting and even suicide. Being raped is a heavy burden to carry on your own, feeling alone and isolated. To be able to pick up a book and read someone else's story that, even if it is a fictional character, is similar to your own is a powerful thing. It can begin and help a healing process that can be a very long and painful journey.  Laurie Halse Anderson tweeted, "I've spoken to more than half a million students about SPEAK. In EVERY school, there was a kid who came up to me in tears."

Speak has touched so many young people that Laurie wrote a poem, Listen, based on reader's response to the book. Here she is reading the poem...

Laurie has taken to her official website to respond to professor Scroggins article (that you can read in full here). A number of other authors and bloggers have weighed in on the subject as well. You can read YA author Veronica Roth's blog entry, A (Christian) Take on Banning Speak, here, author Myra McEntire's blog entry, Speak Loudly - In Defense of Laurie Halse Anderson, here, children and YA author Cheryl Rainfield's response, Fight Back Against Ignorance: Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak Equated With Porn, here, teacher and author Donalyn Miller's article for Teacher Magazine, Literature Is Our Network: Speak Loudly For Speak, here, YA author Sarah Ockler's response, On Book Banning Zealots and Ostriches, here and author Jackie Morse Kessler's blog entry, Speak Loudly, here.

Laurie is reaching out to readers for their help in keeping Speak in classrooms and libraries. She is asking you to share your response to the book or how you've seen it work in a school setting and post it, or the link to your blog discussing it, in the Comments section on her page here. Laurie is also asking readers to write to the editor of the News-Leader in Springfield, MO here. You can write to the superintendent of the Republic School District, Dr. Vern Minor, or to the high school principal, Daren Harris here. You can also respond directly to Scroggins' opinion piece here.

Paul Hankins, an English teacher from Indiana, has started a Twitterfeed, #SpeakLoudly, where people can tweet their opinions. You can find the #SpeakLoudly Twitterfeed here.

Fight to keep your First Amendment rights safe. Take part in Banned Books Week (September 25 - October 2, 2010) and read a book off the Challenged book list. Look for Read-Out Loud! events in your area, or host one of your own. If you have read Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak  and would like to take action to save her book, check out the links above or her official website for how you can help and #SpeakLoudly.

Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear. ~ Judy Blume

* There has been an amazing outpouring of support for Laurie and Speak all over the blogger-sphere, Facebook, Twitter and the inter-web. As appalling as the op-ed piece by professor Scroggins is, the one good thing that has come from it is that people are talking. They are talking about books. They are talking about censorship and our First Amendment rights. They are talking about education. They are talking about a book that, in my opinion, EVERY person should read. It is unfortunate that it seems to take what I consider to be an incredibly ignorant and arrogant act to start the conversation, but now we are all talking. Because I keep coming across so many great articles and blogs that I want to share, I'm going to continue to add links to them at the end of this post. So keep checking back and #SpeakLoud!

9/22 - Novelist and Harvard student Isabel Kaplan wrote this great article for The Huffington Post in response to the Scroggins' op-ed piece. You can read the article, Why We Should Read "Soft Pornography", here and you can follow Isabel on Twitter here.