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.

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