Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reading Lolita "For Fun"

Nearly Censored - A Literacy Memory

My mom used to take me to the Paperback Book Exchange, where I could trade old paperbacks for new ones at no charge.  We’d browse the store for hours, she in the literature section for adults, and me in the teen/middle grade section, and then we’d reconvene to share our selections with each other before exchanging the new books for our old ones. 

One day, when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old, I selected a book about a high school student who was raped by an ex-boyfriend.  I was young enough that I didn’t know the word “rape.”  Mom asked me why I selected that book, and I told her why (I don’t remember why now).  Then she asked me if I knew what rape was.  I was afraid to say no because I thought she wouldn’t let me get the book, but she did let me get it, and on the drive home, she explained what it meant. 

Several years later, Mom also questioned why I chose to read Lolita as my “for fun” reading in high school.  She wasn’t sure it was appropriate – she had never read it, but knew its basic premise.  Instead of forbidding me to read it, she asked me more about it, and I shared excerpts of it with her, and she was eventually pacified that I wasn’t reading anything too explicitly “inappropriate.”

I know not every parent and educator can be as awesome as my mom, but wouldn’t it be great if everyone felt comfortable openly discussing uncomfortable topics?  If more people would take the time to ask questions about books and answer their children’s / students’ questions and curiosities with honesty, and not feel like their jobs were in jeopardy for doing so?

Another Reason to Get to Know Your Students

My initial thought on censorship in the English classroom is that nothing should be outright banned.  I still feel this way, but “Huckleberry Finn and the Issue of Race in Today’s Classroom” helped me to more clearly see the other side of the argument.  I strongly agree with the author that “Huckleberry Finn should not be taught in a curriculum that simply showcases literary works without developing student skills at challenging the classics and thinking critically about literature, history, politics, and language” (117).  Couldn’t this same statement be made for many books (all books?) taught in an English classroom?

The forementioned article helped me to see how people with different backgrounds and life experiences can be affected by different topics.  As an English teacher, it's important to be aware of how your students might experience some topics that could arise in the classroom.  I also think it's important not to outright ban a book because it makes a certain person or group of people feel uncomfortable.  Teachers should clearly explain the controversial aspects of a text to their students/parents in the beginning to confront any questions or concerns head-on. No one learns when controversial topics are deliberately ignored or forbidden. 


Travis H said...

Anne, I agree with everything you have to say. I had a bad experiece compared with yours when I was growing up. For silent sustained reading in thrid grade I was reading Salem's Lot by Stephen Kind. Lookin appalled, by teacher questioned me and asked if I knew that there were bad words in the book. First of all, "bad words" were the least mature element in the book and of course I knew they were in there. Instead of asking me about my book or talking to me about the lessons I was learning, she decided to walk away and shake her head about the book. Now I know that a third grader reading Stephen King isn't exactly smiled upon, but I picked the book and my parents let me read it because they knew I could and wanted to read it. Does that make them bad parents? I would think not, but I am sure my teacher had a different opinion when it came to that book. As for book banning I agree that no book should be banned. Banning books makes it seem like it's not okay to be a thinker or to be radical. I think all books share a place in the world and that banning books just makes people more ignorant. You can hide an idea and a controversial issue, but that does not mean it is not there.

Becky said...

I'm so glad you shared your memories about you and your mom, Anne. My mom is truly my best friend. It reminded me of when I was little and she used to take me to the Bookmobile since didn't have a local library. I once heard the incredibly ignorant statement that the Bookmobile (which really is a library on wheels!) "is a waste of taxpayers' money!" One: the Bookmobile is independently funded. Two: it is sad that someone would think tax money is better served elsewhere than in children's education.

Also, I completely agree with you guys that banning usually helps more than hinders. However, I think these bans are probably in place because at some point, how are the schools supposed to decipher between "exposing injustice" and senseless violence and indecency in a book? To me, the difference is clear but I'm sure people complained enough to get certain books banned. You're right though, Anne - subjects are only taboo because we make them taboo, and a lack of understanding on a topic only leads to misconceptions. I wish I knew more about the standard protocol for getting books approved, because I'm sure there is some way to find some justice for books like Huck Finn (one of my favorites!).

Shannon said...

"If more people would take the time to ask questions about books and answer their children’s / students’ questions and curiosities with honesty, and not feel like their jobs were in jeopardy for doing so?"

Wow, what a fantastic Mom you have! I'm an advocate for honest, open dialogue in the classroom. If we are going to tackle difficult texts, then we need to absolutely be prepared to address the social/political issues that surround them. To do anything other than this is irresponsible, imo.

Cara said...

I really enjoyed reading about your experience with your mom. I think it was great how she didn't censor you from reading it. I can't tell you how many times I have heard parents tell their children "you're too young to know." There are some situations that children that age really shouldn't know, but I don't think saying that is the right way to handle it. It instead just makes them more and more curious. Honestly is the best way for students to learn and it makes uncomfortable situations easier to handle.