To read or not to read (because of censorship). That is the question.

This is a strange time to be literary.

I have an intrinsic desire to share all the amazing books I have read with absolutely everyone I know. Like Whitman, I want to “sound my barbaric yawp from the rooftops of the world” when I truly love a book.

But sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t.

I am not allowed.

We live in an over protective society that has built glass walls around our children. Of the many issues I have with this fact, the censorship of books is at the top of my list.

It is a struggle, as a teacher, to know how a student, a parent, or a colleague is going to react to my choice of reading material. I have been approached because The Call of the Wild is too difficult for a vegetarian to read, Peter Pan has the word “orgy” in it, and the concern that Harry Potter is not, in fact, appropriate literature for private school students. Everything is a touchy subject with someone. Luckily, I have not had to stop teaching a book. I am fortunate.

Recently, a third grade teacher in North Carolina resigned after receiving little support from his school board for his read aloud of King and King, a picture book addressing the presence of o-KINGANDKING-570 same-sex marriages in our contemporary society. In the same week, a college student and her parents asked for the “eradication” of seminal graphic novels: Fun Home, Persepolis and Sandman (in a graphic novel English course, by the way), because she found the content too sexually explicit and violent.

She said she was expecting Batman and Robin, she obviously hasn’t read The Killing Joke, but I digress…. She, and her parents, called the books garbage.

They are among three of my favourite books, and since I consider myself to be quite literary, I refuse to accept the undignified slander she and her parents impose upon them. A word of wisdom, one needn’t like everything, but one should not insult nor eradicate books that bring pleasure to others.

If only more people were so obliging.

There was a time when teaching was content oriented and teacher centric. This is no longer the case. I teach the kids I have in front of me, I decide the content once I know them. Since the 1960’s teachers have been introducing kids to books that speak to them, about their lives, feelings and pressing social concerns. We treat the students as people who should be heard, who have an opinion. Trust me, teaching them this way is much more enjoyable for them and for us as teachers. The discussion is rich and engaging, and if we can successfully address some metaphor and alliteration along the way, bonus! Teachers are yearning to give their students choices for reading and a platform to sound their voices in the hallways of their schools, but those academic institutions who are slow on this transition are letting books be banned, and worse, are letting good teachers go as a result.

We are no longer teaching our students to anticipate the adult lives of the middle-class European white man or woman. We are teaching them to be global citizens who are aware of the ever-shrinking world we live in; aware of the connectivity between countries, classes, regions, religions, and culture. Our North American countries are increasingly becoming multicultural. They are becoming more accepting of sexuality and gender equality. Why should our youth not be allowed to read books that address these contemporary issues?

Even in libraries, some school library technicians I know are putting books behind their counters and in the office off the floor because parents do not want their kids exposed to the gruesome realities of mummification or the busting bosoms of caricatures in comic books.

I look at the list of most banned books, scanning titles like, Of Mice and Men, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Catcher in the Rye, and Lord of the Flies, and I am disheartened, knowing that the opportunity for some youth to enjoy these books has vanished.

This year, Sherman Alexi’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, was the most banned book in North America. I love this book. I would teach this book. I recommend it to The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part-Time_Indiananyone who will listen to me talk about it. But many feel it is inappropriate because it deals with bullying, drugs and alcohol, and sexuality. It also addresses some racial tension between American aboriginal people and European descendants, an issue I suspect has more to do with it’s banning than the few passages about sex. The sad truth is that in the curriculum students do not get a real glimpse into the hardships suffered by the aboriginal people in North America. God forbid we should try to rectify that problem by reading a book about them by a member of their own community.

I feel bad for the kids growing up today. When I was a preteen I was fully immersed in overtly sexual films like Grease and Dirty Dancing. My parents bought me the movie, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, for Christmas when I was twelve. I understood Romeo and Juliet before the end of elementary school and loafed with Walt Whitman before I was old enough to legally drive. I read contentious material, and I grew up fine. Much better than my students who live in glass houses.

It is a strange time to be literary; the adults of our world are attacking so much of the quality literature available to us, to kids, for being too something-or-other. The adults are put off by the words in these books. The kids aren’t. The kids are excited by them, they long for them.

What are the adults so afraid of?

I hope I am always the teacher who shares these books with the students who need them.

I hope I can guide their understanding of the world around them when the other adults in their lives refuse to, and in the process, I hope these kids learn to love to read.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

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Parents and Kids! Experience Instead of Censorship

* A response to the article, “All These Choices!-Parents and Censorship”, by Heather Rae *

I let my seven-year-old son watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. I also let him watch all the previous  Marvel films that came before it. Needless to say, the parents of many of his friends think I am crazy for introducing him to  such mature content at such a young age. He would do well to wait and be exposed to them when he is older; he is just a little guy, after all.

So when I read the article, “All These Choices!-Parents and Censorship”, by Heather Rae, I was momentarily paralyzed with the fear that I was a poor influence on my child. I was, *shudder*, a bad parent! Lucky for me, Rae helped me get over that feeling pretty quickly.

The article begins with a flashback to when  Rae allowed her seven and five year old sons watch Indiana Jones. She had genuine concerns that the maturity level and adult content would upset them. And she was partly right. Her eldest son expressed fear for a characters safety. She found herself wondering if he was able to comprehend the justification of plot choices and resolution of the story.

I had a similar situation occur when my son was five.

Five was, my husband and I agreed, the right age to watch the original Star Wars films. After all, we watched them as five year olds and we turned out all right. But lo and behold, when Darth Vader sliced off Luke’s hand, my son panicked. He was upset. He didn’t understand the brutality of the situation, the purpose of the scene.

One of the strongest points in Rae’s article is that parents should be active participants in their children’s learning. Instead of deterring children from (all) mature content, they should explore that content with their children, offering explanations and encouragement when necessary. My son was fine once he realized that Luke would get a bionic hand out of the confrontation. He was even more excited when he learned that other Star Wars films, and even the Marvel ones, have a hand-chopping scene. Not because we turned him into a sadist, but because we introduced him to science fiction tropes. Through our discussion he comprehends how that scene drives the plot of the series and how directors and writers of other franchises (Marvel, in particular) tip their hats to its importance. I would argue the experience honed his visual literacy skills as he actively seeks out the similar scenes in other films.

Rae rightly suggests that we live in a time where everything has the potential to be censured: superheroes for fighting, Harry Potter for magic, Darwin for evolution. But can we shield our children from everything? More importantly, is it right to?

Libraries and Schools across North America receive challenges for materials frequently, but there doesn’t seem to be an established line between what is a valid concern and an invalid one. Rae reminds us that discrepancies exist when questions of appropriateness are concerned.CCAseal-469x600 What is inappropriate for one person may not be for another. Should we allow materials to be censured so that no one may enjoy them? Should I keep my son from watching an Avengers film because the mothers of his friends deem it unacceptable? No, that’s just not a good enough reason for me.

In my opinion, everything has the potential to be a teachable moment. Our society has shifted from one that creates and instills values in our youth (as Rae mentions, family, church, community were once the harbingers of values) to one that muddles those values. The burden of teaching everything to our children has increasingly fallen on the shoulders of our schoolteachers. They impart lessons in life as much as they demonstrate mathematical equations; and through all of this, while carrying the weight of this new responsibility, parents are challenging the teacher’s choices of content and resources.

As Rae implies, the task of exploring media (books, film, television and the ever increasing popularity of the Internet) should be a partnership between child and parent so that when questions of content appropriateness arise, parents can discuss issues and themes as they relate to their personal values. As she notes, parents need to help children dissect and explore the concepts they don’t understand or like. A teacher alone cannot interpret the values of each individual family, each individual student. But a supportive family environment, along with a teacher’s guidance, can be a life changing lesson for a child.

In the end, kids are going to be exposed to the world around them. Whether it is through a complicated novel, a difficult current issues debate, a questionable film, the brutality within the frames of the nightly news, the lewd entertainment available to anyone with cable television, or the far reaches of the Internet, kids are going to be exposed. Wouldn’t it be great if they had a parent, an adult, to help them navigate this uncharted, perplexing territory?

My son watches superhero movies. He is seven. When he doesn’t understand, my husband and I guide him to insight. He will not be censured because others choose to avoid rather than enlighten. And he is pretty enlightened, for a little guy.

We are a family of superhero enthusiasts. We just superhero responsibly.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Parents and Teachers: Superhero Responsibly

This post is an extension of a radio interview that I participated in addressing the presence of superheroes in the classroom.

superheroThe board and faculty of a private school in my hometown has, with the support of many parents, endeavoured to ban superheroes from its halls. As both a teacher and mother I cannot condone these choices. It goes without saying that as a comic book enthusiast I am deeply disappointed. To the parents and teachers willing to censure superheroes I have this to say: please, superhero responsibly.

With the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) And recent DC films, superheroes are at a cultural peak. Those who do not understand the broad scope of superhero literature, its many facets and depth, choose to select this medium as a scapegoat for undesirable behaviour and disinterest in reading. Superheroes are not the problem; disrespect for the power of comics is the problem.  Arguments against superheroes in the classroom and hallways of schools range from being too violent, addressing only very basic story lines, and stamped with the label “bad” literature. There are many adults in the education system who still devalue the worth of the graphic novel as a medium for teaching literature. It is not only a question of misunderstanding superheroes, but of graphic storytelling and art as a whole. A paradigm shift needs to occur to eradicate this archaic perception.

I do not, under any circumstances, want my six year old son watching violent television, film, or reading violent books. So he doesn’t, but he watches and knows all about superheroes. As the responsible adult in our relationship, I monitor what he reads and watches to ensure its age appropriateness. The popular films from the MCU, along with the Christopher Nolan Batman films and DC’s burgeoning Justice League films are not for children. Nor are the majority of graphic novels and weekly and monthly single issues at your local comic book store. Superhero comics are largely targeted towards young adults and adult audiences. The characters are targeted to children. Books, comics and films for children do not touch on the same themes as the films you watch or hear about in popular culture. The Superhero Squad, for example, treat themes of friendship, teamwork and personal growth. Doctor Doom is always bested, sometimes with Iron Man’s blasters, but more than the fighting are the plot driven discussions about why the problem at hand exists. Often the show ends with a moral. My son can watch this show. He is not violent as a result. He uses his words, not his actions when faced with a disgruntled friend. He wants to be as good a friend as Wolverine and as strong a leader as Iron Man and Captain America are. It is ok that he doesn’t know exactly what Wolverine is best at, but when he does find out later on he will already know that Wolverine is a character that can be counted on- a leader who makes tough choices. Wolverine will become more believable as my son’s world becomes more real. My son lives in a violent world. He doesn’t need comics to teach him that. If anything, they can help him escape it.

Superheroes are only written into simple story lines in the minds of the uneducated people who don’t read comics. I would argue they are full of substance, figurative language, advanced vocabulary and rich plot detail. I have a degree in English Literature, a degree in education, and soon I will have a degree in library sciences. I know good literature when I see it, or read it; and I read A LOT.

As a teacher I would often use superhero story lines in my English and senior history classes. For example, Superman: Red Son is the story of Superman’s crash landing in Russia. In my History 12 Global Studies class, we consider the outcome of the Cold War if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union. The purpose is to encourage students to think outside of the box. To buoy their curiosity as they consider what they take for granted as normal and look at it from another perspective. Our role as teachers is not to indoctrinate our beliefs and ideas, it is to inspire youth to acknowledge their own. If I use Superman as a vehicle to get them to think of the world from a soviet lens, then I have granted them permission to reject, momentarily, what they know for what could have been. Similarly, in an effort to make Hercules more interesting to a disinterested World History 10 student, I suggest All Star Superman, where our protagonist takes on Herculean trials as the student realizes his hero is a flawed being; god-like, but not a god.

Superheroes are flawed. Stripped bare of their powers and technology they are flawed men and women who do not conform and fit into conventional society. The X-men are spokesmodels for the marginalized. Batman is constantly seeking an outlet for dealing with the death of his parents. Captain America struggles in vain to ensure morality, ethics and values in a world saturated in corruption. Readers, every single one of us, are flawed beings. Each of us longing to belong. Why not let our young readers engage with the stories of their cultural icons and heroes who reflect the very struggles they endure?

The role of the parent, the teacher, and the educational system is to provide mentorship for our students. To enlighten a future society to appreciate and concede to the perspectives of others. Teaching them that the literature and the characters they admire and love are not appropriate, unacceptable, or rubbish is teaching them to censure what they do not understand. Censorship is fundamentally backwards in a society where we value free thinking and education.

I will continue to teach with superheroes. When my students walk into my classroom they will be greeted with a poster of Spiderman and a collection of comic figurines lining my desk. I will discuss the movies they watch, the comics they read, and in turn students will continue to ask to be in my homeroom; the space they feel safe to express who they are and where they see their interests proudly positioned on the walls around them. My son will be encouraged to learn more about the superheroes he loves, he will be praised for the comics he himself creates, and when the time comes, with his mom and dad as excited as he is, he will watch superheroes on the big screen.

Banning superheroes is an act akin to the malevolence of super villains.

Don’t be a villain. Superhero responsibly.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke   @ldchiasson17