Sunday, September 19, 2010

#SpeakLoudly

This won't be the first (or last) post that I start by saying how much I love books and reading.

Books take us places we cannot otherwise go. Books capture us in lands that are entirely imaginary and sometimes they lead us to places that we find eerily familiar to our own potential futures. I have laughed, cried, adventured and loved through so many stories. I know more about who I am by experiencing the characters that others create.

In my classroom, there is an ever growing collection of Young Adult literature (YA). I try (and sometimes it feels impossible) to read every book that is on those shelves, so that when a student picks it up and says "what's this about?", I have an answer. You want to know how to get me WAY off topic in my classroom? Tell me about a book you're reading.

It takes a lot of effort (and I'm not patting myself on the back here, by any means) to read so many books to have these conversations. But let me tell you, they are so worth the time when you can put a book in a student's hands that you know is going to impact them beyond what they can imagine. It happened with so many of Sarah Dessen's books for me, then there was Harry Potter, and most recently The Hunger Games series. I am perpetually encouraging my students to read, anything at all, but more importantly something that I know will change a life.

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, is one of those books that can change your life. Here's a review from amazon.com:
Since the beginning of the school year, high school freshman Melinda has found that it's been getting harder and harder for her to speak out loud: "My throat is always sore, my lips raw.... Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze.... It's like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis." What could have caused Melinda to suddenly fall mute? Could it be due to the fact that no one at school is speaking to her because she called the cops and got everyone busted at the seniors' big end-of-summer party? Or maybe it's because her parents' only form of communication is Post-It notes written on their way out the door to their nine-to-whenever jobs. While Melinda is bothered by these things, deep down she knows the real reason why she's been struck mute...

Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel is a stunning and sympathetic tribute to the teenage outcast. The triumphant ending, in which Melinda finds her voice, is cause for cheering (while many readers might also shed a tear or two). After reading Speak, it will be hard for any teen to look at the class scapegoat again without a measure of compassion and understanding for that person--who may be screaming beneath the silence.

Are you moved already? You should be. If not, pick up the book and read it. I cried, ached, wanted vengeance for Melinda. If you haven't read Speak, the part that you need to know (and you will discover in the book) is that Melinda was raped at the big party. Melinda is punished, silenced for what happened to her. This book is a journey about finding your voice in the midst of trauma, despair and physical/mental horror.

And someone is trying to silence Speak.

In this article, Dr. Wes Scroggins rants about, among other things, the use of Speak in the English I and II curriculum. He calls the book "soft pornography" and "filth". Personally, I think the only one who should be called filthy is him.

Here's my rant as a person and as a teacher (for this brief moment in time, the two are of the same mind): who gets to decide what voices are heard? If this guy can wave his religious flag (and he does) as a means to get books banned from student access, what else can he silence? Females? Minorities? Homosexuals? He's after a book about a rape. victim. Who is he to decide for me what my students should be able to access or what voices they should hear? Are there books out there that don't interest me? Absolutely. Am I going to tell my students that they should be banned? No way. I'm an English teacher. I believe in the power of words. I'm a lover of literature, be it the so-called chick lit of Jodi Picoult (which is another rant altogether, #franzenfreud), or the action and mystery of Stieg Larson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. I love the classics, the new classics and the soon-to-be classics. I read Twilight, I'm reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. My tastes are all over the place. And no one tells me what to read.

Now you may be thinking, "but you're an adult", and that's fine. But it's my opinion that the best way to educate students about the world around them is to let them experience it, good bad or ugly (and yes, sometimes that's the case). If, as a parent, you have an issue with a text, then you should contact a teacher and talk with him/her about the situation. We are human; we will discuss with you (nicely if you do) your concerns.

What scares me, and what bothers Laurie Halse Anderson is that people don't do their own research. This guy says he's a Christian (and if he says he is, I'm not calling his bluff), but I think he's using his religion for an inappropriate purpose. I won't say much more about that except that plenty of my students are Christians and they read books including Speak that talk about not-so-Christian things. I don't think it makes them less Christian, but that's just me.

If Scroggins is a parent, and he doesn't want his kids to read Speak, then rock on and ban it at your house. But how dare you, in your characteristically male pretentiousness, deny other students the chance to read such a powerful text? Would you change your mind if you knew a rape victim? How about a student who was raped and Speak allowed her to find her own voice and report the abuse? Maybe, if you had any real experiences, you would understand the need for a voice in such a traumatic time. *Note: I don't know this person, I'm basing my views according to his article. He pulled no punches; neither am I.

I want you, fearless reader, to understand two things. 1) I do not, in any way, denounce anyone's religion or their right to exercise it. 2) I will stand behind the right to practice (or not practice) any given religion as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others, which is what I believe Scroggins is doing.

In the twitter world right now, there's a movement among YA authors to fight back against Scroggins' campaign to pull Speak from his district's shelves. To show your support, add the hashtag #speakloudly when you write about this situation. I write because I want my voice to be heard, I write because I have not experienced rape but I have seen the effects of it and other sexual violence/abuse. I write because my students should not be denied a global view of the world.

I write to #speakloudly.

1 comment:

Smart Ass Sara said...

Wow- that actually sounds like a fantastic read. I read the book "If I Stay" by Gayle Forman (which was really good AND I cried through the whole thing but finished it in under 4 hours because I could not put it down). Anyways- it was a book club read and I remember all of the other moms flipping out because it focused on this girl, who presumably is on the verge of dying, and she's trying to decide- does she stay (family-less) or go (while knowing all the people who would grieve). I thought it was actually a great conversation starter about death and how sometimes you don't realize your impact on others. Apparently, I was the only one. :(