Special Post: Speak Out

My views are very bias in this issue. However, I’ll try to be fair about presenting both sides of the argument.

It started before this, but recognition on the matter wasn’t truly received until Laurie Halse Anderson, author of “Speak”, spoke out in her September 19, 2010 blog post This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography. Please read the article. She brings up a lot of good issues about keeping literature with merit in public schools. Truly our children deserve quality literature. For the record, “Speak” has received an extensive list of awards. Go on, take a look. Awards for “Speak.” You’ll find the award link at the bottom right corner.

As a parent, I want my children to have quality and variety in their choice of reading material. I remember when I was younger, the library was a regular place of visit for me. Now my daughters (13 an 17) have developed a strong interest in reading.

This is not my support for “Speak.” I’ve not read the book, so can’t recommend it. I can’t even say I will read it. I’m curious about all the fuss but not enough to go out and buy it myself.

So what’s got Ms. Anderson riled? An article called Scoggins: Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education posted the day before (September 18, 2010) and written by Wesley Scroggins. Dr. Scroggins is a professor at the University of Missouri and is actively involved in the Republic, Missouri school system. Again, please read the article to see what he has to say. His chief complaint is that children are being exposed to inappropriate material in the school system. If fact, more than exposed as they not only have the opportunity to read literature he labels “filthy” but also required to read it for English classes. As such, he’s requested the school board to remove several books from the schools in the Republic, MO school district. One book mentioned was “Speak.”

Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room. So as not to take it completely out of context, this is Dr. Scroggins’ reference about soft pornography:

In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.

One such book is called “Speak.” They also watch the movie. [I deleted a huge chunk here, so be sure to read the article] As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.

All I can say is “oops.” Soft pornography and teen rape isn’t something people want to see in reference to one another. As I said, I haven’t read “Speak” so can’t be sure what exactly the two rape scenes consist of. However, I doubt the scenes were meant to sexually arouse, which is the intent of pornography. I can only hope he got the wrong word choice and meant something like sexually graphic and not pornographic. But I’m not in his head, so I can’t be sure. Other required and recommended books he mentioned included sexual scenes, profane language, and the use of alcohol. Again, I haven’t read these books, so don’t have opinions about the hearsay.

Let’s switch gears and talk about the First Amendment and book banning, because that’s what the focus has been over the last several days. I stole the following excerpt from the American Library Association (ALA):

“Intellectual freedom can exist only where two essential conditions are met: first, that all individuals have the right to hold any belief on any subject and to convey their ideas in any form they deem appropriate, and second, that society makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of work, and the viewpoints of both the author and the receiver of information.”

Intellectual Freedom Manual, 7th edition

ALA actively advocates in defense of the rights of library users to read, seek information, and speak freely as guaranteed by the First Amendment.  A publicly supported library provides free and equal access to information for all people of that community.  We enjoy this basic right in our democratic society.  It is a core value of the library profession.

This is well written, and I support this statement wholeheartedly. I couldn’t do any better. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the laws and guidelines for adults are different than the ones for children. Yes, I think the public should have access to “Speak” and other literature like it. Even if “Speak” were pornographic, which I doubt it is, I think the public should have access to it. But should children be required to read literature which is not appropriate in content or for their age? After all, I’d be hard pressed to find a copy of “The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty” by Anne Rice in the middle school library. As a parent, how would you feel if your child kicked up on the couch with a copy of Hustler she picked up from the school library? Or even better yet, the English teacher assigned her to read.

A lot of people are screaming in outrage that Dr. Scoggins would speak out about literature in schools. But think about what he’s really fighting for: the protection of children. I don’t agree with everything Dr. Scoggins said. I do think children need sexual education, both at home and in schools. However, I do think it’s our right, our responsibility to protect children the best we can. And that includes monitoring their input and discussing with them the input they do receive from the world.

I urge individuals before they jump on the Banned Book bandwagon to really think about what you’re fighting for or against. Life isn’t black or white with everything being right or wrong. Yes, book banning can be detrimental to society. We HAVE to protect our Amendments! But just like everyone of our Amendments, there are exceptions so as to protect ourselves and others. We also HAVE to protect our children. We have to monitor our children. And we have to guide our children. So when it’s their turn to protect the amendment, they can do it with sound judgment.

Here’s the thing. Children don’t need to be exposed to everything at once. Give them an opportunity to be innocent. Give them an opportunity to grow into life. And above all, talk with your children about important issues. Again. I’ve not read “Speak” and am not speaking out against this book. I don’t know if it’s sexually graphic or not, and I don’t know if it’s a good read or appropriate for children. I’m just saying, look at the bigger picture and don’t focus so hard on a single word or phrase.

If you would like an opportunity to win this book. Head to For What It’s Worth and enter her contest.