Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not Another Book Banning

So there is a piece of news that has been lighting up the book blogging community about a Dr. Wesley Scroggins, a professor of business at Missouri State University, in Rupublic, Missouri, who is pushing to ban several YA books, amongst other actions. I was hesitant to jump on the bandwagon until I had read the articles first-hand, which not every book blogger is so eager to provide. Here is what I did find: the article written by Dr. Scroggins and the public complaint he submitted to the Republic School Board. While the typical reaction to this news story is one born of emotionalism, I would like to understand his motivation for wanting these things. As I read all 29 pages of the public complaint, I quickly noticed that Dr. Scroggins is obviously a very conservative Christian who's complaints about "democracy vs. republic" and the truth about "separation of church and state" are valid arguments that are gaining ground with many others in the United States. Unfortunately, he is not wrong regarding the state of textbooks in the United States, as the entire selection process for textbooks across all states results in students using textbooks rife with inaccuracies and problems. The process is ruled by politics and money, but I'm getting off topic here. But then he changes abruptly to attacking specific books and movies from a position of moral high ground. I quote:
"The High School English I (and possibly English II) curriculum contains materials that are immoral, offensive, and vulgar. “Slaughterhouse Five” is required reading in either the English I or English II course. It contains very vulgar language throughout the book and covers topics such as sex outside of marriage and homosexuality. See pages 12‐15 in the appendix for excerpts from the book.
In the English I course, students are required to read the book “Speak” and also watch the movie. “Speak” also contains much offensive material, including two rape scenes,drunken teenage parties, and teenage pre‐marital sex. See pages 16‐21 in the appendix for excerpts from the book.
Books such as “Twenty Boy Summer” are also listed as recommended reading on the Republic School library website. This book glorifies drunken teenage parties and teen pre‐marital sex. See pages 22‐27 for excerpts from the book.
Children in these classes and others are also exposed to R‐rated movies. In English class, children watch “The Breakfast Club.” In other classes such as history, they watch “Saving Private Ryan.” Both these movies and others like them have offensive (and violent) content that justifies the R rating. It is interesting to note that while these children are not old enough to go to the movie theatre and see these movies, they are exposed to them at school by the teachers in the district.
Requiring children to be exposed to this content at school is immoral. It is an abomination to God to expose children to this material and this content will never be part of a moral education. It is difficult to understand how a school board and school administration that claims to be Christian and profess Jesus Christ can expose children to such immoral and vulgar material."And then he follows with attacking the Sex Education program, as well as the Science program regarding the teaching of evolution. While I have opinions on these topics, I won't address them now. The rest of the formal complaint is merely the work of a good copy machine, as he included excerpts from the books and textbooks he addressed in the previous pages.
As for the books and movies he discusses, my question is do these same classes also read older classics that used to be quite commonplace in the classroom, such as The Scarlet Letter and William Golding's Lord of the Flies, both of which address the scandalous topics of premarital sex and cannibalism? Or how about a book I will never forget for it's explicitly graphic murder scene, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison? The use of profanity is also not a new fad in literature, as classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition, Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck Centennial Edition), and Native Son contain it. (The list goes on and on, just check out this ALA site.)
As for the movies the teachers are showing students, I understand why - that's simply to interest the students in the material they are studying out of the textbooks. Hollywood wouldn't be making millions if it wasn't effective, afterall. That was common when I was in high school, too. I specifically remember a dubbed foreign film my 12th grade World History teacher made us watch that contained a scene in which a naked German homosexual Nazi is chasing another heterosexual Nazi, also naked, around a barn for the obvious goal of "you-know-what," which by the way, was also explicitly shown. The teacher claimed he didn't know that scene was in there, and tried to fast-forward it, but too little, too late. Did that scene suddenly turn me homosexual, or some porn addict, or whatever? No, of course not. I was a conservative Christian then, and I still am today.
Slaughterhouse-Five: A NovelNow on to the books. As conservative as I believe that I am, I draw the line at banning books. The first book addressed is Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel by Kurt Vonnegut.
From Amazon: "Slaughterhouse-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know." 
Vulgar language and explicit sexuality? So did Shakespeare.
Speak: 10th Anniversary EditionThe second book is Speak: 10th Anniversary Edition by Laurie Halse Anderson, which by the way bears the sticker of National Book Award Finalist.
From Amazon: "Laurie Halse Anderson’s award-winning, highly acclaimed, and controversial novel about a teenager who chooses not to speak rather than to give voice to what really happened to her marks ten years in print with this special anniversary edition." Dr. Scroggins writes in his news article "This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. 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." 
Even though several book bloggers claimed that he described the rape specifically as "soft pornography," I do not see evidence of that in either the article or the complaint. In fact, he seems to almost gloss over the fact that the book is centered around the rape, as the title should make that obvious. Know what other book contains rape? The Bible, of course.
Twenty Boy SummerThe third book is Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.
From Amazon: "Don't worry, Anna. I'll tell her, okay? Just let me think about the best way to do it."

"Promise me? Promise you won't say anything?"
"Don't worry." I laughed. "It's our secret, right?"
According to her best friend Frankie, twenty days in ZanzibarBay is the perfect opportunity to have a summer fling, and if they meet one boy every day, there's a pretty good chance Anna will find her first summer romance. Anna lightheartedly agrees to the game, but there's something she hasn't told Frankie---she's already had that kind of romance, and it was with Frankie's older brother, Matt, just before his tragic death one year ago.
Beautifully written and emotionally honest, this is a debut novel that explores what it truly means to love someone and what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.
It is also clear with Dr. Scroggin's description of this book that he did not "get" the message of the book, which leads me to believe that he did not read these books cover to cover, but merely skimmed them to find something to hate. I have to wonder if he has children in the school system that brought these books to his attention. In my opinion, a person has no business judging a book if he refuses to read it. And secondly,  if he has children in the school system, he should be doing his job as a parent and teaching his children the right morals, as well as allowing every other parent to do their job as well. If he doesn't like the public school system they are in, he is welcome to take them out of it and home-school or send them to a private school that possesses a curriculum that he approves of. By the time children are teenagers, they should have a strong enough moral background from their primary educaters - the Parents - to be able to distinguish for themselves what is right and wrong in a book or movie and respond to it appropriately. The primary educater should always be the children's legal guardians, the public school systems should follow the guidance of the parents - and if the parent of every other child in the school system has no issue with their children reading these books, then obviously he needs to take responsibility for what his own parental skills are lacking and stop blaming someone else. It is not the job of the public school system to teach morals, but that of the parents.


Natalie (Mindful Musings) said...

The last sentence in your post is the one that rings truest to me. That's EXACTLY how I feel. Thanks for speaking out and sharing your opinion!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments and support, Rachel. I agree that the core of this issue is whether one man should be able to decide the reading material and curriculum for all the kids in the district, and as we all agree, um, no. :-) I'm not sure if his kids are enrolled there even -- comments on his original article mentioned that Scroggins' kids are homeschooled, but I haven't been able to confirm.

Sarah Ockler
Author of Twenty Boy Summer

Rachel said...

Thankyou for the information, Sarah. That answers one of my questions. I'm honored that you would comment on my post, too.

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