Unless you live under a rock, you've heard about This Guy who likened Laurie Halse Anderon's acclaimed novel, SPEAK, to pornography. While he was at it, he threw a few other books under the bus-- Sarah Ockler's poignant novel of love and loss-- 20 Boy Summer-- and the modern classic Slaughter House Five. He felt that such books would "expose" kids to things they shouldn't know about.
Apparently he's a big fan of the head-in-the-sand approach.
Here's my take on it.
I grew up in a small town with only one junior high and one high school. The main teen hangouts in town include the planterbox in front of Starbucks or the Safeway parking lot. I was born in a tiny hospital about a half mile from the Dairy farm where I was born and raised. I grew up at the County Fair, riding my horse down old rail road tracks, and going sledding at the local golf course. I sold sweet corn at the farmer's market out of the back of our old chevy truck, along with my little brother.
I was a good kid. I never did a single drug, got near perfect As, went to college in high school (I graduated with a year and a half of college completed), always held down a part time job, and I still have no idea where other students served detention. I don’t even know what the principal’s office looked like.
I say all this for context, because the common argument for book banners is that we are “exposing” our kids to subject matter they shouldn’t know about. We all want to believe the world is—or could be—a perfect place. And I’d say I lived a childhood that is about as idyllic as it gets.
Butl guess what? Life isn’t perfect. “Protecting” kids from the truth is not smart. It’s dangerous.
When I was 14 or 15, my mom arranged for me to babysit for her coworker, who we will call Bob, who happened to be dating one of my mother’s good friends, who we will refer to as Ms. X. The guy had a son, who as I recall was five or six years old. At least, that’s what I heard. I never actually met the kid.
I rode my bicycle over to “Bob’s” shabby apartment. I was supposed to babysit for a few hours while he went out with Ms. X.
When I got there, Ms. X was not there. In fact, neither was the kid. I didn’t think much of it at first—she was supposedly on her way, would be there any minute. But the clock kept ticking, and I kept sitting there. At first, it was fine. He offered me soda, which I declined.
Then he offered me pot.
And he sat there, right in front of me, smoking it. I started to get uncomfortable. What kind of forty-something year old dude offers a 14 year old girl pot? Then he started talking about Ms. X’s 15 year old daughter, who I was friends with at school.
More specifically, about whether she was sexually active. He pulled out a bible and started reading short passages dealing with virginity, asking me questions which I chose not to answer.
Alarm bells started going off in my head, and I started to feel panicky. Claustrophobic. I’d been there a half hour already and there was no kid in sight. He kept smoking pot and offering it to me. Kept reading weird bible passages.
After forty-five minutes, I’d had enough and told him I had to go. I hardly waited for a response—I just bolted out the door, jumped on my bicycle, and pedaled like a demon was chasing me down, my heart walloping so hard I could hardly hear the traffic passing me by.
He was later fired from my mother’s place of work for sexual harassment against a young coworker. They had to launch a full investigation and I had to tell my side of things. My mom was absolutely furious with her friend for vouching for a guy who turned out to be so sketchy.
Things could have ended differently. Very differently. But it would not have been my fault, it would have been his. And banning books like SPEAK will not change the things that happen. But it could change the way we deal with them.
I don’t normally chime in on “hot” topics because there are always blogs out there that say it better. But the fact is, the twitter conversation has the appropriate tag of SPEAKLOUDLY. And so I’ll add my voice to the chorus: Book banning is wrong. Plain and simple.
You decide what books your children will read. I’ll decide what books my child reads. The fact that anyone thinks they can make the decision for me suggest you think you know how to parent my daughter better than I do.
As soon as my daughter is old enough, she's reading SPEAK-- and any other YA novel she wants. And you, silly Mr. Scroggins, won't change that.