Thursday, March 02, 2006

what is it with indiana parents and censorship?

this is getting ridiculous. i'm a little behind here, but ruth holladay has a good column about hoosier parents' latest attempt to censor what goes on in indiana schools.

They don't have cable TV or violent video games at home. The only R-rated movie their oldest child, age 15, has seen is "The Patriot," about the Revolutionary War -- and when it turned too violent, the teen left.

No wonder "The Kite Runner" does not make the cut for Tom and Julie Shake, who want to protect their Lawrence North High School freshman from what Julie Shake calls "edgier" literature. The parents have thrown their school district into a tizzy over the novel's use in freshman English classes.

the kite runner is a book about a young boy growing up in afghanistan. as you might imagine, afghanistan is a rough place, and the book reflects that. as steph says:

The Kiterunner is a story of children living in contemporary Afghanistan, and is a wonderful, amazing book. It is, unfortunately, fairly true to life, and there is violence and brutality in it, including a scene where a young boy is brutally raped by other young men who are bullying him, and children who later become the victims of child exploitation. But that is a fairly real picture of what can happen in countries that are torn apart by strife, as Afghanistan is. And to be blunt, the story of children bullying and raping each other can and does happen here in Indiana, too. If you don't think it does, you're a naive fool.

The idea that the scenes are "pornographic" -- I want to go to those parents (Julie and Tom Shake are their names) and say "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

as they saying goes, kids can be cruel. but so can parents. if the shakes want to completely shelter their kids from the harsh realities of the real world, i guess that's their prerogative. if their parenting style means their kids can't be exposed to anything more offensive than curious george then so be it—it's not a good parenting strategy, but that's their call. but they don't just want to shelter their own kid: they want to shelter all kids. the school is happy to accomodate them and let their kid read something else instead, but they want the book pulled from reading lists altogether. and just as the school doesn't have the right to force kids to read what parents don't want their kids reading, so parents have no right whatsoever to dictate what other people's kids read.

going back to ruth holladay:

Their position and the superintendent's suggestion that a committee be created to review future book choices have drawn cries of censorship from some parents, teachers and students.

Correctly so -- that's what this is really about.

A bigger concern is a pattern in Indiana. Some adults recently boycotted the musical "Ragtime" at Perry Meridian High School, based on the "n-word." A high school in Columbus caved in over the same word in "To Kill a Mockingbird." Also on the hot seat a few years ago at Noblesville High was James Alexander Thom's American Indian novel, "Follow the River."

What is going on?

ruth gets it mostly right, but the tale of ragtime at perry meridian is more sordid and shameful than that. ragtime is a play dealing with racial and social tensions in the early 1900s. as such, it has some rough language. a few parents complained, and the school board relented, changing the script to remove some sexual references and a "god damn".

but while the school board went about happily censoring the script, they didn't remove all the offensive language: they left in the "n-word". some black parents were understandably upset, and urged the school to excise the racial slurs as well.

as much as i abhor censorship, the black parents had a point. why is the "n-word" okay but "god damn" is not? the school had demonstrated that it had no problem with censoring the play, so why not go all the way? why only do a half-assed job of censoring it? censor it or don't—setting a double standard where profanity is unacceptable while racism languge is peachy keen sends the wrong message.

in the end, perry meridian did the right thing and restored the original script, sex and swearing and all. but the fact that they censored it at all—and did a lousy job if it—is troubling. as is the fact the a lone parental complaint about the kite runner is enough to make the superintendent consider something like this:

Superintendent Michael Copper has recommended that all material used in classrooms be reviewed by a committee of teachers, administrators and parents. The proposal is still in draft form, and the School Board has taken no action.
More than 180 people attended the School Board meeting Monday night opposing such a review committee.

If the committee is approved, classroom teachers would no longer have the authority to assign a new book or a classic not already approved, Benner said.


Steph said...

Great analysis; you hit on a point I always manage to overlook -- that some parents shouldn't get to decide what all children should be exposed to.

The thing that blows me away every time is how often protesting people miss the point of the artistic piece, which is espousing the very value that people are claiming to promote by their protests. They're incapable of recognizing nuance and placing messages in context, and they have no reflective, critical thinking skills at all.

Like when my school librarian Aunt's school system was objecting to the "N-word" in Huckleberry Finn, when the central point of the book is to highlight why slavery was wrong and black people should be treated like everyone else, which she heatedly pointed out to them at a parent/teacher meeting about the book. And they were flabbergasted -- that's what Huck Finn is about? We thought it was about a boy on a raft.

Kati said...

I couldn't agree more, and I'm glad you added the notes on the "Ragtime" scandal, which Ruth Holliday mischaracterized somewhat.

Also... I love your blog. Somehow I stumbled across it while doing a Google image search for "flava flav", of all things. While doing so I found a great source of commentary on Indiana issues. I'm excited! I'll be back...