This week I read the article, “A Dirty Little Secret.” It was written to address the issue of book censorship, both active and subtle. As my eyes moved through the article, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt. I have read books that I have absolutely loved and not shared them. I have self censored. Usually it’s for a few reasons.
- I’m not sure if the people I’m sharing the book with would appreciate the issues and themes of the book.
- There’s content in the book that I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I’ve read.
- The book contains violence, language, or sexual scenes that I’m not comfortable exposing to others.
Although I do this with the best of intentions, am I actually harming my students by doing so? Take Ellen Hopkins for example. I went through a stage of absolute obsession with her books. I devoured as many as possible: Crank, Glass, Fallout, Identical, Burned, and Tricks. I loved them for the dark stories, the warnings, and the lessons.
Crank was the story of a young girl who fell in love with the wrong boy. Her infatuation with him led her down a road of drug abuse and addiction. Ellen Hopkins didn’t write the book just to tell a heart-breaking story. She addressed issues adolescents might face and wrote a compelling example of what not to do.
When I read her books, I never recommended them to anyone. It was fear of judgement and fear of their reaction to the very controversial writing that caused me to self-censor. Those books, disturbing as they may seem to others, shaped me as a reader.
I pulled them off the shelves of a library that wasn’t afraid to buy them. I was offered a choice to step into the books I might love or hate. I was given an invitation to explore the world around me; the beautiful and the ugly.
Censoring or self-censoring books denies adolescents a chance to explore their world. We cannot refuse to share books or take them away for the content in the pages. I didn’t begin using meth because I read Crank, but I did learn how horribly a life can be derailed because of it. I didn’t become a sex-slave by reading Tricks, but I did learn how to be more cautious.
I will not forbid books from my students. Books that tend to be censored still provide valuable lessons for our students.
This is not to say I want every 6th grade reader reading Ellen Hopkins. I do believe that censorship should lie in the hands of the parents of the student; not other parents, not myself, not the school system.
I do not have a right to shut down the ability to explore books for my students. I want them to read, to learn, and to grow. Reading books that can be challenging and thought-provoking is every part of that.