Sources at the school says that after receiving complaints from an as yet-to-be-identified person or group, the school district ordered students to return the book to the chairperson of the English department who then personally tore out pages 64 through 70 before returning the books to students. Ironically, news of the school censorship first broke during the same week as the school district's annual Literary Festival.
What?! I had never heard of this before. Apparently, it's something called Bowdlerizing, after Thomas Bowdler, who published an edition of Shakespeare's plays that he felt was more suitable for women and children. Basically, he censored certain sections of Shakespeare's plays that he found vulgar, or inappropriate. According to Wikipedia, here is an example of some of the changes he made:
-In Hamlet, the death of Ophelia was referred to as an accidental drowning, omitting the suggestions that she may have intended suicide.-In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth's famous cry "Out, damned spot!" was changed to "Out, crimson spot!" -"God!" as an exclamation is replaced with "Heavens!"
-In Henry IV, Part 2, the prostitute Doll Tearsheet is omitted entirely; the slightly more reputable Mistress Quickly is retained.
The fact that an English Department chairperson (or anyone, for that matter) would physically tear out pages of a book is appalling to me, regardless of the reasoning behind it. The poor books! (I'm one of those people who can't bear writing in or ear-marking pages of books.) And it goes without saying that I hate the censorship as well. At least in this story, there's a happy ending. The publisher issued a strong response, and the school district has said that the students will be receiving new books.
Here is another recent report of censorship, this time of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This is an amazing book, and personally, I think everyone should read it at some point in their life. The fact that a father would call the book "trashy" and succeed in getting the school board to remove the book from the classroom is ridiculous. This did make me think, though--is it okay for a parent to restrict their children's reading? I mean, sure, of course--parents should do what they feel is right for their children. But I'm of the camp that after age 12, give or take a few year depending on a child's development, I think young adults can handle almost anything (although I kinda wish I hadn't seen the movie Robocop at age 12 or 13!). I was reading horror and romance (Stephen King and V.C. Andrews!) and whatever else was lying around our house, including some erotica, by at least age 12, and I think I turned out pretty okay. Then again, I wonder if there are certain camps that will look at my lifestyle and political beliefs and disagree. And could they blame some of my beliefs on books?
I don't want to get too political here, but I've recently been in a debate with some of my extended family about Prop 8 in CA. Some of them (many of them?) supported it, which really shocked me. I'm not sure why, but every since I was a child, gay rights were important to me. I don't remember a particular book or movie that affected my beliefs, but as I did not have an openly gay friends or family, I have to believe that something I read or saw must have affected me, although I suppose it could also have just been how I always thought about fairness and injustice.
Anyway, my family has gone back and forth about this issue, and it occurred to me that my extended family and I probably differ on quite a few things (which wasn't really news to me, as we have very different religious beliefs), and I wondered if censorship could be another issue. Some people think masturbation is morally wrong, which I suppose must have been the objection to Sherman Alexie's book. If they feel that having their child read a scene where a character masturbates goes against their religious beliefs, then I guess I have to accept that decision, for their particular child. But regardless of what your beliefs are, I do think most 14-year-olds can handle reading a scene about masturbation.
But if the father deemed that his son should not, then okay, I suppose he should be able to make that choice. But I really can't stand someone taking their own beliefs and imposing them on other people who might not share those beliefs. If he objected to the book, then perhaps the teacher could have assigned an alternate book for that one individual to read, right? Isn't that how it works with dissection assignments and sex education on occasion? It just made me sad because I think this makes teachers more cautious about what books they assign, and there are so many wonderful, layered books out there with what some people would deem inappropriate material.
I do think that kids shouldn't be exposed to certain content at an early age. For example, if I had nightmares after watching Robocop, it was even worse for my little brother who was eight at the time. I'm not sure what my parents were thinking--although I'm sure somehow my older brother and I convinced them it would be okay. But I think my tolerance level is higher for sex scenes in books than for violence, especially for teenagers (I'd balk at nine-year-olds reading Gossip Girl). Teens know about sex. Denying them the opportunity to read a great work of literature because it has a few masturbation or sex scenes is a bit unreasonable, I think. Why not read the book alongside your child and then have a frank discussion about it? Because no doubt otherwise your kid will sneak the book and read it on his own, without the guidance of a parent of teacher.
I'm probably preaching to the choir on this blog, but I do wonder--do you think it's ever okay to censor? And is it better to censor part of a book rather than the whole? Would it have been better if the father had torn the "objectionable" pages out of his son's book and let him read the rest of it? And for you parents out there, did you monitor your children's reading and keep them from reading certain books at certain ages?
The Longstockings had an interesting, related discussion going on about the book Living Dead Girl here.
Thanks to Tanya Lee Stone and David Macinnis Gill for the original links, via Facebook.