October 01, 2010

SPEAK Loudly

There are a lot of things in life I don't understand:

Why it rains right after you wash your car;

Why the grass isn't always greener on the other side;

Why a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife;

How a single F-word could offend someone so badly that they put down a book or walk out of a movie (but that's a whole other post); 

How a person or group could seek to ban (or even burn) a book. 

I wasn't going to post about the SPEAK controversy because I didn't feel like I had anything new to contribute to the discussion, but I just couldn't go without saying my piece.

It's been covered thoroughly enough throughout the blogosphere, but in case you aren't familiar, it goes something like this:

Dr. Wesley Scroggins wrote an opinion piece for the Springfield News-Leader on September 18 criticizing aspects of the Republic school district's curriculum, including the age-appropriateness of sex education (again, whole 'nother post) and high school reading requirements.

Specifically, the inclusion on said list of Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK, Kurt Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5, and Sarah Ockler's TWENTY BOY SUMMER.

Full disclosure, I've never read any of those books. And I'll be honest: I've never been interested in reading them until now.

But regardless of whether I want to read them, it is of paramount importance that I have the right to do so should I so choose. 

I'll be the first to say Dr. Scroggins is well within his rights to write that article. My brother fights every day so people like you and me and Dr. Scroggins may continue to enjoy the freedoms of speech and press. Dr. Scroggins has as much right to say and feel as he does as I do to rebut him.

But what one can do and what one should do are vastly different. As different as, say, what is permissible and what is moral. It doesn't take a PhD to know that presenting a book a written document, a medium from which our fiercely-held freedoms flow as cavalierly as Dr. Scroggins did in his article, in a manner meant to influence and rally, is wrong.

Effective, sure. But also wrong.

I feel most strongly about SPEAK, because it was the most unfairly framed, but also because its access being limited has the potential to do the most harm. You see, SPEAK is about overcoming rape, about transitioning from a victim to a survivor, and it has helped countless women (and maybe some men, too) overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. It has helped people. It has helped people heal.

But Dr. Scroggins dismisses the book:
In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography.One such book is called "Speak." They also watch the movie. 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. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.
I know everyone else has already said it, but pardon moi, how is rape soft pornography?

I'd be genuinely interested in knowing whether that phrasing is poor word choice on Dr. Scroggins' part, or if he really believes it.

I don't have to read SPEAK to know it's not a romance boasting stolen glances and soft caresses. I don't have to read SPEAK to spot the hyperbole, fallacy, and euphemism in Dr. Scroggins' description of it... all persuasive devices, meant to stir concerned individuals into action without knowing the truth.

And sure, the burden of truth isn't necessarily Dr. Scroggins' responsibility. He simply conveyed his opinion and tried to persuade others to feel the same. It's up to the individual to read the book before taking potentially harmful action.

But we all know the mob mentality exists. And at least mentioning the reason the book was introduced into the curriculum in the first place, providing a sense of context, is the difference between what one can do and what one should do.

By using the word pornography, the connotation it carries (even padded by the modifier 'soft'), implies consensuality, thereby devaluing the subject matter. As does the euphemism 'female parts' is the word for a female's sex/reproductive organ so dirty in and of itself that Dr. Scroggins cannot even print it? And why say 'touching her female parts?' Why not 'groping her,' 'touching her,' 'fondling her'?

Could it be to downplay the fact that the book is a meaningful part of the curriculum, that despite Dr. Scroggins' objection to SPEAK's content, there was a reason beyond titillation in choosing it?

Without meaning to (because surely, as easy as it would be to paint Dr. Scroggins as a villain, he is likely just a man acting on what he believes is best), Dr. Scroggins' word choice removes some of the blame from the perpetrator and transfers it to the victim.

Silence only protects the perpetrator, and not allowing a population access to this book, or any other, is a shame.

Let's face it: a teen can rent an inappropriate film from Redbox just as easily as he can check out an inappropriate book from the library. Should we ban R-rated movies from Redbox?

I don't have to be a parent to be in on a primary tenant of parenting: instill your family's values from an early age, and as your child grows more independent, hopefully he or she will make the right choices according to the values you taught them.

Of course, that doesn't always happen. And it isn't always due to bad parenting. But that's the general hope: if you raise your kid not to lie, cheat, and steal, hopefully he or she won't.

It's not simple, but it's America: if you don't want your child exposed to something, you do your best to limit their exposure. That's your right, and it is good to raise your child according to your standards.

Ask for an alternate assignment. Let your kid stay home that day. But don't insist that all children be raised to your standards. And remember that at a certain age, ignorance becomes a liability, not the preservation of innocence.

The right to swing your fist ends at my nose, and the right to banish a book into an oblivion of ignorance ends at my fingertips.


Jan Kozlowski said...

Excellent post, Abby! I'm glad you decided to weigh in. Silence is the enemy. Silence allows the abuser and their abusive acts to flourish. Dr. Scroggins is certainly entitled to his beliefs, but when he tries to silence books like SPEAK he is only enabling the criminals and further isolating the victims.

Claire Dawn said...

Hear, hear!

Abby Stevens said...

Thank you both! I know it was a lot to read, but I really do feel strongly about this topic. It's nice to know there are so many others out there who agree. ;)

Digital Kitsune said...

Banning of books (or any media, for that matter) is such an interesting subject ... mainly for the hilarious* reasons that people try to ban things for and/or contradictions in the reasons. For example: The reasons some schools tried/were banning "To Kill a Mockingbird", but other things are consider appropriate because it is not blatantly obvious to the people banning, like "The Rocking Horse Winner".

*I disagree with any censorship, so any a bit humor I find in such situations still angers me.

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