Wednesday, September 22, 2010

SPEAKing Loudly

As always, I am a little late to talking about this. On Sunday, fab YA author Laurie Halse Anderson brought to the world's attention an op-ed article written by a certain Christian parent and professor named Wesley Scroggins, who talks about the anti-Christian-ness of the inclusion of Anderson's Speak, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer on his school district's required and recommended reading lists. Scroggins calls Speak "soft pornography", Slaughterhouse Five a raucous indulgence of curse words, and Twenty Boy Summer a celebration of drunken teen parties and hookups.

I'm not sure how much more there is to say that other people haven't said already, or that I haven't already said in posts past. So let me talk about some slightly different things in this post, things that I wonder why people like Wesley Scroggins never realize when they voice their opinions in support of censorship.

1. Out of dissent, heartbreak, and attacks against basic human rights is born community.

When LHA blogged about the Speak issue, hundreds of blog posts from supporters poured forth. I feel like I've been reading such posts nonstop since Sunday, and have teared up more times than I can count. For there is no good way to describe the sheer number of people who shared things about their past that, in most other situations, they would've rather not had to think about. Stories of sexual/physical/mental abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, mental illness, and more poured forth, which not only makes the message of Speak loud and clear, but has completely backfired against Scroggins' design: these so-called taboo subjects are experienced by all, and (sadly) for many people who've experienced these things in their lives, the YA lit community has been the most open, the most loving, supportive, and healing. I think Scroggins would do well to consider the fact that, from the looks of things, thousands of teens and adults who still remember being teens take comfort in the written words of people they may never have met before, rather than from their own local community.

2. Adult lit contains "smut" too.

Oh, no no no. Excessive smuttiness:
bared shoulders. Must. Ban!
Young adult literature frequently comes under fire for containing controversial material: teen sex, teen pregnancy, drinking, cursing. Let's have a look at some of the other books I read for school, shall we?
  • Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Teen virgin gets raped by sleazy older guy.
  • The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel. Rape, and lots of it. And the girl is, like, 10.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Murder!! And guy steals from lady he murders!!
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Kids going crazy and killing other kids.
  • Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Incest and patricide.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Murder of a mentally disabled person.
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Double suicide at approximately 14 years old in the name of love.
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus. MURDER! And not feeling bad about it.

(Please note that I DO like most of the books I just listed above.)

What's the difference between these classics and the YA books that are so often being challenged? One cannot even argue "different audiences," for a large number of teens will read one or more of the books listed above for school. And, Scroggins (I refuse to address you with the prefix because you are attempting to deprive others of basic human rights of education and knowledge, which is, as far as I'm concerned, ungentlemanly behavior), don't even think of accusing me of approaching these book descriptions "narrow-mindedly" if you're going to describe Speak as porn on account of a rape scene.

Not to mention the utterly bewildering fact that references to sex, whether consensual or nonconsensual, in YA lit is a no-no, but it is totally okay to teach dozens of books containing homicide, suicide, fratricide, patricide, matricide, prejudice, sexism, etc. in the approved secondary school English curriculum. Killing someone is okay; having sex for the first time with your long-term partner isn't. By Scroggins' definition, we've been reading lots and lots of porn in high school, and generations' worth of teachers, librarians, and academic scholars have been praising this pornographic reading list. Ole!

3. Therapy plz?

Well, that helps.
Scroggins (haha, now this is making me laugh; I feel like I'm in Harry Potter's world. Which is--gasp!--another book you'd label as un-Christian on account of its portrayal of witchcraft and sorcery), I'm a little concerned that you'd consider rape pornography. Exactly what kind of porn are you availing yourself of there?

I'll be less snarky. Let's draw some attention to the fact that you now claim you never called the books you are challenging "soft pornography," despite the, uh, obvious fact that, er, it says so right in your original article. So now we have a case of someone with questionable sexual thoughts, who's denying responsibility for something for which evidence is being shoved right in his face that he is responsible for doing. Sounds like the faltering defense of someone who is badly losing his case in court. See you in therapy, Scroggins. It sure would be embarrassing to be related to you right about now.

Okay, that ended with copious amounts of snark. Whatever: I'm getting tired of dealing with the same type of people each time this issue comes up in the same way. Let others be the mature ones in this argument. I'm going for ridicule this time.


  1. WOW! Those are some really good points I haven't read yet. I never did think about all the stuff in adult lit. lol and a really funny shot at Scroggins.

    So glad to read what you had to say about this foolishness.

  2. I don't think Scroggins even realised he was lumping rape and pornography together. (I really REALLY hope not.) He's not a writer, and not very smart. And he should have been more careful about his use of language WHEN HE'S ATTACKING WRITERS. Because we will pick apart EVERY WORD and shove his stupidity in his face!

  3. I had a teacher who said no one has the right to say something negative unless they have explored that which they are giving an opinion on fully. It's a shame that not learned the same lesson I did from her.

  4. I was wondering if you were going to post anything because I always love your insight. This post was perfect! And now I'm going to pick up some of the books you listed because I shamefully have not read many 'classics'.

  5. Your post was great, Steph Su. I don't think there will ever be a subject where you don't have any more to contribute to. You're so articulate :)

    I live in Norway and we read Lord of the flies in English class when I was 16 I believe.

  6. AH, I loved this post! Love your descriptions of the classic novels (I've read most of the ones you listed, and enjoyed them). This post rocks so hard.

  7. Thanks for the post! Sadly, adult and YA classics commonly read in schools are also frequently challenged. I know that of your list at least Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies are included in the ALA's list of classics that have been challenged. In addition, Of Mice and Men was #5 on their Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009 and #6 for 1990-1999; Lord of the Flies came in at #68 for 1990-1999. I do think it's strange that Romeo and Juliet passes the would-be-censors so often whereas teen sex in contemporary fiction gets so much attention.

  8. This is one of those issues that I have held back on posting about, because although I feel strongly about it I'd basically just be echoing the posts I've already read about it. However, I really like your approach, and the snark made me laugh. I know I read many of those adult lit titles you've referred to in school and I liked most of them too (not 'Tess' though, although I'm not about to start shouting for people to ban it) and I definitely see your point.

  9. I really want to know what books he'd judge suitable for school audiences? Shakespeare? Full of murders and trickery for seduction, and rude puns. Dickens? One of his best anti-heroines is a prostitute. The war poets? Full of gruesome imagery. Maybe something like Little Women would pass...

  10. I haven't read Scroggins comments, but you said "a certain Christian parent and professor named Wesley Scroggins, who talks about the anti-Christian-ness of the inclusion of Anderson's Speak, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, and Sarah Ockler's Twenty Boy Summer on his school district's REQUIRED and recommended reading lists." (emphasis mine)

    There is a huge difference between recommending a book that has potentially offensive material and REQUIRING it. There is also a huge difference between banning a book that has potentially offensive material and OPTING OUT.

    I fall down on the side of: If I was a student, I would not accept being required to read such offensive materials. They go against MY conscience. I would accept them being recommended and even read, but I would NOT read them myself no matter who told me I had to. And making potentially offensive material (that is recognizably ADULT in nature: profanity, sex, and violent in amount of graphicness is an understood standard, not mere opinion) required to get a decent grade is just wrong.

    I don't know what Scroggins said, but if he voted on banning them, you should make that clear in your article. 'Cause it isn't censorship to merely want the right to opt out.

    [sidenote: I also have not read any of the offensive classics either. Just not my cuppa.]

  11. Meg: he is calling for the removal of those books from the school reading lists. I don't care if he talks with his children and they decide upon opting out of reading the book for class, but I, as well as everyone else posting about this issue this week, take issue with the fact that he is trying to prevent other people from reading it as well. I don't care what he or you or anyone else does individually, that's what the definition of personal preference is, but the attempt to impose one's opinions and beliefs on another by calling for the subjective restriction of public access to information is censorship, and that is against basic human rights.

  12. Ah, yes. Total agreement on that point.


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