Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Don't Say That!! A Few Thoughts on Censorship

I happen to be a particular fan of Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank (which has made it onto the Banned Books list for multiple reasons.  However, it's fabulous and you should read it and every other thing she has written.  Because she's fabulous.  And did I mention she's fabulous?)  Really, one of the main reasons I like her is that she has decided that kids, teenagers mostly, can't be protected from the truth.  Her daughter has had a very dark journey with drugs, the topic which her books are based on, and she has taken the approach that we need to teach our children these things because educating them is going to do a lot more in the long run than shielding them. 

Last year, I actually won an advanced reader's copy of one of her books and with it came a copy of her manifesto that she's put out.  I've copied it in its entirety below:

To you zealots and bigots and false
patriots who live in fear of discourse.
You screamers and banners and burners
who would force books
off shelves in your brand name
of greater good.

You say you're afraid for children,
innocents ripe for corruption
by perversion or sorcery on the page.

But sticks and stones do break
bones, and ignorance is no armor.
You do not speak for me,
and will not deny my kids magic
in favor of miracles.

You say you're afraid for America,
the red, white, and blue corroded
by terrorists, socialists, the sexually
confused. But we are a vast quilt
of patchwork cultures and multi-gendered
identities. You cannot speak for those
whose ancestors braved
different seas.

You say you're afraid for God,
the living word eroded by Muhammed
and Darwin and Magdalene.
But the omnipotent sculptor of heaven
and earth designed intelligence.
Surely you dare not speak
for the father, who opens
his arms to all.

A word to the unwise.
Torch every book.
Char every page.
Burn every word to ash.
Ideas are incombustible.
And therein lies your real fear.

© by Ellen Hopkins
You can read this really fantastic interview with Ellen Hopkins here where she talks about her opinions on banning books and she talks about the manifesto.
I think we need more out there like her, people really coming out hard AGAINST censorship and I really commend her for taking a stand.  When I read this poem about a year ago, it resonated with me, especially the last stanza.  It really isn't about the words that kids are reading, but the ideas that they get.  People fear ideas and change and that's what the next generation is BEST at.  That's what books, be they controversial or not, are best at giving.  Ideas.  And if we start banning the ones that we think are inappropriate or involve topics our children can't handle, what's to then stop us from banning books with religious content we don't like, or ideas we don't want our kids to think?  What happens when we think that a girl is described inappropriately?
What if the girl just has blond hair?  Should we ban the book then?  You may think that's extreme, but that's what we're asking for by allowing any book to be banned.  Hopkins says, "A word to the unwise" and I couldn't agree more.  Banning Books is a slippery slope that we don't want to embark on.  Reading what we want, expressing the ideas we get from those books is one of the fundamental freedoms we're allowed in this country.  It doesn't matter if you're 2 or 102, you're allowed to read the things you want and say the things you want to say.  You're allowed a freedom of speech and by getting rid of books in our public libraries, school libraries or even off a teacher's bookshelf, that right is being violated.
A lot of people worked hard for those rights.  Many even died for them.  I think we should respect them by respecting the very first that was given to us.

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