Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Push, by Sapphire

Parents are fuming, apparently, over this inclusion of Push by Sapphire, on a recommended middle school reading list.  While the content might be "pushing" it (pun intended) for middle school children, there are other issues at stake here, such as parental assumption that middle school children are inherently immature and cannot deal with harsh language or life lessons.  

I have worked with middle school students before, and no, they are not the most mature acting people around, but these are the same kids that come up with incredibly deep and relevant questions about life and literature and existentialism.  Just because they act immature at times doesn't mean that they are incapable of understanding and critically reading books with difficult themes.

In a public hearing at with the school board and other parents, one man stood up and started reading excerpts.  The following is from
Anthony Trinca told the board that many of the books on the reading list selections for middle school students are inappropriate. He cited the book "Push," reading "edited" excerpts to avoid questionable language, and was applauded by audience members when he called for books that illustrate good family values in America.
Issue #1:  What the heck is a good family value in America?  I can understand that certain cultural assumptions are being made about what a "normal" or "good" family is, but is there any example of these types of families actually existing?  Sure, there are books out there that can be rated "G" by a group of parents, but are these books actually helpful in developing critical thinking in children?  Perhaps in a few cases, but in my experience a lot of these "innocent" books come with a little lesson at the end, and pictures of fuzzy animals hugging on the cover.  Cute? Yes.  Critically useful? Not so much in this case.
"We would never knowingly have chosen that book and wholeheartedly agree it was not an appropriate selection for the classroom," Britton said. "It may have been OK in another community, but the material really requires a mature person to process the harshness of the language and the harshness of that life story."
Issue #2: I mentioned this briefly at the beginning of the post, and that is the parental assumption that middle school students are not mature enough to handle a story about a sexually abused young girl who ends up overcoming adversity and becoming a strong, self-sustaining adult.  It is precisely this assumption of presumed innocence that creates difficulty in choosing books for young people to read.  Teachers are trained to understand the learning process and the abilities of children to think for themselves.  Obviously these are generalizations and some children are exceptions, but if parents are constantly attempting to keep their children innocent, there can be negative consequences.
“In trying to protect children, however, these adults may well be doing more harm than good.  Our discussion of ideology suggests that ignorance is always likely to do more harm than knowledge can.  The more people are aware of, the less likely they are to operate in terms of ‘obviousness’ that might be harming or disempowering themselves and others.” (Nodelman and Reimer, Pleasures of Children's Literature 102) 
So, with that in mind, think about what happens when children are deprived of certain literature based on an assumption of innocence.  Sure, protection is important in some instances, but schools are precisely the place where children should be allowed to read and explore challenging topics in an environment where critical thinking is (hopefully) being encouraged and there are teachers who are (hopefully) guiding discussion.  Not perfectly safe, but safer than letting kids find out about certain things from personal experience.

Thanks for listening.

1 comment:

  1. All that being said, Rob, Middle School (grades 6-8, right?) is a stage when young people are only just beginning to face the real world and thier lives are complicated by newly emergent hormones (for some of them, but not all). PUSH is definitely YA, and there are a large number of Middle School students who are NOT mature enough to handle the subjecxt matter. Heck, some of them aren't even mature enough to handle CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY (I speak from experience), never mind THE GIVER... at the same time, they are many of them reading The Hunger Games series avidly. But that is a CHOICE reading. If the "Reading List" is just a lsit of suggestions, then yes, PUSH has a place on it; if it is a taught text, or required reading, then no, I don't think it is appropriate.

    Here we are into the fuzzy boundary between censorship and guidance that so many parents, demanding hte removal of a text, cross. Still, the teacher and the parents DO have an obligation to guide the reading choice of the children. For the parents, that means THEIR children; for the teacher, though, it is a much more difficult position to be in . I admire greatly those teachers who DO recommend more advanced, "edgy" texts to their more mature readers... they cannot help but be exposing themselves to the challenges parents present.