Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday, Quote Day!

Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Why do gay penguins make people so mad?

I really don't know the answer to this question, the title of a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.  Maybe it's that we're labelling them "gay" when they're not.  Being gay is a human sexual identity that relates to self-identifying characteristics as well as sexual activity.  In this case, there is no sexual activity, but simply two male penguins who bonded while taking care of a rejected baby penguin.  I think that making this a case for "animals can be gay, therefore homosexuality is natural" is tricky since, as I said, there was not sexual activity, and it's not like you can talk to the penguins and ask them if they self-identify as homosexual.

Why am I talking about this, you might ask?  Because the ALA's list of top-ten most challenged books of 2010 still has And Tango Makes Three at the top of the list after five years.  The reason: Homosexuality.  How can a book be challenged on the basis of homosexuality when that is not the issue at stake?  Context is incredibly important, and in a case such as this even more so.  These penguins were noted to have split up after the time the book was written, one going off to be with a female penguin and the other sitting quietly in a corner, looking forlorn.  But is this one case of homosocial bonding really reason for such harsh reactions to a book?

One side claims that the book is promoting homosexuality and a gay agenda, using the "break-up" as proof that homosexuality is not natural.  The other side is saying that if two male penguins can bring up a baby, the why can't two dads?  Probably not the best arguments on either side.  My question is, has anyone read the book as simply a cute story about two penguins (who happen to both be males) take on the roles of fatherhood to a baby penguin who has been left for dead?  Any mention of "love" or "gay" in the text are to be understood as liberties being taken by the authors and illustrator.

Perhaps it is the silliness of both arguments that makes me frustrated, or the fact that both sides are so stuck in their ways that the book can't just live a quiet life on the shelves to be read by interested families and children, instead having to constantly be at the center of the public eye every time the ALA announces their most challenged books list.  And it's challenged for something that isn't even an issue since, as I mentioned before, being gay is a sexual identity that involves self-identification, the act of "love," and in some eyes, the act of sex--none of these can be attributed to the two adorable penguins in this book.

All that being said, I love the book.  I've read it, studied it, enjoyed it, and written essays on it.  But in the end, it's a book, and if people (and children) want to read it, then I really don't see the problem.  What do you think?

The comments below are some interesting/fun ones that I have chosen from the comments section of the LA Times article:
Animals are not homosexual. Animals are govern by instinct. They can neither explain or rationalize their action. The Homosexual community shows desperation in trying to equate penguins caring for a young pup to homosexuality.
Posted by: Lc48b1 | April 12, 2011 at 08:40 PM
How about we allow kids to read books that deal with things like drugs, sex, sexuality, death, violence, politics, and religion. Since, you know, they're going to have to deal with those things eventually. And here's a really radical, crazy, revolutionary thought: Why don't we teach kids to question and think and seek the truth for themselves so they're prepared to handle these things?  I know, I know. I should never be allowed around children.
Posted by: The Raisin Girl | April 13, 2011 at 07:20 PM
First it starts with gay penguins, next thing you know transexual goats are villified and after that dam burst cross dressing elephants are pushed out of the literary world. For shame on you raging anti-gay animalphobes!!
PS - I love my gay cat.
Posted by: SurlyVoter | April 13, 2011 at 10:49 PM

Monday, April 18, 2011

Most Americans Opposed to Banning Any Books?

NEW YORK, N.Y. - April 12, 2011 - Banning or censoring books has been debated for years. A new Harris Poll shows, however, that a majority of Americans think no books should be banned completely (56%) while fewer than one in five say there are books which should be banned (18%); a quarter are not at all sure (26%). The older and less educated people are, the more likely they are to say that there are some books which should be banned completely. Opinions on banning books are linked to political philosophy: almost three quarters of Liberals (73%) say no books should be banned, compared to six in ten Moderates (60%) but only two in five Conservatives (41%) who say no books should be banned.
Harris Interactive recently undertook to poll people across America as a means of understanding attitudes toward book censorship and banning.  It would appear that many Americans think that books should not be banned or censored (excepting older generations who lean more toward keeping certain books away from children in schools.)  The poll also explored more specific questions related to books in school libraries:
While few Americans think that there are books which should be banned completely, opinions differ on books that should be available to children in school libraries. Strong majorities say that children should be able to get The Holy Bible (83%) and books that discuss evolution (76%) from school libraries. Majorities also say so for other religious texts such as the Torah or Talmud(59%) and the Koran (57%), but approximately a quarter say these texts should not be available (24% and 28%, respectively) to children in school libraries. Half or more say that children should be able to get books with vampires (57%), books with references to drugs or alcohol (52%) and books with witchcraft or sorcery (50%) in school libraries, but between 34% and 41% say that each of these types of books should not be available there. There is no consensus on books with references to sex (48% say they should be available, 45% say they should not) and violence (44% say should, 48% say should not). A majority of Americans say, however, that books with explicit language should not be available to children in school libraries (62%).
The study's website has a very comprehensive layout of the polling data, including charts and tables that break down many people groups depending on age, gender, generation gaps, etc.

So what does this mean?  The majority of Americans seem to be against book censorship or banning, and yet, in a number of cases, there is a strong response to the regulation of certain content in school libraries.  But is this regulation a bad thing?  Yes, I think it is.  At least on the institutional level.  Students and parents need to keep an eye on book content.  The libraries can't decide on a wide spectrum what students should and should not read, so parents and students must be responsible for individual regulation of book content.

What do you think?  Do you agree with the results of this study based on your own experience?  What do you think of some of the more specific breakdowns in the study?  Take a look!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

2011 Jefferson Muzzle "Winners"

The following excerpt comes from The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.  The annual Jefferson Muzzles were recently announced.  The Muzzles are given to those responsible for "some of the more egregious or ridiculous affronts to free expression occurring in the previous year."  A number of these were related to government agencies, institutions such as The Smithsonian, and even a correctional facility.  But the one that stands out and seems worthy of sharing on this blog, is the Muzzle given to Gail Sweet, Director of the Burlington County Library System....

What do you mean, ‘No such book’? It was here last week!
For sidestepping the library’s formal policy for handling controversial materials by yanking Revolution Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology from the shelves of the entire library system upon the receipt of a single, informal complaint, a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle goes to… Gail Sweet, Director of the Burlington County (New Jersey) Library System.
Cramer Political CartoonIt’s an old story: controversial books being challenged, censored and banned in schools and libraries for fear that their content will negatively affect the youth who choose to read them.
Due to the frequency of such literary controversies, most schools and library systems have policies and procedures in place to determine the course of action when concerned parents and members of the general public inevitably lodge complaints. The public library system of Burlington County, New Jersey, is no exception. If a patron of the library is uncomfortable with materials found on the library’s shelves, he or she can fill out a formal “Request for Reconsideration Form,” and a committee made up of staff members appointed by the Library Director will then review the materials in question and issue a decision. This is a clear, straightforward process that takes into consideration multiple points of view. Alas, this process was not implemented when controversy arose over Amy Sonnie’s anthology.
Revolutionary VoicesWhen Beverly Marinelli, a member of Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, complained that this collection of essays, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology—written by LGBT youth describing the personal and familial struggles of their coming-out experiences—was “pervasively vulgar, obscene, and inappropriate,” Gail Sweet, the Library Director of the Burlington County system, ignored the established policy in favor of a sweeping ban of this book, such that it was no longer available to any patrons, not even to adults.
Although many consider this anthology to be a uniquely poignant first-person resource for teens grappling with questions about their own sexuality, Marinelli is well within her rights in challenging the book’s presence in her public library system. However, Sweet circumvented the formal process in favor of an immediate prohibition of Revolutionary Voices from the entire system. In an email, Sweet conceded that “[t]here was no official challenge, no actual vote by the commissioners.” She justified the swift decision by classifying Sonnie’s anthology as “child pornography,” but this is not a classification that is hers alone to make; there is a formal process for complaints, a process that Sweet chose to sidestep. Other community members and library staff have a right to contribute their voices to a formal debate regarding the book’s availability.
For failing to insist that the library’s official policy be implemented, as well as for appearing to set a precedent that any disgruntled community member can trigger the removal of controversial materials from the entire library system, we bestow upon the public library system of Burlington County, New Jersey, a 2011 Jefferson Muzzle.

This and all other "winners" of this year's Jefferson Muzzles can be found here.

What do you think of these awards?  Do you think the situation with Gail Sweet merits the "winning" of a Muzzle?  Let me know what you think....

As always, thanks for listening!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top 10 Challenged Books of 2010 (ALA)

The ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom released their top 10 challenged books of 2010 today.  So here it is for you to see.  For more information, visit the OIF website at the link below.
Out of 348 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom
  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
    Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexually explicit
  4. Crank, by Ellen Hopkins
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, and sexually explicit
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and violence
  6. Lush, by Natasha Friend
    Reasons: drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  7. What My Mother Doesn't Know, by Sonya Sones 
    Reasons: sexism, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group
  8. Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich 
    Reasons: drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, and religious viewpoint
  9. Revolutionary Voices, edited by Amy Sonnie
    Reasons:  homosexuality and sexually explicit
  10. Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer
    Reasons: religious viewpoint and violence
Have you come across any of these books being challenged wherever you're living/working?  What do you think of the reasons given for the challenges?  Personally, I think a few of them are just ridiculous, but that doesn't seem to stop people from challenging them anyway.  Also, I think people really just need to get over the whole Tango thing.  That book has been on top ten lists for far too long.  When the full list is published over the summer, I will post more books and information for you to read.

Thanks for listening!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Digital Natives Controversy (Vancouver, BC)

The following post comes in the wake of a controversy related to an art installation for Vancouver's 125th Birthday Celebration. Clint Burnham and Lorna Brown are co-curators of the project. Burnham had this to say about the project:
As part of the 125 celebration for the city of Vancouver, Digital Natives is a public art project curated by Vancouver artist Lorna Brown and myself. The project consists of putting twitter-like messages up onto the billboard next to the Burrard Street Bridge among the regular advertizing. We have solicited messages from 30 native and non-native artists and writers from Vancouver and across North America, including (associated with SFU) Jeff Derksen, student Mercedes Eng, alumni Roger Farr and Emily Fedoruk, and writers in residence (past and future) Larissa Lai, Michael Turner, Lisa Robertson, and Rachel Zolf. 
More information about the project and details of the installation can be found in a number of recent articles in The Globe and Mail and The Tyee.  The whole thing seems to be quite an incredible idea and is worthy of much attention.  And there has been.  But not all of it has been positive publicity.  Dr. Burnham states:
...there has also been censorship on the part of Astral Media, who at the last minute (in the past week) demanded context for some messages, at first refused to run any of the messages in First Nations languages (!!), and have still, as a final statement, refused to run a message by respected American Indian artist Edgar Heap of Birds and by UBC professor and poet Larissa Lai (including Larissa's message in Squamish). We (including Barbara Cole, of Other Sights, the umbrella organization thru which Lorna and I work) have been working with the City of Vancouver - which has been tremendously supportive - and the Squamish Nation - especially the formidable and amazing Deborah Jacobs - to try to make Astral see the error of their ways.
One of the contentious messages in question comes from Edgar Heap of Birds':

But a lot of the controversy surrounding this message involves translation difficulties. "Heap of Birds' political message is almost entirely written in the (conceptual) language of the colonizer. His work is very powerful (he loves using the phrase 'Imperial Canada' and does so in a poster work that I walk by every day at SFU), and yet it owes a debt to that colonial language. Heap of Birds' critique is untranslatable from English."

Brown and Burnham write, on the Digital Natives website:
We are disappointed that Astral has refused to broadcast artworks by such renowned artists. Their decision compromises the intent of the project and does a disservice to the artists, whose viewpoints about public space are highly valued. 
“Unfortunately,” they add, “Astral’s censoring of artists and writers shows how difficult it is for Canadians to gain access to public space, and to express themselves in public space. This is an issue of censorship, of the suppression of artistic expression, clear and simple.”
I have to say that I am extremely surprised and disappointed that there would be controversy around this work of art.  This freedom of speech comes along with a similar story where a girl was prevented from riding the Skytrain for wearing a pin that stated her opinions about Yoga (F*** Yoga).  Is this the start of a new rash of censorship around the rights of people to express opinions and points of view in contemporary Vancouver?  I would hope not, but this move by Astral Media contradicts my hope.

The purpose of the project is to engage viewers (readers) in discussions and dialogue, and that is what is happening.  So perhaps this censorship controversy will help publicize the installation?  Censoring books seems to help sales, so hopefully this act of censorship will bring greater attention to the matter.  The project is, by nature, sort of controversial since it deals with First Nations and Colonialist attitudes and opinions:
The name of the project plays off of two meanings for "digital natives" -that generation - like our students - who have grown up with internet media (as opposed to us old geezers who are "digital immigrants") and the role of First Nations people in digital communication (the sign, operated by Astral Media, is located on Squamish land). So part of the project entailed my facilitating of workshops with aborginal urban youth at the Native Education College - generating messages from the youth. Messages have been translated into Squamish and Kwak'wala (and are presently being translated into Musqueam).
All I can say is, "Kudos to Clint and Lorna for putting together an amazing and significant project."  I'm glad it's starting dialogue, but it's unfortunate that the dialogue is starting from a point of censorship rather than the project itself.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The School Newspaper: Upsides and Downsides...

Overland High School
Officials at an Aurora, Colo. high school are scrambling to explain away the controversy over the principal's decision to shutter the school newspaper and yank the faculty advisor from the program.
How's that for an opening line to a post.  Sensationalistic perhaps, but it catches the eye.  I was originally unsure of what to post today as there haven't been any prominent instances of book banning or challenges that have popped up on my feeds as of late.  But then this showed up in my search bar this morning.  Apparently a school newspaper is being shut down (whether due to a difference of opinions or a budget issue, it really depends on who you ask.)  The principal, Leon Lundie, decided that the newspaper was printing articles that were too far beyond their abilities as a high school publication.  So he has apparently decided to shut down the newspaper and get rid of the faculty supervisor:
...students say that Principal Leon Lundie told them their faculty advisor would be removed because of the story, and Carrie Faust, president of the Colorado High School Press Association, confirmed with today that Sudik has not been reinstated as journalism advisor. And despite assuring reporters that there's nothing going on at the school, the district hasn't contacted the students - who are on Spring Break - with any updates about the fate of The Scout.
The article that reported the instance first delves into the legal difficulties associated with the decision that Principal Lundie made regarding the fate of The Scout.
...Principal Leon Lundie of Overland High School in Aurora, Colo, may have picked the wrong students to intimidate. The students behind The Overland Scout have enlisted the ACLU and the Student Press Law Center to come to their defense. You can help add pressure by signing this petition, which will send an email to Principal Lundie telling him that censoring student journalism isn't just unethical - it's against the law.
But Principal Lundie blatantly disregarded the law in an attempt to silence a benign story the students reported about a fellow student who died as a result of an injury during a wrestling tournament, students say. Even though the students backed up the story with interviews and research - and even provided Lundie with the student's death certificate - he reportedly told them that the story lacked balance and couldn't be printed.
In an effort to remain as balanced as possible (though I think if any part of the story is true and that the newspaper is being shut down because of administrative bureaucracy, then it's a problem) I searched for news from a different, less student-centred perspective, and came across another article from the Aurora Sentinel.  Apparently, according to Lundie, the whole thing is being blown out of proportion and the operation is due for overhall next year anyway.
Lundie and district officials have said that next year’s journalism class will change to fit the program at schools like the University of Colorado, with an added emphasis on online journalism, blogs and newer technology. It’s unclear whether Sudik [current faculty sponsor] will be a part of the overhauled program, an uncertainty that’s drawn criticism from some corners.
But that doesn't explain everything.  Why would the students get so involved in a non-existent cause?  Well, whether or not the newspaper would get shut down, they had cause for concern when the principal decided he wanted prior review of all articles before publication.  And Lundie has backed off for now:
“Although district policy and Colorado state law allow for prior review to ensure articles do not violate laws governing others rights to privacy, are not libelous or offensive with regard to race, color, age, religion, etc., I have agreed that I will not ask to see articles prior to publication,” Lundie wrote. “The newspaper class will continue in its current format for the remainder of the year with their sponsor.”
This isn't enough for the attorney from the ACLU, though.  According to him, there are still problems with the arguments being put forward by the school and school district, and that the principal was still in the wrong for threatening anything against the student newspaper to begin with.
“Firing the adviser in May for what the students wrote isn’t more permissible than it is in March,” said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, in a statement from the SPLC. Goldstein attended the Monday meeting through a conference call. “We still need assurances that this program will still exist as vibrant as it ever has,” he added in the statement.
What do you think of this situation?  Regardless of the laws of Colorado state regarding freedom of speech, etc., do you think the reaction by the principal or the students was justified?  Should students be allowed to write what they want in school newspapers without administrative or faculty interference?

Thanks for listening.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Word Nerd Controversy (older news)

In one of my grad classes yesterday, we had a talk by Canadian author Susin Nielsen.  She wrote the popular novels Word Nerd and Dear Gearge Clooney, Please Marry My Mom.  I love Word Nerd and found it to be quite fun, enthralling, and charming.  It is marketed for children ages 9-13.  I was shocked to hear that she actually had people lash out against the book, going so far as to ask for the book to be removed from school library shelves.  The book contains the word "bitch" and some language, though any swears are intentionally blanked out, like so: f___.  Also, there is talk of boners.  It's about a 12 year old boy who befriends an ex-con, though, so what do you expect?  Beyond these petty issues that some people seem to find inexcusable enough to merit removal from library shelves, the book is incredibly funny, authentically Ambrose (you'll understand if you read the book), and just plan enjoyable.
The two men (one 12, one 25) help each other in unique and meaningful ways. Cosmo becomes an unlikely father figure or older brother to Ambrose, and Ambrose helps heal some of Cosmo's deep wounds - and helps him find love in the process. It is not a book about "boners" (which Ambrose mentions as one of the many things he'd be able to talk about with his dad if he were still alive), and the few references in the book to his burgeoning sexuality are within context, and, I believe, incredibly true and real. To think that our children aren't having these thoughts, or know this language, by the age of 12, is to live with one's head in the sand. (Susin Nielsen)
I partially taught this book to a group of third year undergraduate students and it was their favourite book of the semester!  But I'm getting off track.  If you'd like to read more about this issue, you can visit Susin Nielsen's blog, Reflections From a Word Nerd.
Imagine my surprise when I got a Google Alert re: "Word Nerd" - and the heading stated, "Book Starts War of Words." Please take a couple of moments to read this article. It's from the Hamilton Spectator. 
I have to say, I'm flabbergasted that my book would ignite anycontroversy. And I certainly appreciate the statements from Meredith Tutching at the Ontario Library Association. I'm surprised the reporter didn't try to contact me, the author, for a response.
Read the book!  Trust me, you'll wonder why there was ever controversy about it in the first place.

Thanks for listening...