Many of you have probably heard about the latest controversy in the book world. Dr. Wesley Scroggins, a professor at Missouri State University, recently wrote an article that was published in the News-Leader in Springfield, Missouri. If you haven't seen the article, I strongly recommend reading it here so that you can see for yourself why everyone is outraged. This man is lobbying for censorship in the schools of Republic, Missori. This man has already succeeded in pulling the classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut from the shelves, and he's working to have the YA favorites Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler and SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson removed as well. According to him, students should not be educated about safe sex or homosexuality, among other issues.
Apparently, making sex taboo is a guaranteed way to keep teenagers from experimenting. God forbid we educate them so that when they're faced with tough choices they have the tools to make smart, safe decisions. According to Dr. Scroggins, SPEAK is soft pornography because it features two rape scenes. This is disturbing on several levels. Porn is an industry focused on voyeuristic pleasure, and the fact that Dr. Scroggins equates rape with any degree of enjoyment is horrifying. To get a sense of the far-reaching impact of this topic, I suggest reading this sexual assault statistics page. Furthermore, in trying to silence discussion on the issue, he is closing off channels of recourse that victims otherwise might have had. No victim should be afraid to speak up about his or her story, or speak out against their assailant.
We think we live in a country that left behind prejudice and ignorance long ago. We think we have the freedom of speech. Yet, here is an educated man dictating what the free and independent people of Republic, Missouri can and cannot read. Not only that, but this school board is actually listening to his revolting ignorance! Dr. Scroggins has every right to his opinion, and he even has the right to control what he reads and what his children read - but is it his place to decide what you or your children read? Should our intellectual freedom be stripped away by one ignorant, outspoken man? This is not to say that every book is intended for every age group. Toddlers should obviously not be given free access to erotica, but teenagers need guidance as they form their opinions about the world and learn to be contributing citizens of their country. That's why high school students need to be exposed to educational - if sometimes hard to stomach - literature that deals with real-world issues that each and every teenager will some day face. We can't allow important issues to be censored or shoved aside simply because they're ugly or hard or scary. Just because we pretend not to see it, doesn't mean the problem isn't there.
Banned Books Week is coming up to remind us that this is an ongoing fight. Books that we now consider classic literature, and integral parts of educated culture, were challenged and censored in their own time (and some continue to be controversial to this day). Please take a stand against ignorance and blind censorship. Stand up for your right to choose, and an author's right to tell their story and voice their opinion. Don't let one man bent on control overrule their right to free speech. There are several ways you can join the fight:
Share your opinions on the Twitterfeed #SpeakLoudly, started by an English teacher from Indiana named Paul Hankins in response to this controversy
Submit a letter to the editor of News-Leader, the paper that published this article
Write to Dr. Vern Minor, the Superintendent of the Republic School District, or to Daren Harris, the high school principal
You can view Laurie Halse Anderson's response on her website, and many across the book blogosphere have posted reactions as well: Natalie at Mindful Musings (who has a link list to other bloggers' posts), and Tori at Book Faery - plus many others. You can also check out the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Someone on the Twitter #SpeakLoudly feed suggested everyone buy a copy of SPEAK to get it back on the bestseller lists, and The Book Faery is hosting a SPEAK giveaway to help the cause. I think this is a great idea, and it inspired me to host a giveaway of my own.
I'm giving away one copy of SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson and one copy of Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. This contest is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to you. You can see the list of where they ship here.
To enter, leave a comment with your email address and a link to a place where you've spoken out about censorship and banned books - on Scroggins' article, on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Livejournal, somewhere and anywhere. Or, tell me (honestly) that you sent a letter to the News-Leader editor, or to the Superintendent or Principal at Republic High. Help raise awareness in some shape or form.
I'll draw the two winners via Random.org at midnight EST on October 2 (the last day of Banned Books Week).