Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A World of Hurt

Pete Hautman has eloquently framed and explained a truly unfortunate and sad episode in the point of light that is the Teen Lit Fest in Humble, TX.  His post "The Nasty Thing in the Corner" describes how author Ellen Hopkins was invited (she accepted) then DIS-INVITED from the event.  DO read his post and all the comments.  Chris Crutcher's thoughts are so on target.

School Librarians
First of all, as a school librarian, I cannot imagine having to un-invite an author or illustrator to my school. How horrible.  We DO read the books, right?  We KNOW the author's work, right?  We understand the books and WHY they connect so profoundly with our students, right?  We have communicated this to our administrations, right?

Lost opportunity

Wouldn't it have been an interesting part of the festival to have a panel on this very subject? Parents could have asked questions, there could have been a discussion, views could have been exchanged, ideas shared, opinions aired...an impassioned, thoughtful tussle over books and how they affect us.

Public relations
This is SUCH bad public relations for the Humble school district when you KNOW the superintendent just wanted the whole thing to go away so he could get back to worrying about drop-out rates and school safety. Of course, a discussion of Hopkins's book could have actually helped with drop-out rates and school safety, alas. Instead, he has put the district under a magnifying glass.  He has demonstrated that he does not trust his district's professional librarians who chose and invited the authors. That does not build confidence.


I have no idea about the identity of the parents who kicked this off but I would lay odds they were parents of junior high or early high school students. Those years are so difficult for parental units as they see their control over their kids and the school eroding. Elementary schools are the most responsive to "parent input" but that sensitivity diminishes as the years pass.  I believe that these protests are often a last gasp at trying to 'have it your way.'

Also, wearing my parent hat here now, I always thought it would be better to have my kids experience the dangerous corners of life, through an intense and realistic novel rather than try them out in real life.  Please, kiddies, just read about what it is like to get involved in (insert name of life-threatening behavior here) and experience the consequences between the covers of a book!

Book Challenges
Certainly, this was NOT a formal book challenge but it smacks of one.  A book challenge NEVER helps a community.  I like to point out to parents that it lands you forever on a list, Yearly Lists of Challenged and/or Banned Books,  that NEVER goes away. The community is enshrined there, on the .pdf, in a Book Banning Hall of Infamy. 

Adults as readers
One of the saddest thing about any challenge or ban, is that it points out how poorly parents (and superintendents) fare at reading with the same level of discernment and insight that they demand of their students.

As educators we ask students to (just to name a few):

(5)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Fiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of fiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to:
(A)  analyze non-linear plot development (e.g., flashbacks, foreshadowing, sub-plots, parallel plot structures) and compare it to linear plot development;

(B)  analyze how authors develop complex yet believable characters in works of fiction through a range of literary devices, including character foils;

(C)  analyze the way in which a work of fiction is shaped by the narrator's point of view; and

(D)  demonstrate familiarity with works by authors from non-English-speaking literary traditions with emphasis on classical literature.
   ...   ...
(7)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Sensory Language. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about how an author's sensory language creates imagery in literary text and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to explain the role of irony, sarcasm, and paradox in literary works.

(8)  Reading/Comprehension of Informational Text/Culture and History. Students analyze, make inferences and draw conclusions about the author's purpose in cultural, historical, and contemporary contexts and provide evidence from the text to support their understanding. Students are expected to explain the controlling idea and specific purpose of an expository text and distinguish the most important from the less important details that support the author's purpose.
from Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Title 19, Part II
Chapter 110. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for English Language Arts and Reading §110.31. English Language Arts and Reading, English I (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2009-2010.
I daresay, Hopkins' books fill the bill in all those TEKS.  Seriously, shouldn't  parents and administrators have to demonstrate similar insight?

I feel  sorry for Hopkins, all the other authors who were invited to participate (what a position THEY are in now) in what should have been a festive event.

As usual, when adults behave badly, students fare worst of all.   I am really, truly sorry. 

Ellen Hopkins posted about the incident on her blog here and here.
She notes "To date, four other authors—Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Tera Lynn Childs and Matt de la Pena—have withdrawn, in a solid stand against censorship."


tanita✿davis said...

Yeah, I read about this - this is a PR nightmare for that school district. I know that they meant well, but frank discussion would make this a HUGE big thing the students looked forward to and while it might be uncomfortable for some -- think of those teachable moments!

Instead, they took what they thought would be the easy road of closing the door on that nasty topic. I wish they had the courage to open it again, and reinvite her. I'm sure she would forgive and everyone else would come back. We often do knee-jerk things when we're afraid... but there's a way to step back from that.


Jennifer Morian Frye said...

Thank you for sharing this! I'm hoping to get a discussion going on our library's facebook page, but we'll see.

I was interested by those who didn't see this as censorship.

How very sad for the kids, though I am glad that the other authors are standing their ground. The idea of a panel is such a better way of dealing with things like this. Get a discussion going. So much better.

Sam and Boo Book Reviews said...

Those were two (yours and Pete Haufman's) very interesting summaries of the issue. Thanks for authoring one and pointing everyone in ther direction of the other.