Saturday, March 27, 2010

Censorship: Protection through Silence?

Of all the nonviolent crimes in the world, censorship is the worst. I understand that reading materials and artwork evoke strong emotions, some of which can disturb the reader/ viewer to the point of discomfort. I don't like being uncomfortable any more than the next person, but I do know that stepping out of my comfort zone can lead to productive, valuable thoughts and experiences.

I am not a parent, but every year I am in the position of selecting and purchasing thousands of dollars of reading materials for teens whom I care about deeply. I don't want to offend or hurt or damage my students through a reading experience. However, I don't want to prevent them from connecting with books and poems and plays that could open their mind to the realities that others experience around the world.

When I read that "Paint Me Like I Am", a collection of poems from the WriterCorps organization has been challenged by a concerned parent, I was saddened beyond belief. I can understand a parent not wanting their particular child to read a certain book, but to prevent others from reading a book is unconscionable. And, the irony of this case is that the poems that are being challenged by this parent are written by actual teens. These poems, which I have used for years in my own classroom, are written by teens who are dealing with real issues.

Apparently, this is not the first time that this particular collection of poems has come under fire. Last year, a principal from New Jersey cut an "offensive" poem out of the book and returned it to the school library shelves. The poem in question is written about an abusive stepfather.

The problem that the parent and the principal are not seeing is that abuse happens and that poems have the ability to make abused teens feel like they are not alone. Poetry can move students to action, to talk about their experiences, to find help, to talk. Censorship of poetry (and other art forms) does not protect, it takes away a potential connection for someone who needs it. And no one person has the right to decide to take that connection away from a person who needs or enjoys it.

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