Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ellen, Humble TX,censorship, and something even worse.

My friend Ellen Hopkins was recently invited--then un-invited--to speak to students in Humble TX. Authors' reactions have been thoughtful and varied. Many--not all--of the other authors who had agreed to be part of the event have dropped out  in support of Ellen and her work, and in opposition to censorship. They have written about their reactions:
Tera Lynn Childs
Pete Hautman
Matt de la Pena
Melissa de la Cruz
Ellen herself:

Ellen is often targeted by people who are convinced her realistic portrayal of teens, their problems, and the consequences of their choices are too....realistic? Her enormous popularity among teens and Young Adult readers argues that her words ring true and resonate with them. She is not alone. Many of the authors teens love best have censorship challenges all too often.

One of the most troubling things for me about this situation is that it sounds like one librarian alerted 2 or 3 parents, who then contacted the superintendent of schools. Oh, how I would like to be able to hear that first conversation. But however it went, the superintendent could have reacted by raising the question of Ellen's appearances for general discussion by all involved--including Ellen, people who have heard her speak at schools, and all the students and their parents. If he had, my guess is that the ayes would have drowned out the nays very quickly.

AND...while people debated and settled on some compromise, everyone would have had a chance to think about and talk about all the issues involved. But like so many administrators before him, the superintendent ducked. So the librarian and her like-minded parents silenced an author who has--without scolding, preaching, or patronizing, helped countless kids understand that their choices are real, ongoing, and *will* shape their lives. The most concerned parents could have been given an alternative author, or could have been transported by their parents to a school with a less controversial speaker. Lessons of all kinds about free speech and democracy and personal choices would have been learned by everyone involved.

But no.
The superintendent ducked.
I can imagine his work load, the headache he got after the phone call, the staff he doesn’t have to handle things like this. But he is in charge of a school district. This was a massive teachable moment and he opted instead to write an email un-inviting Ellen and that was supposed to be the end of it.  A decision was made by a few adults that effected thousands of students and their parents without any of them even knowing it was being made.
That isn’t just censorship, it is something far worse.


Stacie said...

I think we should take advantage of all teachable moments because we all learn from them. Ducking doesn't teach us anything. Thanks, Kathleen and Ellen. I love your work and your words and your willingness to speak to others...

Jim A said...

My partner was the superintendent of a school district on Long Island. His first reaction, faced with this type of situation, was to ask the parents "have you read the book?" If they hadn't (90% of the time this was the case) he told them to do so and to call back for an appointment after they had. Reasonably, he told them, he couldn't discuss the author's work if they hadn't read it. They would be at such a disadvantage in such a discussion. After sending them on their way to actually READ, he said hardly any of them ever called back. Pretty simple formula. Ought to be in the superintendents' handbook, I think.

Bill Crider said...

Too bad the principal in Humble hadn't read the book. Maybe he'd have thought of that tactic.

Anonymous said...

Personal censorship is one thing, but a few deciding for the masses is another. It seems to happen regularly throughout education! When I taught high school English in Arizona,a local superintendent banned "Bless Me, Ultima" which was the Big Read selection for 2008. I'm glad that his censorship didn't affect my school; my senior English class loved the book!!!

Lee Wind said...

thank you for this. It's important to pause and see how a bad situation could have been avoided. You are right in that there were so many teachable moments that might have truly had an impact for the good. The dialog that should have happened in that community is instead happening in the kid lit and blogosphere, and while that's a good starting point, the dialog needs to expand to include the greater community - in TX, and in our country as well.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen, GREAT post... as usual. I just interviewed Ellen, plus Pete Hautman and Todd Strasser and will post the podcast tomorrow (Monday) a.m. Hope you'll take a listen! xo Katie

AniMill said...

It really just sounds like simple cowardice to me... so much of what is going wrong today can be found in the roots of cowardice. Such a shame. Please keep standing up Kathleen, at least a few people have guts left in'em! :-)

kathleen duey said...

Thanks to everyone for chiming in. The more I think about the way this was handled the angrier I get.

cdconahan said...

I like Jim A's solution... talk to me after you've read the book! Thoughtful post, Kathleen. Thanks.