What could possibly be so evil? BELOVED by Toni Morrison for one thing. This is a quote from one of the Virginia legislators who passed a bill requiring schools to "require school divisions to notify parents of the use of “instructional material” that contains sexually explicit content. The measure would also let parents review the material, and require schools to provide “non-explicit instructional material” to students if parents wish to opt out." You can read the article here: http://www.roanoke.com/news/politics/general_assembly/after-passionate-debate-va-senate-passes-bill-that-lets-parents/article_947e8ef8-185a-5ab1-8cb5-b4510b06bd97.html?mode=jqm.
The late, great Ted Hipple wrote an article for English Journal years ago about waving red flags in front of bulls. He was talking about the practice some teachers have of sending home "permission Letters" to parents before studying works that could be deemed controversial in nature.
My own practice as a middle school teacher was to send a letter home at the beginning of the year along with the class procedures, supplies, etc. I let parents know that I had a classroom library and that they, the parents, were welcome to come read any of the books in the library. I invited them to talk to their own kids about what they, the parents, would want them, the kids, to read and/or to avoid. I never once in more than a decade had a parent take me up on my invitation. Nor did I ever have a parent complain about any title we used in class.
Now, as a graduate professor, I take the time each semester to record book talks for the readings/books we will all read. Plus, I have included loads of choices for the lit classes as well. I have had one student ask to substitute reading a book she felt would be a trigger for her. I had not one problem with that. The student took my recommendations for some alternative texts.
I wonder if sometimes we might avoid some of this sturm and drung if we offered CHOICE?
I read BELOVED as an adult. I had the leisure to read a bit, mull it over, read some commentary, reread passages and, ultimately, read it with my ears as well. I went on to read other books by Morrison. However, it took me long time to ever want to read anything else by Nathaniel Hawthorne or Charles Dickens or any number of the canonical authors forced upon me in middle and high school.
We need to defend our selections for study. We need to SpeakLoudly. We also need to provide choice for our readers. I worry that if we do not, censorship will become legislated, books will be lost. So will readers.