professornana (professornana) wrote,

Words, words, words

I got the message when my flight landed at Newark airport. We had 30 minutes to connect for the flight to Stockholm and someone at the NY Daily News needed to interview someone about the censorship of THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN. I took the call in the terminal with moments to spare. The reporter had a deadline and I had a plane to catch. The"interview" was over in five minutes. I walked back to where my BH was sitting and said, "Well, that will be an interesting quote. Let's see how it comes out in print."

You see, I could tell after the preliminary questions (spell name, where did I teach? What made me an expert?) that this person was looking for a quick quote and not a thoughtful response from me. Here is what showed up in print:

Teri Lesesne, who teaches young adult literature at Sam Houston State University, in Huntsville, Tex., said everyone should read the book at some point in their lives.

“[But] I’m not sure I’d give it to sixth-graders,” she said. “I’m not sure that sixth-graders are young adults.”

Not quite, folks. I started out by saying that it was a National Book Award winner, it was funny and tragic and beautifully written. And then I said in response to a question that I was not sure I would REQUIRE it to be read by incoming 6th graders (and I assumed this was a summer reading requirement but did not know the background other than it had been challenged). I said that I did require it for my graduate class since I thought it was an important book.

Something else that did not make it into the pithy quote when asked to respond to the challenge that parents felt uncomfortable about the book because it meant they would have to talk to their kids about masturbation, I responded that the book might present an excellent opportunity to talk about this sensitive subject in a calm and less stressful way--through the book.

Now, as to the last line of my quote: what I said was that not all sixth graders were the same. Some sixth graders would read the book and not blink an eye; others were not quite there developmentally. Before I could really elaborate, I was being let go (dismissed) from the interview. The reporter had 5 minutes before deadline. I knew as soon as I dosconnected the call that I would not be terribly pleased with whatever quote they used. Lesson learned.

The take away from this for me is this: words are powerful things. Alexie's words. My words, The words of the reporter. The words from the online listserv discussions I have scanned (see expecially Chris Crutcher's comments about masturbation). There are those who would take words away from us (censors) and there are others who bed words to their needs. I think the "lesson" to bring to our students is this: show them the challenge, show them the various responses. Let them write or talk or draw or whatever about this issue. Who gets to decide whatis read? Who gets to keep it locked up? Why?

Personally, I have allowed my own residents of the back bedroom free choice. As a parent I can do that. As a teacher or a librarian, there are other concerns. How do we deal with those. For anyone who is an ALAN member, take a look at the next issue of our newsletter for a column from the Censorship Committee that asks an important question: where do we draw the line? I knowmy answer: I draw the line at taking an interview when the deadline is 10 minutes away. I draw the line at trying to draw the line.

Excuse typos, etc. I am in Stockholm, and the internet is iffy.
Tags: censorship, words
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