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29 May 2014 @ 06:05 pm
Warnings  
Two recent stories discuss "trigger" issues in reading: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-trigger-warnings-20140519-story.html and
http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/us/warning-the-literary-canon-could-make-students-squirm.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0&referrer=.

An interesting discussion has arisen from this story: do we need to warn students that materials in our classes might upset them or worse, make them experience a sort of PTSD of a traumatic episode in their lives?

I take this to heart because I do use books that could be triggers for some readers. I do spend time before class begins doing book talks about each of the books I require. It is my hope that a student would contact me if one of the books would be a trigger for her or him. Often, what I have experienced, though, is that the books that tackle tough subjects are the ones that lead to the deeper discussions I have ever had. I still recall one semester when a small group of students all female, sat around a table on a late Saturday afternoon talking about Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK. I had no way of knowing in advance, but most of the women (who ranged in age from their 20s to their 50s) had an experience similar to Melinda's; they had been sexually assaulted. As we talked, tears fell, and so did barriers. We clasped hands, comforted one another, and talked about ow important this book was not just for teens but for a wider range of readers.

By no means am I saying that if a student had expressed to me her fear that the book would be too painful to read because of personal experiences she or he did not want to revisit (especially back then in a public forum of the classroom) that I would not have found a way for that person to read something else, to miss the discussion, to suggest an alternative. What I am saying is that sometimes a book that disquiets us leads us to be open and honest with one another, leads us to bare our souls, so to speak.

What these articles do make me reflect upon once more is the importance of CHOICE. While I do require certain books (see posts from earlier in the week about how and why this happens), I am also open to alternatives if need be. Is there any one book so essential that we could refuse to consider how reading it might require reliving an horrific event? I know some of the tough books I shared while I was a middle school teacher resulted in learning something deep and profound about a reader or readers. I think of the young man who, after I finished reading A TASTE OF BLACKBERRIES wrote about his father's death. I think of the young woman who sought help for her eating disorder after reading a book on the subject, one she had selected for herself.

I think also of my own readers. Yesterday, Career Girl texted me about the loss of Maya Angelou. She had been moved by I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS after reading it in middle school. It was a book on my shelf that she had taken, read, and then asked for her OWN copy. The book spoke to her powerfully. She read all of Angelou's poetry on her own. She went on to read poetry from many others, too. The book set her onto a reading ladder that took her from one poet to the next, etc. Despite everything the literary canon did to try to smother her love of reading, Career Girl still recalls Angelou's words 15 years after reading that first book. How sad to think that she might not have found that book or that it had been removed for fear of upsetting a reader.

So, I continue to be mindful of triggers; I continue to book talk required books as a sort of "warning" about contents. And I always have an alternative to offer for that reader for whom a book will be a trigger. Will I drop the books from my list? Nope. Will I acknowledge the right of a reader to avoid a trigger? Any time.
 
 
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Current Mood: mulling it over