By Christa Fletcher
Monday, December 13, 2010
A book-banning effort against "Speak," a young-adult novel about date rape, is creating an uproar. A campus group is making a documentary, a Twitter feed is discussing censorship and a library group expects the controversy to attract teen readers.
(WOMENSENEWS)--A Missouri State University professor's bid to ban a young-adult novel about date rape, among other "filthy books," from the school district's English courses is spurring young-adult authors and teachers to speak out against censorship in a country where more than 10,676 books have been challenged in libraries and schools since 1990.
"Teens don't live in a vacuum," Andrea Cremer, author of the young-adult novel "Nightshade," wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. "They inhabit the same brutal world as adults without the knowledge and tools of adulthood. For those teens whose lives have already been affected by drugs, violence, suicide or any number of traumatic experiences--what children as well as adults struggle with--books can provide comfort, healing or simply the realization that one isn't alone."
One in six women will be a victim of sexual assault during her life, according to data published by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, based in Washington, D.C. Young women between 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.
"Speak," a young-adult novel by Laurie Halse Anderson about a teen who was raped at a party, is on the New York Times bestseller list, was a National Book Award finalist and has received many honors, including the Michael L. Printz and Golden Kite awards.
However, Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of business management at Missouri State University in Springfield and a fundamentalist Christian, is demanding that "Speak" and two other books be banned from public high school English coursework in Republic, Mo.
Scroggins filed his complaint in June to the Missouri public school board and wrote an opinion piece on Sept. 18, arguing that the two rape scenes in the novel should be classified as "soft pornography."
One of the other books Scroggins wants struck from high school reading lists is "Slaughterhouse Five," the 1969 antiwar novel by Kurt Vonnegut, which Scroggins complains has too much profane language and sex for high school students.
The other is "Twenty Boy Summer," by Sarah Ockler, published in 2009. Scroggins said the book "glorifies drunken teen parties" and sex on the beach with condoms.
He is opposed by those who argue rape is a violent act of assault--not porn--and that removing the book would infringe on students' First Amendment rights.
"Teen readers lose their First Amendment rights as well as access to information that may help them grow intellectually or emotionally if a book is unjustly removed from their local school or public library, or if the library unjustly restricts access to it in some way," Beth Yoke, executive director of the Chicago-based Young Adult Library Services Association, said in an interview with Women's eNews.
Since 1990, the association has documented the removal of at least 10 books from the schools and public libraries in Missouri. However, the information provided to the group is voluntary, said Bryan Campbell, an administrative assistant for the Chicago-based Office for Intellectual Freedom, in an email interview.
He also said the group is working on a system for larger data collection that may provide a more reliable picture of book banning statistics in the future.
Each year the American Library Association, based in Chicago, recommends a variety of books to libraries, including "contemporary realistic fiction that reflects the diversity of the teen experience."
Hundreds of books, including some recommended by the organization, are also challenged or banned from schools and libraries each year.
Between 1990 and 2009 the most common reason listed for challenging a book was "sexually explicit," at 3,046 complaints. Complaints of "violence" numbered 1,258, according to data provided by the American Library Association.
"When 'Speak' was published, there was some whispering that this was not an appropriate topic for teens," Halse Anderson said in an interview with the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader four days after Scroggins attacked the book on the newspaper's opinion page.
She added that thousands of readers had written to thank her for the book: "They said it made them feel less alone and gave them the strength to speak up about being sexually assaulted and other painful secrets."
The highly popular young-adult author, Judy Blume, a frequent target of book banning herself, has written to the National Council Against Censorship, based in New York City, on behalf of Halse Anderson.
Ockler, author of "Twenty Boy Summer," one of the three books condemned by Scroggins, blogged on her Web site in September and October about the dangers of censorship. She also emphasized the importance of healthy discussions among parents and their children: "Truly asking for parental involvement would mean encouraging parents to read the books in question, discuss issues and themes with their kids and come to their own decisions about what's best for their own families."
"I'm against book banning in schools," Daisy Whitney, author of "The Mockingbirds," a young-adult book published on Nov. 2 that also treats the subject of date rape, said in a phone interview. "'Speak' is a novel that has helped so many teenagers understand the emotions surrounding someone who has been through a traumatic experience. The reason some people have suggested banning 'Speak' also concerns me because in no way should rape ever be equated with sex."
Paul Hankins, an English teacher from Indiana, started a Twitter feed called SpeakLoudly in response to Scroggins' complaints. A community of teachers, librarians, parents and publishers also founded SpeakLoudly.org with Hankins soon after, in September.
The controversy has also helped publicize the books under attack for censorship.
"Tell a teen that a book is banned or challenged and they will want to read it to find out why," said Yoke, of the Young Adult Library Services Association. "So, in one way, book banning actually piques many teens' interest in the controversial titles."
Vern Minor, superintendant of the Republic school district where Scroggins' complaint was received by the school board, told the News-Leader in September that "Slaughterhouse Five" was removed from the English course curriculum.
However, in a Dec. 6 e-mail with Women's eNews, he said: "We have not made any decisions on the books in question. Our discussions are currently focused on board policy, not the three books per se. We are really trying to look at this matter from a much broader perspective than just three books."
The school board hopes to set standards for book selection. They do not have a set time frame to implement the revised curriculum policies.
Candice Tucker and Brandon Bond, students at Missouri State, have started filming a documentary about the events, censorship and Scroggins' "radical views." Bond has also launched an advocacy group on Facebook called "No More Banned Books," where he hopes to fight against "the enemies of reason and tolerance."
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Christa Fletcher is an online writer and editor dedicated to promoting awareness about women's issues. Her work has been featured by Channel One News, InterviewHer.com, Marie Claire and she keeps a blog at ChristaWrites.com.
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network:
National Council Against Censorship: