Friday, June 7, 2013

“The realities of classroom teaching today,” i.e., the stranglehold of censorship.

An e-mail from a teacher who’s read the FALLOUT ARC and wishes she could use it in her classroom, but can’t.  Here’s what she says:

Dear Mr. Strasser,

 I am a sixth grade English teacher who just finished Fallout.  It was a compelling story and I must confess, I skipped the last three flashback chapters to keep reading about the shelter-ettes.
Selfishly, I am hoping you are hard at work on a sequel!  We have read The Diving Bell as a class in previous years and I initially thought I could use Fallout as a book club book. Simply loved the topic and how you write.

Here is my dilemma:  Thanks in part to a rabid Evangelical parent I had the misfortune to encounter two years ago,  our district now has a lengthy book approval process.  I fear the discussion between the boys about homosexuality will cause the book to be rejected. (not the Playboy mention, underage  drinking or nudity in the bunker, mind you.)

 Please know this does not reflect my personal views but rather the realities of classroom teaching today.   I would welcome your thoughts on how I could present this to the close-minded.

I wrote back:  Thanks for your note. I appreciate your kind words about the book and I am sorry about the situation you're in. The best answer that I feel I can personally give to your request comes in two parts.

 First, the book has been chosen by the Junior Library Guild (  As you will see from this link, they probably know as much as anyone about choosing age-appropriate books for readers.

In addition, how about taking the constitutional approach? Do the people involved in the book approval process believe in the rights granted under US Constitution? How would they feel about someone else deciding to take away their constitutional rights? Do they understand that the First Amendment also protects their right to practice the religion of their choice? How would they feel if someone came along and told them they could no longer practice their religion?

We believe in Freedom of Speech. It’s part of the foundation of our country. The people in question has every right to prevent their own children from reading a book. But under our Constitution they have no right to decide for others what they can read.

And she wrote back:

Re: Freedom of speech.  It's a great concept but does not really apply to teachers in the classroom.
(Believe me, I researched and met with ACLU lawyers at my own expense.)  As you are well aware, educators have been vilified in the media and are under attack. We are no longer entrusted as professionals to get the best, most thought provoking books into the hands of readers. It is a very
sad situation.  The overwhelming threat of ligation from lunatics trumps all. 

That last paragraph breaks my heart. Welcome to primary education circa 2013, where teachers’ hands are cuffed and censorship not only festers, but thrives.