Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Topic: Censorship

10-Second Review: A Q&A on parents’ rights in choosing what their children are assigned to read.

Title: “Some Tentative Answers to Some Questions About Censorship.” Ken Donelson. English Journal (April 1974), 20-21. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: One of my very favorite writers and editors of the English Journal was Ken Donelson, I guess, because he seemed to think the way I did on issues in English education. But he also did not see things the way I did, and gave clear reasons. In this essay Donelson responds to questions about the parents’ role in selecting books for their children to read. You will, perhaps, be surprised at some of his answers. By the way, he prefaces his remarks by stating that they are his comments and they are not necessarily sanctioned by the NCTE. RayS.

Question: “Does the individual parent have the right to object to his child’s reading a specific literary work?”

Answer: “Of course he does. I believe parents have the moral right to challenge anything that interferes with the kind of education they feel their child should get. Whether or not they have the legal right is another question.”

Question: “Is a teacher being presumptuous in identifying a specific literary work as one that every student must read at a given time?”

Answer: “Yes, I would say that’s one hell of a presumptuous teacher. I can’t think of anything in literature or life that’s worthwhile to everyone at the same time.”

Question: “If you asked one hundred ‘good’ English teachers for the title of the one book that must be read by all students, how many different titles would be offered?”

Answer: “Never met 100 good English teachers ‘who could maintain with a straight face that there is any one good book or any list of great books that ‘must’ be read.’ ” [In several graduate classes, Donelson asked the question and never had a single overlapping title, but did have overlapping authors. RayS.]

Question: “What are the student’s options regarding the selection of reading material to which he is to be exposed?”

Answer: “Not very much in most schools…. Students should have the right to object to the use of Brave New World or The Grapes of Wrath or Slaughterhouse Five because they find them offensive, morally or politically or religiously. They should also have the right to object to Silas Marner or “The Vision of Sir Launfal” or Our Town or Great Expectations because they are taught with no excitement or relevance to today, nor for any other reasons teachers can justify.”

Question: “…although a parent may have something to say about the selection of a book for his child, can he prevent other members of the class from reading it?”

Answer: He can. And, from the number of censorship incidents I have see, often do so successfully. “…a single parent or a group of parents acting in concert can derail any educational system.”

Comment: Donelson has given me much to think about. RayS.

The purpose of this blog is to summarize articles on teaching English/language arts, from kindergarten through college, published in English education journals from the past.

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