Sex. Politics. Religion. The big three: a work of literature is often considered controversial because of its statement about or use of these topics. What makes these and other areas so touchy in the classroom? Why do some parents and concerned community members want controversial materials out of the classroom?
In this look at the language of censorship, we must first define censorship, who does the censoring, and why. These will be the first three spotlights for looking at the language of censorship. Then, we will look at how teachers, especially teachers of literature and the language arts are affected by censorship. Finally, we will preview how censorship can be taught in the classroom, to prevent some of tomorrow's censorship cases.
"I never knew a girl who was ruined by a book."
* James Walker (Quotations, 1997, 2).
When I was in elementary school, I read every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on. I cried through three readings of Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terribithia and scared myself with every Stephen King novel I could finish. In junior high and high school, we were taught Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, The Hobbit and Sounder, and My Brother Sam Is Dead, along with the classics. None of these books ruined my innocence. When I was date-raped the summer I was sixteen -- that ruined my innocence.
Since then, I read that Maya Angelou's novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has been censored because the rape of eight-year-old Ritie by her mother's boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, is too "pornographic." In Moulton, Alabama, the novel was banned in December, 1995, after the superintendent said, "'When it goes into describing sex organs and describing the pain and actual act of rape, I think it's pornographic'" (Donelson, 1997).
In chapter twelve, Angelou describes Mr. Freeman's penis as his "thing;" he pulls down Ritie's "drawers," and "...Then there was the pain. A breaking and entering when even the senses were torn apart..." (Angelou, 1969, 76). This does not sound like something one would read in Penthouse or Playboy, or even in hard-core porn on the internet. Yet according to Ken Donelson, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has gotten the second highest number of complaints in the last ten years, with twenty-three. Only Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men had more, with twenty-nine (Donelson, 1997). Other complaints against I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings called the novel "graphic" and said that it "raised sexual issues without moral resolution" (Foerstel, 1994).
This is an example of censorship in a language arts classroom. But what is censorship? Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language defines censorship as "the act of censoring." What is censoring? These definitions were selected from the definition of censor: "(n) 1) an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio programs, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts...