"Those who seek to protect children from thoughtful artistic content may well instead 'protect' them from a full and complete education"–Julian Darius
Books help young people learn about our world and deal with the uncomfortable, complex, dark–and yes, sexual–realities of that world. There is a place for morality tales and teaching parables, but by the time students reach middle school, they are confronting the fact that the world isn’t made up of good guys and bad guys or situations with clearly defined, ethical and unethical choices. Restricting them to books that conform to (extremely subjective) societal values and ideals will not teach children to think for themselves. If a book does present characters and scenes that contradict young readers’ beliefs, they’ll be able to develop their understanding of why they believe what they do, whether they change or just reaffirm their convictions. If you keep young minds from grappling with difficult issues in books, how will they learn to deal with those issues in life?
The Bradfields’ daughter found the first thirty pages of The Perks of Being a Wallflower disturbing, and she stopped reading it. In a move that never would have crossed my mind when I was in 8th grade, she went to her parents with the book. The Bradfields should be
happy and proud that they have a relationship with their daughter in which she feels comfortable enough to go to them, and that she agrees with the guidelines they set out for her. As parents, they are going to have to have conversations with her they don’t want to have. Brian Bradfield told The Patch that “our innocent child has already been tainted.” Well, the world is tainted, and you can’t keep your child from living in it, even if you home school her and never own a television and feed her only organic lentils grown in your own backyard and pre-chewed in your own mouth–because she will grow up. And part of growing up is losing one’s innocence, whatever “innocence” is. Telling her and believing that she is now tainted just from having read a couple of upsetting chapters in a book is probably more damaging than her reading about a blowjob coupon.
But I fully admit that the Bradfields have the right to try and limit/monitor their daughter’s consumption of literature, whatever I think of their monitoring or motivation for it. What they do not have the right to do is prevent other students’ access to thought-provoking, realistic literature. Or to keep other students from processing the world around them with the invaluable aid of books that offer the chance to absorb alternative perspectives and discuss unsettling issues through the more accessible filter of characters and fictional situations.
I have to admit that I actually don’t remember Perks very well, because I read it–surprise!–back in middle school. At which point I had already become acquainted with the concept of blowjobs, like most middle schoolers (as Hadley literacy teacher Lynn Bruno has pointed out in the media), as well as with other disturbing parts of the book that the Bradfields haven’t brought up. Did they no one in the family read past the book’s first 30 pages? Because let me tell you, I think (vague spoiler alert) child molestation and suicide are a lot more disturbing than blowjobs and the joke that someone once got so drunk he tried to have sex with a dog. And I don’t think these things should in any way get the book banned from Hadley, because I think they are important, difficult ideas that children have to face in real life. I do think that if you’re trying to get something banned, you should read it from cover to cover.
What I remember best about Perks was my overall takeaway: that the world is a messed up place, but there is beauty in it. Which is helpful to remember right now, because it is insanely messed up that a small group of Orwellian crusaders have the power to deprive an entire school population of an insightful, inspiring book.
Kristin Ginger, Hadley Junior High ’00
Questions, comments, discovery of a typo? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.