February 6, 2008

Author John Green Banned?

Award-winning young adult author and Nerdfighter John Green has a book being attacked by censors.

"Two teachers at Depew High School outside of Buffalo, New York would like to teach my novel Looking for Alaska to 11th graders. (ELEVENTH GRADERS!!!!) A letter was sent home to every parent explaining that the book contained controversial content. Parents could either give written permission for their kids to read "Alaska" or not reply, in which case the kids would read a different book.This seems to me an extremely well-reasoned and thorough way of approaching the complexities of 'edgy' (I hate that word) books in English classes. Even so, a few members of the community of Depew have objected to the book's presence in the curriculum on the grounds that Looking for Alaska is 'pornographic' and 'disgusting.' They feel that parents should not be allowed to choose for themselves whether the book is appropriate in a high school English classroom.There are many supporters of the book among teachers, administrators, librarians, and the school board in Depew. To help them, I'm asking people to email letters of support for the book..."

Here is my letter and his response:

As a teacher coming from the school in Georgia where we just got over a very public and vicious attempt to have the Harry Potter novels removed from the shelves by a dogmatic zealot, I know what Depew is going through. They even went the extra mile in giving parents a choice up front. I just want you to know that there are more people who agree with you than don't and you are doing the right thing. Those people put our Media Specialist through the meat grinder and she has come out with a stronger support system from parents and colleagues alike. She won the Teacher of the Year award, the Media Specialist of the Year Award (for the state) and, for her dedication in the fight against the book banners, the Intellectual Freedom Award.

How awesome is it that our profession has an Intellectual Freedom Award? The experience has spurred me on to become a school librarian myself.

Not only are you not alone, but you have the support of many.

Let us know if there's anything else we can do.

Thank You,

Jim Randolph

Dear Jim,

Thanks so much for taking the time to write, and for your spirited defense of the rights of teachers and parents. I've forwarded your comments on to the school board. Thanks again for your letter. I deeply appreciate it.


I'll let you know if there's any more news on this.


Harrell Elizabeth said...

Once again, teacherninja, you make me proud!

Anonymous said...

A few words about 'Looking for Alaska'

Students in the Depew School District are reading the "young adult" novel Looking for Alaska after the book was challenged by a handful of parents who objected to its content. A district-organized committee determined earlier this month that the book is appropriate for eleventh grade classroom instruction. While the book was deemed "appropriate," there was little discussion about its educational value. This is an oversight and maybe a disservice that goes far beyond the objections concerning its themes and language.

Looking for Alaska is not a bad novel, nor is it a great novel. It is, indeed, an entertaining "read" and offers some interesting observations about religion and life. However, its word selection fails to match the well-developed characters and story. Its inclusion in English classes makes one wonder if schools are focusing more on social issues rather than on a well-rounded education.

American author Richard Lederer, who is known for his books on word play and the English Language, once noted that there are 616,500 entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, yet the average English speaker has a vocabulary between 10,000 and 20,000 words. Looking for Alaska, with its propensity for unseemly and uninspired language that reflects the MTV generation, illustrates Lederer's observation.

Proponents of the book point to how today's high school students identify with the characters and the life choices they make to justify Alaska's inclusion in the curriculum. One Depew parent even said that the language "is no different than what you would hear" at a high school football game. What a standard by which to live. There's no wonder students say they enjoy the book.

School districts across the United States in recent years have become more active in developing a child's social habits, reaching into homes, if necessary, to advance their tenets. Schools are also taking a more active role in shaping other habits. For example, some school districts have stepped beyond what is taught in health class by trying to alter the dietary habits of their students, removing unhealthy snacks from vending machines.

Yet, English classes are offering literature containing a vocabulary that equates to junk food- brain "candy" with no nutritional value.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English explores the average American's vocabulary and suggests there are three vocabularies for each person: the daily lexicon, the vocabulary the person knows but doesn't use, and words that a person may identify after given clues. "In the end, experience- with life and with dealing with it in words- is the best vocabulary builder," the guide reports.

Apparently, students aren't receiving that experience in the classroom. Fifty years from now, Looking for Alaska will likely be a footnote in literary history, known more for the controversy it caused than for capturing a reader's imagination or challenging one's vernacular. We believe it will also cause future generations to wonder why it had the support of those trusted with providing children with an education.

Teacherninja said...

Lame "anonymous" commenting. Sheesh. Word selection my patootie. Sour grapes, "anonymous." Sour grapes. And taking the book to task for "word selection," well, that's just a non sequiter. Get a real job.