Tuesday, October 21, 2008

How do you feel about censorship?

Recently, a group of parents in Round Rock (a suburb of Austin) took issue with a particular book available in a local middle school. You can read about it here. The book was TTYL by Lauren Myracle. Apparently, there's some strong language and sexual content. The parents circled a petition, and here is the intro:
The purpose of this petition is to notify the RRISD Superintendent - Dr. Jesus Chavez, RRISD School Board Members, and RRISD administrators that we, the undersigned petitioners, are not satisfied with the level of scrutiny applied to the reading material that is allowed into our schools, and that we will not tolerate our children to be unknowingly subjected to books or other material that is obviously vulgar and offensive to the average person.
The particular book in question is entitled “TTYL” which is written by the author Lauren Myracle. We find this book to be HIGHLY objectionable on the basis of vulgar sexual content (see specific offensive excerpts from the book at the end of this petition) and request that it be PERMANENTY REMOVED from all RRISD Middle School libraries.
In addition, it is our right AND our request that the RRISD Superintendent and the RRISD School Board members implement a more suitable review process of library books in which such members include a cross section of parents with values that more closely-align with those of the majority of families in our community. This process should include future purchases AND those books currently in the library.
We are NOT advocating total censorship of books, but our expectations are that a system be put in place such that material that is not age-appropriate, that is mature in content, or that is obviously offensive or vulgar in nature be clearly identified or labeled as such.

Normally, I'm of the mind that you should allow your kids to read just about anything. I mean, at least they're reading, right? (I remember reading The Godfather and The Exorcist when I was about eleven years old. Then again, look how I turned out.) And as one commenter pointed out, it's not the kids who are reading that you have to worry about, it's the kids who aren't reading. I think there's at least a little bit of truth to that. Maybe that's a generalization, though. 

However, I can acknowledge that there are some books that aren't intended to be read by kids, and some parents might have legitimate concerns over which books are in the school library. Some parents will be a lot more conservative than others. Where you fall on this issue could be charted on a graph, and it would likely end up as the common bell curve. Most parents would fall somewhere in the middle; they want their kids to expand their minds, but they don't want them exposed to stuff that's outright crude or sexist or racist, etc., especially if the crudity or sexism or racism isn't used as a tool to deliver some sort of larger message. Other parents would let their kids read absolutely anything. (More power to them, I say.) Others would hover over their kids and prevent them from reading Tom Sawyer or Catcher in the Rye

Here are the passages the parents objected to in TTYL:
Page 7: did he stare at your boobs?..... so watch out he makes a big deal of being all Christian but what that means is the he’s majorly sexually repressed…..
Page 10: well, I was in the bathroom after 5th period…… when Margaret ejaculates…. She squirts when she comes, shit, I can’t believe it. Like Margaret is your friend, u asshole!
Page 13: we could bitch slap her till she apologized…
Page 15: she said he got a total stiffie while they were talking, she said it was hysterical
Page 28: I have a meeting with Mr. H. tomorrow… Just wear a tight shirt and he will give you an “A”
Page 39: making love with Rob would be amazing, I know it
Page 45: she’s a superficial psycho-slut
Page 58: it’s cuz I had a couple of beers, that’s all…
Page 59: WTF
Page 65: Rob is being a total penis-head
Page 115: what about Mr. H, that’s why you got those new jeans for to get him all hot and bothered….. did he jump your bones?
Page 139: put on crotchless panties and do a lap dance for him
Page 145: (after discussing the porn site jesus.com…. jana especially liked the endorsements section, where he gives his lubricant rec in 12 tasty flavors
Page 150: where were you that you were drinking everclear punch?
Page 151: after discussing getting drunk at a frat party and taking her shirt and bra off…. Holy fuck….
Page 165: Fuck.. did you tell her everything, you’re not a whore, just like you’re not a lying bitch, stay out of my fucking business
Page 167: if I did a striptease in front of a teacher instead of 10 million frat boys would that be ok.
Page 168: boo-fucking-hoo…. Screw you
Page 174: discussing hot tub attire after a male teacher invites her to join him at a residence he is house sitting….. we haven’t even discussed your thong possibilities
Page 176: jana sent pictures…. From the frat party.. she was naked from the waist up, subject line was lesbo slut…. Shit, shit, shit….
Page 177: shove it up your ass
Page 186: did Mr. H talk about your bikini again, did he make any moves when you were in the car together?
Page 203: I was like paralyzed,….. Mr. H, kept inching his way toward me…. No I would just whip off my shirt instead…. IF there were a hundred drunk frat boys there to appreciate it.
Page 205: and he (Mr. H) was wearing a speedo, which made it doubly horrific
Page 207: who swoops in like wonder woman to rescue me from sex-crazed English teachers
Do you think the parents have a valid concern? If a middle-school kid reads books with this sort of content, what exactly will it do to him or her? 

Thanks, Joe, for bringing this issue up. 

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