Paul Thomas: Whose Rights Matter? On Censorship, Parents, and Children
Paul Thomas draws on his own experience in the classroom to make some observations about the move for parental rights. His first challenged book as a classroom teacher was Grendel, by John Gardner. And in the process of having the book challenged, he says he learned a few things.
First, it didn’t take long—my students informed me—to discover that a few parents had conspired to challenge the book primarily as a way to challenge me.
Next, I found out quickly that a few parents did have the power for making decisions for everyone—since the book was pulled from required reading for all students as those two parents requested (although it remained on my classroom shelves and in our library).
While Gardner’s novel does include what some people would consider crude language and one very brief graphic scene, this parent challenge was entirely about ideology, not literary quality or even offensive material.
More broadly, I learned that what I taught would always be about the politics of whose rights matter, including the rights of everyone in a free democracy, parents, teachers, and of course (although this is too often ignored), students.
A few other moments stand out from my two decades teaching high school English.
Once, I had a heated debate with the school librarian about Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. By then, I was English Department chair and teaching AP Literature and Composition. Walker’s celebrated novel was included in that AP course (which is supposed to reflect college-level content and instruction).
The librarian had children who would be in that course, and she was adamant that The Color Purple was pornography, not literature. I calmly referenced several critical books on the shelves of the library, literary criticism on Walker and the novel.
Again, this was not really about the novel; this was about fundamentalist religious beliefs and racism.
Which brings me to maybe the most powerful censorship moment of my career.
That’s a story about a parent who was also a leader in the local KKK. Read the full post here.