Recently John Green’s books, along with the rest of a curriculum for an elective course in Young Adult Literature in a high school in Colorado have been challenged by parents there. I wrote a letter in support of this teacher, this curriculum, and these books. Below, I’m sharing it with you. I will also be recording a vlog about the subject soon and I will post it here once it’s recorded. If you support this cause I urge you to write your own letter, record your own video, and send an email in support. The email address is StrasburgYALiteratureCourse@gmail.com and the emails should be addressed “To The Schoolboard.” For more information see John’s post here.
I know that people who want to ban books and prevent teenagers from reading certain books come from a place of care. I know that they want to protect those teenagers. But preventing teenagers from reading books that challenge their worldview and moral compass is not the way to do it.
No matter how much parents protect their children, those kids will face experiences that challenge them. Delaying that only creates more uncertainty. If their first encounter with a situation that challenges them is after they’ve gone to college and are away from home, they are in a much more precarious place to be making decisions. Whereas, if they read books, watch movies, and consume media with characters and storylines that challenge them, they can go talk to their parents and peers, they know they’re in a safe environment. If they read books about teenagers making questionable decisions while they are teenagers, in a class with a skilled teacher, and peers, they have the chance to discuss the book and the questionable decisions and learn from the different perspectives of the teacher and their peers.
Reading books about people who are different from you allows you to develop critical reading skills, compassion, and empathy. Being intellectually challenged allows teenagers to encounter other worldviews and other experiences from their own. Standing by your values or changing them based on what you encounter is how we grow as people. Reading books that present an entirely different world lets you get inside other people’s head and heart, even if they’re fictional. Sympathy is defined as an understanding between people. How better to understand different people than to get inside their heads and hearts?
Moreover, denying students the right to read books that represent a diverse population is denying that diversity. When you challenge a book with homosexual characters, you are telling every student in that school who identifies as anything but heterosexual that they are wrong. That something is wrong with them. When you challenge a book with violence and dysfunction you tell every student in that school who faces violence and dysfunction that they don’t deserve to be represented. You may be a religious Christian who believes homosexuality is wrong. That doesn’t change the fact that atheists and non-heterosexuals exist in the world and deserve an equally happy and safe life as you have. What you believe shouldn’t impact someone else’s choices and their freedom to make those choices.
This petition claims that these books are “profane, pornographic, violent, criminal, crass, crude, and vile.” Well, as a teenager I was profane, crass, and crude. I encountered every one of those adjectives in my daily life. Most teenagers do. The world is not easily contained in a pure bubble. There are people and situations that do not fit everyone’s worldview. Everyone will encounter these situations and people. Better that they are prepared by having read books with characters and realities different from their own. Better that they have developed empathy and compassion through putting themselves in others’ shoes. Better that they meet these situations with critical thinking skills like the kind polished in English classes.
I urge you to support this teacher, this class, and this syllabus.