For me, being against censorship is like being pregnant: there is no such thing as "a little bit pregnant," and there is no such thing as being a little bit against censorship. It really does end up being an all or nothing sort of stance. If I say that I am not in favor of censorship, then I have to be "not in favor of censorship" for anyone; for any cause; for any set of beliefs or opinions that any person might espouse. And, honestly, that can put me in some pretty uncomfortable spots. Sometimes. Last week, I ran up against one of those spots.
I was preparing for my school day; running around making copies and checking in with my colleagues, making sure that I was on top of things before the first bell rang. Cruising through one classroom where students were gathering for the morning, I overheard one of the girls from the 8th grade class talking to a group of friends. They are an interesting bunch, full of life and fun, sweet and funny, ornery (some of them), and shy (others). They are good to one another. They work hard. It is clear that they have parents who love them, care for them, and work hard to guide them along the path to adulthood. They are all 14 years old, and just a few days from leaving us to head on to high school, and the life beyond that I desperately hope will be good and full and exciting and wonderful in all the ways they dream... But, I digress. Walking by, I overheard one of them say to her friends, "I just finished reading Fifty Shades of Gray." I was, I admit it, a little shocked, but kept on walking (the trick of an experienced teacher -- don't hear what you do not want/need to deal with). I heard, behind me, a chorus of "ewwwwws," from the others, and I imagine there was quite the discussion in my wake.
My immediate and visceral response was that 14-year-olds ought not be reading the notorious BDSM potboiler that so captivated adults during the last year. My grandmotherly self came roaring to the front to insist that it just isn't right, and really, what could their parents be thinking. Of course, to be fair, I have, over the years, been uncertain that popular series like the Twilight saga, and The Hunger Games, were necessarily good for kids either, although they were fanatic and voracious about them in their seasons. I listed for myself, all sort of reasons why Fifty Shades of Gray ought to be on the banned books list for our young people below a certain age: too explicit, too intense, too confusing, too pointed in its perspective, too... Young people ought to be, no -- DESERVE to be, protected from the darker, seemier, more adult things of this world until they are grown and "ready" to handle all of that
Yeah. That's the gist of the internal monologue I ran through, before I started asking the grandmother inside some tough questions:
- How young is too young for "such things," and who decides?
- What sorts of things ought children and adolescents be "protected from," and who decides?
- Who is going to do that protecting?
- Do I trust the ones who would set themselves up as "the protectors?" Do you?
- At what age, exactly, would we consider that someone is "ready?"
- What, really, is the harm in knowing and understanding that there is something called "sex," and that people engage in all manner of sexual practices, and that there is nothing inherently bad about any of those practices when everyone is able to make judgments for themselves and consent to whatever activities they choose?
- What about violence?
- What about "anything?"
- Is literature that deals with difficult or challenging themes, necessarily a bad thing for young teens?
Eventually, I settled in and owned up to the FACT that censorship is a bad thing for everybody, and that everybody deserves the right to choose what they will read, see, listen to, believe, write, sing, say, ... regardless of their age or any other factor we might point to as some kind of artificial barrier. No censorship ought to mean just that -- NO Censorship. As for my sweet 14-year-old students, they have all got parents who love them and care for them. I am content to leave the decision making about what those young people should and should no be reading in the capable hands of their parents. I don't envy them the job they have to do, but I trust them to make reasonable decisions for their own kids. It isn't a decision that belongs to me, or to anyone else outside those households. For us, these young people have the same right to freedom of speech as any one of us.
NO Censorship. For anyone. By anyone.