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Censorship is a bad thing.  The right to speak freely; to think freely; to write freely; and to read/watch/listen as we choose is an essential part of living lives as we would choose.

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.



  1. Bravo!

    I agree. No censorship. Though it does give me pause sometimes.

    People, especially kids, should be able to read what interests them.

    Does that mean no net nanny for computers with kids on them? With my kids? with my teens? With my pre-teens? Gulp. i think so far it does mean that. And some snoopiness into histories and some conversation rather than censoring.

    When I was 14 I read everything, EVERYTHING I could get my hands on. I'm glad my parents let that happen, though I doubt they realized how much breadth there was to my reading.

    And I do think that I make exceptions for posting or publishing hate things, whether on Facebook or in books or just online. (So I guess there's an exception to everything, right?)


    1. sin, I never meant to imply that I don't think that parents ought to be overseeing what their children and adolescents are reading, watching, and listening to. On the contrary, I very much believe that kids need the guidance of their adults as they navigate the complexities of our very complex world. I don't really believe that, try as we might, we can truly shelter our vulnerable youngsters from all of the stuff that the world parades in front of them and us. But I do think that it is appropriate and good for parents to articulate standards, values, expectations -- AND with that, I also believe that it is important for parents to leave open the door to discussing whatever their kids might NEED to discuss. The best parents I've worked with over the years say something akin to, "We believe this and expect that, but we want you to know that whatever you decide, we will love you and care for you, and we will always listen to you and answer your questions as best we can."

      And Hate Speech online -- yeah. That's one of the ugly realities of trying to raise good kids in an Internet world.

      All the best,

  2. Impish11:29 PM

    My mom was not great. Histrionic and selfish, it wasn't easy, but I remember one instance when she made me proud. My very nice, but busy body neighbor discovered that my sister and I were reading "Coffee, Tea, and Me", a racy book about airline stewardesses and their exploits. She told us it was smut, and marched over to tell my mom. She was really on the soap box. My mother calmly told her that she was aware of what her daughters were reading, and that she didn't, nor did she intend to, censor our reading. I was astonished as it didn't reflect mom's usual behavior, but so very proud of us all. I didn't censor my kids reading either, and I feel it let us have discussions that probably would not have occurred any other way.

    1. Good point, Impish ... when adults respect young people enough to choose what they will read and look at, then they set the stage for important deep discussions of those topics, and that can be a valuable connection.


  3. By 14 I was fully aware I was interested in both spanking and BDSM. I would have been thrilled to find a book letting me know I wasn't the only one. But if i'd read it no one would EVER have known. I read 9 1/2 Weeks and kept it in my underwear drawer until I'd been married several years! You're right, no censorship. Try to do that and it's a guarantee they'll read it.

    1. And that might be one of the biggest reasons to eschew censorship with young ones, PK -- tell them "NO," and it is like waving a red flag in front of a raging bull...



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