A Message From Laurie Halse Anderson on SPEAK
Author Laurie Halse Anderson (and all-around nice person!) has asked me to post this message regarding some recent challenges to her terrific novel Speak.
Here's some background on SPEAK challenges, and update on the most recent event.Thanks, Laurie! And good luck with this great project! (But for the record, I don't think many AS IF! members would disagree with your stand on book challenges.)
SPEAK is taught in many, many schools. This is both flattering and humbling.The letters I get from kids exposed to the book have profoundly changed my life. I am honored that my book helps contribute to the literacy and themoral development of a generation of Americans. It also makes me really, really happy that I wrote a good story.
It is interesting to see where different communities are comfortable putting the book. Most frequently it is taught in 9th grade, often as a summer read that is then the first book discussed as the school year starts for incoming freshmen. Some communities feel 9th grade is too young, so the kids study it later in high school. In a couple of places, it is the last text studied senior year. And then there are schools that know they have kids who aregrowing up too fast (thanks largely to absent parents) and they introducethe book in 8th or 7th grade.
One of the favorite teachers I met was a priest who teaches it in his Catholic boys' school - 10th grade English - because of the opportunities he feels it gives him to discuss sexual assault with his students. He is such agreat man.When the book comes under attack, it is usually from parents who hear that the book is "about rape" and get freaked out. In almost all of the challenges I have heard of, the book remained in curriculum - after the objecting parents read the book, after there was a community discussion,after a lot of very hard and very draining work done by a teacher. In two districts, it was taken out of the curriculum, but remained an option for independent reading.
If - after a community discussion, after all the adults concerned have read and discussed the book - they decide to remove my book, I don't have aproblem with it. I know this sets me apart from many other authors in this group. I fight long and hard to ensure that there is an informed, rational community decision. Because the truth is that I have no business insisting that my book is taught anywhere. It is up to the professional educators and the community in which they work to make those decisions. I think the most important thing we can do is to encourage all school districts to develop written policies to handle book challenges. NCTE and ALA both offer excellent guidance in this. I am shocked by how many districts do NOT have these guidelines. It makes it very easy for a small group of hotheads with an agenda to derail their school's English curriculum.
I also think we should do whatever possible to get new English teachers to join NCTE. It is a fabulous organization that offers a world of support with challenges, as well as opportunities for the continued growth anddevelopment of teachers. As I have traveled around the country the last fiveyears, I have been STUNNED and discouraged by how many high schools do not have one single faculty member who belongs to NCTE.
The most recent challenge has spurred me to start assembling a list of all the schools where SPEAK is taught:
I will be updating it regularly. If you know of a school that is not on the list, please let me know.
I wish I had started this list years ago. I suggest that all of you start yours today. It is very helpful to teachers to know that they are not alone. As time permits (ha!), I'm going to develop a page on my website with specific resources for book challenges. I respond personally to the teacher involved whenever I hear about a challenge. I send them a list of resources, contacts, statistics, and the reaction I've had to the book. Putting all of that on one page would make it easier for everyone.
There is a bright side to these challenges. They are a reaction to change, much-needed, overdue change in the standard canon of secondary English lit courses. These brilliant teachers who have the courage to use contemporarybooks in their classroom are teaching kids to love reading. Kids who love to read learn more and learn better. It breaks my heart that some of these teachers have to run the gauntlet of the ignorant, misinformed, or politically malicious. But if we can support them through these battles, we all benefit.
Back to work now. Scribble, scribble.
Laurie Halse Anderson-- http://www.writerlady.com/