Thursday, September 06, 2007

Catholic High School Cancels Discussion of THE CONFESSIONAL

AS IF! member, J.L. Powers, recently had run-in with a sort-of censorship with her first book, The Confessional, when she was de-invited to speak at a Catholic high school in Northern California where she had previously been scheduled. The controversy resulted after a parent complained that the book did not reflect "Catholic principles."

We asked J.L. to write her thoughts on the matter:
Like any young adult writer would be, I am dismayed that THE CONFESSIONAL has been publicly described as harmful to young adults and that there would be an attempt, so soon after its release, to censor it. But I always knew that I was dealing with topics that would make some people very uncomfortable: racism, violence, homosexuality, and religion. Any one of these topics alone could make some people nervous, but I tackle all of them in one book.

Yet to silence a discussion about these issues, or to try to prevent young people from having access to materials about them, is incredibly short sighted. The former judge who pushed to have the event canceled and the book banned stated that Cathedral High School's motto is "enter to learn" and "leave to serve." If students really are entering to learn and leaving to serve, then why would the school have so little faith in their intellectual and moral capacity to discern what is true and what is right?

The school's assumption that it is building the leaders of tomorrow should certainly cultivate a certain level of trust in their students' abilities. Setting aside the fact that the characters in THE CONFESSIONAL learn to take personal responsibility for their own actions, to forgive people who hurt them, and to do the right thing no matter how much it costs--all values that it is difficult to imagine could be condemned by anyone--I would ask this former judge: Is one book truly capable of demolishing years of intellectual and moral education? As powerful as I believe the written word to be, I am not convinced that any single book has that level of power. I am flattered that he thinks my book does!

Regardless, I do hope THE CONFESSIONAL has a distinct social and moral currency: that the young people who read it will take heart as they undergo similar struggles to claim their identities and to stand up for what they believe in. That is, I think, what any young adult writer hopes that their books will achieve
Does the school have the right to cancel Powers' talk? Absolutely. In doing so, are they doing the right thing? Almost certainly not. Here at AS IF!, we believe that disputes and controversies are almost always best solved through dialogue and debate. And the idea that teenagers in a learning environment must be "protected" from certain ideas, especially when those ideas are presented in a thoughtful manner? As authors of books for teens, we find that condescending and offensive.


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