Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UPDATE: YA In the Classroom

In November, in What Do You Think? I wrote about a situation where a school superintendent removed and prevented some young adult titles from being taught in the Montgomery County High School in Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

Well, one of those books was Deadline by Chris Crutcher. And I have an update. And anyone familiar with Crutcher, and how seriously he takes teenagers, can guess what happens next.

Yes, Chris Crutcher is coming to town. Not MY town, silly; to Mount Sterling, Kentucky.

From Crutcher's website:

"Senior MCHS students Diana Banderas and Stephanie Bellot coordinated the rally and invited CC to attend. He enthusiastically agreed to back them up, so we hope you'll show up to lend your support, too. You'll not only have the chance to meet Chris and hear all about the issues that caused the controversy, you'll also have a chance to speak your mind. That's what free speech is all about.
WHEN: Friday, December 18, 2009 at 6:00 pm
WHERE: Gateway Regional Center for the Arts
101 E. Main Street, Mount Sterling, KY 40353
WHY: Because all voices should be heard!"

Steph Su Reads blogged about this situation, in Discussion: Does YA Lit Belong In the Classroom? It's a great post with many points about education, and seriously looks at what happens in the classroom, and towards the ends she asks "I think the biggest--and most important--voice missing from this debate, however, is the voice of those Kentucky high school students in Risha Mullins' class."

Two Montgomery County High School have organized this event, including getting Chris Crutcher involved. The voice of the students is present. And they have organized something to encourage more people to speak up.

Given the articles and comments I've read at the newspaper and various blogs, I think Diana Banderas and Stephanie Bellot are two brave young women. I hope their event is a success. And I wish I lived close enough to attend to support what they are doing.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Anonymous said...

I contacted the teacher in question personally, and she responded readily with a thanks for my support. She also shared that Crutcher would be rallying for her support. I, too, live far enough away to make it impossible to attend. However, I think that this does go to show the power of a united voice. It can be a strength both FOR free speech, as well as AGAINST it.

Michelle said...

I've been so busy I've not been able to follow this story to the best of my ability but kudos to these young ladies for taking a risk and showing support for Crutcher and freedom to select their reading choices.

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one for me. I feel like I *should* support this teacher, but I know this about Chris Crutcher's work-- I really admire it now and would have preferred a root canal to reading it at age fourteen. When we talk about including YA lit in English class it is always Crutcher, Laurie Halse Anderson, Chbosky and similar works that are mentioned. No one's teaching Tamora Pierce in ninth grade, are they? Noooooo.

I spent my highschool years trying to avoid the people who wanted to get me to read The Chocolate War, The Outsiders and Summer of My German Soldier. Now, you are talking about making this kind of book required reading in the class I *have* to take for my college applications?

I do see all the advantages. I know that lots of kids would love it. But I would have hated it. I look at my kids now, and think they would hate it, too. So, I am not so much on-the-fence as I am deeply divided about the issue.

Liz B said...

Anon 12:40, the problem with that ("I would have hated it as a teen") is under that argument, no novels should ever be taught in a classroom because someone is always going to hate the book.

There is no one size fits all for novels in classrooms, no one book all will ove. It's true of some YA, and its true for some classics. Some people hate Gatsby forever thanks to the classroom, whie others love it. I loved it; should it not be taught because of those who hated it, or may hate it?

As Steph Su explored, there are multiple reasons for teaching a book in a classroom, ranging from teaching a certain canon of classics (which this teacher still did); books that will motivate nonreaders (and so the "readers" may be less enthralled, but thats what happens in classrooms); teaching certain elements (whether its language or analysis etc) that can vary based on book and may be a book based in classics or any other type of book.

That the students in the classroom are supportive tells me this wasn't a class full of kids being forced to read books they all hated. And what is that class usually called? Oh yeah class where the kids are reading Moby Dick. (Which for the record? I loved. So see, there's one in each classroom.)

Kelly Milner Halls said...

I spoke to Chris on his way back to the airport after the rally in Mt. Sterling and he said it went very well. University of Kentucky professor Stephanie Reynolds also attended and said the kids and CC were terrific. Roughly 50 people turned out and the kids had their say. Unfortunately, Dr. Freeman, the Superintendent who suspended Risha Mullins reading circles didn't bother to attend. So much for caring for the kids. Incidentally, the books selected for the reading circles were VOLUNTARY, not required reading. And Rish Mullins selected the books carefully to combine with required classics. At any rate, it was a success and that's what the kids deserved. Chris was glad he could show up to support them, after they've been so energetic in fighting for free expression!

Kelly Milner Halls
Children's Writer
& CC's right hand gal!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I've read about the discussion in several places and I guess I missed the detail that the books were optional. It makes all the difference in the world to me.

Liz, I am a very special little snowflake and I didn't want to read those awful books. They were so much more upsetting than classics because they had an immediacy that classics don't. For that reason, I don't think they should be used in blanket assignments the way classics are. I believe in the freedom not to read and only think it should be abridged with care. On the other hand, I am all about the freedom TO read and removing things from a voluntary list makes me a cranky little snowflake.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid this is a prime example of "he said, she said" gone awry. I live in this community and have experienced this firsthand. My little cousin was in her English class and was part of this whole ordeal. The problem was not that she gave an option to read books in a literary circle - the problem was that she gave students a limited book list from which they HAD to choose a book for their project. My cousin chose a title not knowing what it was about, and found that the content was basically child pornography and it made him feel terrible to read it, so he took it back to mrs. Mullins and asked for another book. She gave him another book and scoffed at him for returning the first. The second was worse. No- the issue here wasn't about the right TO read - it was about the right not to read. So the Administrators did get involved and she immediately refused ownership of it - saying she hadn't even read the books on the list anyway but that she found them online. I know there were further issues with her reading circle, but I was not involved with that at all. I had no connections there and by that time I had very little respect for her. Believe me- two girls leading a rally does not give you the voice of her students. We all know that those who speak up hardly ever represent viewpoints of the majority.

I am all for free speech and the right to express oneself. I believe that students should be free to read whatever they choose. It is the parents' responsibility to instill the filters in their children and help them make good choices. However, taking away a someone's right NOT to read - their right to say "hey, I'm not ok with that filth or difficult material entering my mind" - that is when we violate rights. And as a mother, I would be on a warpath if someone violated my child in that way.

Liz B said...

Anon, thanks for sharing a different perspective. However, when you call the books you don't like "child porn" and filth and other loaded terms, you lose me. You are characterizing the books in such a way as to say that no-one would see value or have a different take on the book(s).

You (or your child) can make whatever choices you want about reading. But when you start saying a book is "porn," it turns it from your personal choice to putting labels on those who do want to read the book, and putting some pretty offensive labels on those who disagree with you.