Issue 112, Summer 2010

This April school administrators of Franklin Township in Indiana pulled Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon out of the hands of AP English students, who were half-way through reading the book. The following comments, selected from a heated discussion on a local paper’s website, shed light on what’s at stake for students, parents, and community members whenever a book censorship incident occurs.*

“If you think your children have not been exposed to sex, violence and profanity, you’re living in a world of denial. … this is not a book which is advocating such behavior but a realistic portrayal of life around us. Students who read this are not going to turn into sex addicts, or become violent or profane simply because of it… It is time we stop being so afraid that we feel we have to prevent students from learning how to engage in critical thinking. The lack of critical thinking in our society is becoming a pox on it.”

“By the way, just because my children are exposed to sex, drugs, crime, violence, profanity, racism and general stupidity in the media, at school and in the community, doesn’t make these things OK, nor should I – as a parent – accept that it is desirable for my community to promote these ideals. This type of ‘parenting’ or ‘education’ leads to an incremental acceptance of all that is vulgar, uncultured and ignorant about humanity. Hence, the argument that ‘your kids are already exposed to this stuff’ is a cop out.”

“The whole goal of reading (and most other education) is to expose the student or reader to new ideas and experiences that promote thought. I’m sure the teachers involved didn’t condone the behavior in the novel, they talked about it and its effect on the people in the novel. That’s teaching and learning which is what we expect teachers and students to do.”

“Why not just pass out hard-core porn to the students, huh? Anything goes, right? After all, they might learn something, and we certainly wouldn’t want to ever censor anything. Better to have a polluted and decadent mind than to be subjected to censorship.”

“I attended Franklin Central and I read this book in my AP English class… I still own the book. It’s not one of my favorites, but it made me consider certain topics that I wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise, because I was more concerned with teenage drivel at the time. Thanks to a very competent teacher who taught us through the literature of this book, I gained college credit and didn’t have to take my Intro to English course when I got to college. Despite the controversial material, it is a worthwhile novel to read and helped me to consider race. After all, I was the only minority in my AP class of 35 kids.”

“In 1950 there was still a broad cultural consensus that impressionable and immature youth should be insulated from adult material. Of course things are much better now after 60 years of ‘broad-minded’ education. Marilyn Manson. Columbine. Sexting. Bullying. Yes, things are going well now, thanks.”

“Censorship isn’t illegal or unconstitutional or even wrong. In this particular case it is entirely appropriate. Any student who wishes to read that book is free to do so – they can do it on their own time. There is no good reason, however, to put that book in a classroom.”

Song of Solomon is a beautiful, heart-touching book with a lesson. Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, so why shelter our kids from FICTION? Do you not trust your kids to be able to discern literature from reality? It IS difficult fiction, but it also teaches history and social context. It’s a shame that Franklin doesn’t have the guts to stand up to one ranting board member. Censorship is one step away from book burning.”

“Kids for the most part are clueless. They are NOT adults so they have no say.”

“Do not assume, for one second, that a child is clueless. When you do that, you are setting up that generation to fail like so many have before us. Let them read the book and make a … decision on their own as to whether or not it is obscene. Don’t take away their choice in the matter.”

“The form that AP parents sign has not listed the books in an effort to let teachers be flexible. It just says the kids will be exposed to adult themes. Well, everyone’s definition of ‘adult themes’ is different. [My] definition says this book crosses the line. In the future, the form should list the books. Parents should read the books ahead of time and voice their opinion… I’ve seen people say parents need to be more involved but I’ve also seen educators and administrators ignore any parent or community input with the idea that they are more educated and know more than parents. So it’s an issue of communication and defining ‘adult themes’ that both sides must work to resolve.”

“I am conservative, in general, but … I believe juniors in high school who elect to take an AP class with their parents’ knowledge are going to be challenged above the norm. Perhaps rather than ‘banning’ the book, those students whose parents complained about the book could be offered an independent study opportunity of their own choosing, within parameters to meet requirements for the class with no penalty.”

“Now I want to read this book!”

*The book was subsequently returned to the classroom. Comments have been edited for length. You can access the full article and commentary here.