Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Word Vomit and Why I Abstain, Courteously

Not in the usual sense of dumping any words on a page you might feel like at the time with no regard for applicability, coherence, or appropriate boundaries.

No, my friends, this is me realizing that I want to vomit because of the textbook that wants to teach me how to be an English Teacher. I just read a chapter on censorship that made me want to vomit. Such self-righteous language as I have never been fed from a legitimate source! Such self indulgent and exclusive Messiah complexes! Wowza!

I understand the point. We believe in the right to read.  I get it. I agree with it. I read a lot of stuff in school that wasn't necessarily 'appropriate' for my age group. I believe that being 'appropriate for an age group' is a subjective thing, and I certainly defined that for myself. That's cool. My parents were fine with it, and they were involved in it and I talked about a lot of it with either my parents or my teachers. Go Right to Read! Yay American Library Association!

 However, one small qualification: I absolutely believe in the right to read, and I absolutely believe in advocating the right to read for other people, especially children. What I don't support and can't understand is that a campaign which claims its purpose is to support the free thinking and trust the intelligence of the individuals they work for also refuses to accept the fact that these people may exercise that free thought and intelligence to choose not to read a work they find inappropriate or disturbing. The Right to Read is valid only when accompanied by The Right not to Read.

 I would like to think that I am not a close minded puritan who hates anything remotely offensive in literature. I read Les Miserables and Crime and Punishment and Beloved, for crying out loud. I had no problem with reading an uncensored text of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I support the sentiment as my Writing Professor expressed it; "If you're gonna be offended about something, be offended that this is rooted in history, that this type of thing existed to be written about in the first place." Truth. There is value in literature that contains things we may find offensive, immeasurable value. There is a reason I have never had an issue with reading the things he assigns. There is a reason we talk about things like racism, and violence, and as abhorrent as it is, there could even be a reason to use the N-word in a book. We should have the right to read.

But what if there isn't a reason? What if vulgarity, or obscenity, or extreme violence, and there isn't a purpose for it? What if there is a purpose but I just know that I'm not ready for it? What if those kids in high school who we hope are learning to think for themselves and make their own decisions actually do just that when they say "I believe that this material is degrading and offensive for no reason and I choose not to participate."? What if their parents decide with them that they are willing to say it out loud and find an alternative assignment? Maybe we should knock down our pride a notch or two, enough to realize that they are applying the critical thinking skills and independence we've been trying to teach them and get over ourselves enough to accept that they are doing it in ways we may not personally agree with. Maybe we respect that, or if you can't, suck it up anyway. 

This is all on a case by case basis, of course, There are absolutely students and parents who abuse that right not to read, who try to impose it on other students who have no problem with what they've been assigned, and that is a shame, and when it extends to the rights of others to read, then absolutely educators should fight such attempts at censorship. But if a student chooses not to read something and has legitimate reasons and cares enough to address them with you, perhaps the respect and open-mindedness you've been preaching could go both ways. Maybe you could refrain from demeaning, belittling, and self aggrandizing vitriol. Perhaps you could recognize that 'censor' is not a term automatically synonymous with 'Beelzebub'.

I never realized before taking this class that the field might involve some things I have deep personal issues with. I didn't realize I might be one of those people they are preaching against in this book they made me pay for. And it makes me nervous. I didn't realize it might be such a difficult task to support the Right to Read and the Right to Abstain simultaneously, but maybe if I can pull it off, I'll have something to be proud of.

Though it is not always an option, and we don't want to be New York, sometimes it is appropriate to abstain, courteously. 


  1. So I am reading more of your blog this fine morning and I LOVE YOU! I think that you have a wonderful head on your shoulders and You will go places! Milla, write a book. I will buy it and read it and love it.

  2. So I am reading more of your blog this fine morning and I LOVE YOU! I think that you have a wonderful head on your shoulders and You will go places! Milla, write a book. I will buy it and read it and love it.


thank you for validating my existence, you lovely person!