September 13, 2007

This tactic is a new one on me…

Posted in Books, Censorship, Children and adolescents at 8:35 pm by The Lizard Queen

The basic story is a familiar one:

Lysa Harding, 15, couldn’t believe the sexually charged prose of the novel she checked out from the library at Brookwood High School. Her grandmother was offended, too.

Again, this is nothing new. What caught me by surprise was what they decided to do about it:

Now they’re refusing to return the book, “Sandpiper” by Ellen Wittlinger, saying other teens shouldn’t be exposed to it.

Okay, that deserves something I’ve been pondering for a while now: the Skeptic’s Eyebrow (inspired by the People’s Eyebrow):


(Perhaps not as obviously skeptical without the rest of my face, but until I have a full-time job (someday…), I think I’d like to stay relatively anonymous. May change my mind later. Who knows.)

Anyway, generally people want to get things that offend them out of their homes. It’d be one thing to return it but demand that it not be put back on the shelves. But they don’t want any other teens to be exposed to it… so they’re keeping it. Hmm. But of course, there’s even more to the story:

Lysa, who checked the book out at random last week for a book report, said it goes into too much graphic detail for high school students.

“I honestly believe that it should not be at school, because at my school they teach abstinence and no sex before marriage, but then all the book is teaching is how to do those things,” she said.

Okay, so teaching abstinence (and no sex before marriage? Goodness, their curriculum does run the gamut!) in public schools is an issue I’m not going to get into at present. (But there’s some grinding of teeth going on here.) I have not read the book, but from various descriptions it sounds like the book is not at all teaching kids how to do “those things” (oral sex is an issue the book touches on). It is, instead, pointing out the problems with the behaviors the primary character indulges in. The school system’s library media specialist calls it “a cautionary tale,” and an reviewer (the review in question is roughly halfway down the page, written by Norah Piehl) states that the author “explores the current widespread belief that oral sex is not ‘real sex.'” It seems, then, that the problem here is one that seems common in cases of attempted censorship: being offended affects reading comprehension. Nothing to see here, then. Move along.

One last odd bit, though — a quote from the grandmother mentioned in the first paragraph:

“This book is sick,” said Pennington. “I’m 50 years old, and I’ve raised 11 sets of kids and been through many a library, and I’ve never seen a book like this in a school library before.”

Okay, so PZ Myers, who gets the hat tip, takes that to mean that she had 11 kids.  But… 11 sets?  What does that mean, exactly?  Maybe she’s done some fostering?  And then there’s the fact that she’s 50, and her granddaughter is 15… again I say, hmm.



  1. DavidD said,

    Hey, I’m over fifty and have no grandchildren at all. I suppose Pam Pennington has had a different life than mine, hers having included raising her sets of kids primed to have more kids. Did the preference for abstinence come before or after that? These newspaper articles always leave out so much. You’d think they could have a longer version for the newspaper’s website that tells us absolutely everything they know.

    One hmm is certainly that this article is about a 15 year-old and her grandmother, no parents. Is there even a grandfather? Siblings? Anybody to tell either one of them that it’s nutty to keep the school’s property out of some perceived morality that trumps the laws of Alabama in their minds? Who knows, maybe they can find officials or a jury just as nutty.

    Despite some contact with conservative politics and conservative religion, I have absolutely no idea what it’s like to believe that any book that portrays sex should be kept from post-pubescent yet still minor and unmarried teenagers. I understand the abstract position that mentioning sex encourages sex, but I have no idea how it feels to believe that without snickering, seeing as how sex does so well at encouraging people to have sex with no one saying anything. Maybe the reason Pam Pennington believes this is that she started having sex on reading something sexual, or maybe her boyish, yet fertile partner did. It would seem to me to be a good reason to teach about contraception early, but different people have different solutions. Why don’t people ever give the real reasons they believe what they believe, the personal ones, the ones they’d reach after years of therapy? I know for a fact there is at least one psychologist in Alabama who could connect to this woman. As it is, I can only speculate why there are so many people in the world who don’t think as I do. That’s not all that satisfying.

    One approach some advocate is to keep kids ignorant about sex as much as possible for as long as possible. 51% of voters in any community can try to go that way. But then these lessons come that no matter how the majority tries to control their culture, there are all these ways that such control is undermined, such as through libraries, through connections with other communities, ultimately through the first amendment to the Constitution. When has any culture ever kept its people completely in the dark about anything? Then to think that kids can be kept in the dark about sex? What a fantasy, but that’s what people do when it’s their group vs. the world. They pile up fantasies like sandbags in their wall that separates them from their enemy. The walls always fall down eventually.

  2. […] in Books, Censorship at 5:55 pm by The Lizard Queen No longer a new one on me: a woman comes across a book she finds offensive and, having checked it out, refuses to return it […]

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