Sunday, September 19, 2010

SPEAK TO ME

I don’t think he’s a bad guy –– Dr. Wesley Scroggins –– when he advocates for the banning of books in Republic High School’s library and language arts curriculum, and his objections to teaching children about their bodies.

He’s simply another member of a small but vocal Christian conservative movement who is given too large a podium and too much credence for the insignificant minority his represents. Fundamentalism makes for headlines and controversies and dollars but it does not represent the average viewpoint.

I think Dr. Scroggins’ biggest problem is his perspective. The blinders of some factions of Christian conservatism and the ivory tower of academia can hide the real world from those with good but misguided intentions. He does not mean harm. In fact, I suspect Dr. Scroggins means to do good by trying to ban what he considers obscene from all persons, despite what might be in their very best interests.

For context, read Dr. Scroggins’ opinion in the Springfield News-Leader (which is only available for seven days because the News-Leader fails miserably as a news organization.

As an educator, I see everyday the words, deeds and thoughts of youth. My perspective is based on my real life experiences with young children, tweens and teens.


Fourth Grade Sex Education
Dr. Scroggins was aghast to discover that students in fourth grade are taught about reproduction. Students (pre-puberty and older) are not only aware of sexual intercourse and other sex acts, but some are actively engaging in the practice. This includes fourth graders. The reasons are varied but here are a few reasons that kids engage in various sex acts:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Peer pressure from older siblings or friends
  • Need to feel like and act like an adult brought on by a need for control
  • Early puberty
  • Curiosity

It is the intention of educators, many of whom in this area are Christian, is to educate children so they make good decisions. What we want from our fourth graders is for them not to have sex or engage in sex acts. Teachers, understanding students behaviors first hand, know this cannot be the only approach because children do, much to our chagrin, have sex or sex-like activities. Our goal is to educate students so if they choose to engage in sexual activity, they can at least do so to avoid pregnancy and diseases.

A decade ago, I read an article in a magazine for Christian youth minsters about the increase of oral and anal sex among middle school Christians. The kids, you see, felt that because they had not had traditional sexual intercourse, they were not having “sex”. They were just goofing around. No one could get pregnant, therefore the parents would not find out. They were free to do what they wished. Since that time, the idea of indiscriminate oral or anal sex has only increased among our youth.

One is unaware of such trends, even among Christian youth, unless they work directly with real-world children in real-world settings. Kids do not talk about such things are church. These are very real issues facing kids. For those with harsh criticisms of kids and their feelings will not be privy to real conversations even if they associate with teens. Kids are smart and can detect judgmental adults. They will avoid real talk with those adults at all costs.


Middle School Sex Education
Dr. Scroggins is quite upset over the fact that high school sexuality discussions include: homosexuality, sexual intercourse, sex acts and prevention. I am not privy to Republic’s sex education curricula so I cannot adequately discuss the accuracy of his statements as to what is and is not taught. However, the editors noted that the school district’s primary focus is on abstinence. I can speak about schools in a general sense.

As state above, educators understand the real world of teens and act accordingly. It should not come as a surprise to Dr. Scroggins or anyone else that middle school and high school students are trying to come to grips with their own sexuality (straight, gay, transgendered). Teens are well aware of homosexuality and the discussion is nothing new to them. If this is a surprise to adults, then those adults are grossly out of touch with kids and teens.

When my wife worked at a mental health facility, she encountered a young, sexually active teen. The girl did not have the information she needed to make good choices. While we would hope she would choose to be abstinent, she disagreed. However, she tried to take steps to protect herself. Unfortunately, the teen was not adequately educated due in large part to people like Dr. Scroggins. The teen mistaken used grape jelly in the place of contraceptive jelly and her body had serious medical complications. If children and teens are taught appropriately, then they can make safer decisions even if they are not the decisions we would wish for them to take. Dr. Scroggins must be aware that even devout Christian teens sometimes have sex; use drugs, alcohol and tobacco; and use profanity.


Book Banning
Dr. Scroggins is on a crusade to ban books he deems inappropriate for high schoolers based on the language use or subject material. Slaughterhouse Five, Twenty Boy Summer and Speak are three he wants banned.

Christian, atheist, Muslim, Buddhist or undefined persons have all heard the f-bomb. It is not a new word and it is not outside the common lexicon of teens of any faith. The fact is, its exposure is not uncommon among tweens and children let alone it’s use. I have heard the female c-bomb screamed loudly in elementary. Tenured elementary teachers and principals are not at all shocked to hear a 7-year-old use such words, although we deal with it appropriately. It is sad, I agree, but not unusual or shocking.

As for his objections of the mention of the rape of a character as pornography, I can only shudder at his thoughts that rape be seen as sexually gratifying to anyone.

The fact is, too many students are disconnected from literature and reading because much of the canon does not engage them, connect with them, or resonate with them. Books that deal with human atrocities, while scary, powerful and emotional, are a part of our daily news cycle and life in general. We cannot, despite our good intentions, shelter teenagers from the world if we want to prepare them to work and live independently in the world.

Rape of teens and rape by teens occurs more often than I think Dr. Scroggins is aware. Real world teachers, juvenile officers, social workers, therapists and physicians are aware of the great harm that teens undergo at the hands of adults and other teens. Teens are also aware. It is of utmost importance to teach our young adults how to appropriately deal with and address the world around us. Literature is a safe way to engage students, teach students and cultivate empathy and ethics.

To that point, I offer this video by Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak. In it she reads a poem that uses the real words of teens who have been uplifted and helped by her book.




This poem by Laurie Halse Anderson was created using actual letters sent to her by readers. The impact of the story on students is obviously positive and powerful. The literary and emotional significance far outweigh any negatives.

I understand Dr. Scroggin’s attempt to make this a better world by sheltering our children from things. However, this approach does not work with real children. It simply makes students incapable of handling the events of the world when they encounter them. Banning books and refraining from teaching students authentically only serves to harm the greater society. I know it is hard for him because he is trying to purify our culture. It is a fruitless endeavor in so far as you cannot mandate purity or innocence. Life is what it is. Educators act and react to society and prepare children and teens to live in that society as healthy adults.

That is my perspective.

3 comments:

halseanderson said...

Thank you very much for taking the time to post your perspective. It is an important one, and helps to further rational discussion of our need (as a community of caring adults) to prepare our children for the realities of the world, no matter how hideous those realities are.

With respect,
Laurie Halse Anderson

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