This is the final post in a series written for Banned Books Week. For post 1 and links to the other posts, click here.
In the beginning of the Great Gilly Hopkins, Gilly is a foster child meeting Maime Trotter for the first time. After three occasions of swearing, Trotter tells her “In this house, we don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.” It’s a rule that Gilly attempts to honor, but as might be expected from someone who has a bad habit, she often forgets.
Gilly Hopkins is frequently banned in libraries because of bad language, but it is a book that I would not choose to challenge. In fact, I believe it makes an excellent addition to a middle school curriculum. If Gilly were a real-life child, I would invite her into my house. I would be prepared for her bad language, and I wouldn’t throw her out the first time she took the Lord’s name in vain. I would discuss the matter with my children before she came over, just as I think it important to discuss the book before it is read. The book is clear that this language is inappropriate, a factor I believe is significant (different than, say, Catcher in the Rye, which I would not teach in a classroom.) In the book, Gilly makes an effort to submit (she doesn’t cuss out the foster mother when corrected). In fact, for some children, I’d rather them know the book Gilly (who is predictable) than a real-life Gilly (who is not predictable).
When I taught English, I had no children. My perspective as a parent is different than it was before I had children. However, I still believe that Objectionable Elements can be beneficial when used appropriately.
Awhile back, I did some informal lectures on Teaching Discernment through Objectionable Elements. Send me an email if you’d like more info, and I can send you a link to my powerpoint notes.
The biggest change in my thinking over the years is that I realize there’s a big difference between middle school students, and preschool students. My preschool children get very little objectionable content. We don’t have a TV, there are a small handful of videos they can see, and I often edit books as I read them aloud. For awhile, I wondered whether I was being inconsistent, but I now realize that the age and maturity of the child make a significant difference in what objectionable elements are appropriate for him. Preschoolers repeat what they hear, regardless of the moral tone. They’re learning what is normal, and I want them to have a biblical world view established before I start exposing them to other world views.
For example, recently I spent several afternoons reading my son some children’s books on Islam. The books were well-written and fairly presented from a neutral position. But Islam is at odds with God’s Word, and I added some clarifications from a biblical perspective. And some places I skipped, because I felt I had already challenged him enough, even though had he been older I would have read those portions.
That’s enough on this topic. There’s much more to say and think about. Maybe next year we’ll continue the conversation.
For further reading:
Read Areopagitica, if you haven’t already. Skim until you find Milton’s biblical arguments for the benefits of a Christian reading objectionable works. It’s hard reading, but worth the effort.
What Johnny Can’t Read, is a well written article against all censorship. It’s useful because her criticisms of the manner in which people challenge books are legitimate.
Also from this perspective, Judy Blume’s website includes an excerpt she has written on censorship.