Recently the annual book festival held in Humble, Texas, a posh Houston suburb, had to be canceled because the Superintendent of Schools "disinvited" bestselling author Ellen Hopkins after a small number of parents and a librarian warned him of questionable content in her books. The majority of authors who had also been invited to the festival, "disinvited" themselves and the festival was no more. I was not a part of any of that. To be disinvited, you have to first be invited. But I did spend some time on a blog discussing with other YA authors, our thoughts about the incident. Many were authors who had gone through what Ellen went through or who had found themselves in a situation where one of their number was censored. When asked, I simply said that if another author gets bleeped from a conference because of language or content of his or her stories, I pull out. Policy. Far better writers than I came into the discussion on both sides. Some said boycott, others said, go and talk about it; we don't want to cheat the kids out of the experience of meeting and talking with authors they admire. As my cats often say to me, that gave me paws...er, pause. I don't like cheating kids out of anything.
But the authors aren't cheating the kids. The Superintendent is cheating the kids. Blaming the authors is like blaming the fearful young wife for bashing her face into her abusive husband's fist. This might well be a time for those kids to have an experience that is a whole lot more fulfilling than meeting their favorite wordsmith. This could be a time for them to stand up and feel empowered; to write letters to the editor, and picket, and demand answers to why a few ideologues, who are not educators, by the way, get to decide for everyone that they shouldn't see and hear Ellen Hopkins talk about writing books to which many of them connect. And it's time for the people who put that festival together (I've been there, they are an exemplary group of people; it takes major time and energy to organize a festival that is so well run) to stand up and challenge those few loud parents and that superintendent to a verbal dual. "How many contemporary books have you read? How many kids have you stood before, trying every creative trick you know to get them involved? How many stories have you looked for that will tickle those students' imaginations and get them reading and writing and discussing. How dare you put your philosophy ahead of our humanity. And our professionalism.
The conservative (read Christian) right is stealing the careers of our most creative educators. That's how kids are getting cheated; by having their best mentors crippled. The best teachers and librarians don't go into their profession to be conduits of propaganda. They go into education to help students discover. It is, in my opinion, incumbent on administrators to create a safe haven for that discovery.
I guess I think that the folks who believe in the First Amendment, who understand why it's there and why it's the first one, need to be as aggressive as those who believe that amendment was written only for their free expression.