Teacher Kristin Collier loves her English students at Caesar Rodney High School in Dover, Delaware. She took the time to get a specialized, advance education -- a level of expertise to help prepare them for a successful life in a very real world. She uses that expertise to select books like WHALE TALK to read and discuss with her kids, though she always offers an alternative reading list, in case individual students feel uneasy with the book. One parent of one student who opted out of reading WHALE TALK has challenged Kristin's right to teach other people's children using the book. This parent is not a certified teacher. She is not the guardian of any student reading the book. Should one parent have the right to make this decision? A Reconsideration Committee will decide on April 28.
UPDATE: We've heard from Kristin, obviously. But we've also heard from at least two of the Reconsideration Committee members. We've extended all the help we can to Kristin and the two committee members, including the submission of Chris's written response to the challenge (here). We'll bring the results as soon as they are available.
NEW UPDATE: A "reconsideration committee" met April 28 and voted 9 to 0 to keep the book. Not one committee member voted to remove it. OUTSTANDING!!! Thank you, committee members! Your hard work is appreciated.
To the students, teachers, administrators, school board members and citizens of Camden, Delaware:
It has been brought to my attention that my book Whale Talk has come under challenge at Caesar Rodney High School in your community. As you might imagine this book has been challenged in other communities, and the outcomes have varied. Because I have been contacted regarding the challenge, I feel an obligation to tell you why I wrote the book and answer as many questions as I can that generally come up. I also feel the need to say I have no personal stake in your final decision. A book censored in a particular high school or school district doesn’t have much effect on the author; nothing like what it has on the teachers and librarians, professionals all, who have chosen that book for reasons particular to their perceptions of the students in their charge, and certainly nothing like what it has on the students.
I certainly support any parent who, for whatever reason, wants a say in what his or her own children are exposed to. Alone in my office, in my capacity as a therapist I might have some different perspectives on that for the parent but from a philosophical standpoint, I stand behind it, and am grateful for any parent who cares enough to participate in his or her child’s education, even if we disagree on the best ways to do that.
I have read the specifics of the challenge; let me address those issues:
“All (choice) books contained profane language but “Whale Talk” by Chris Crutcher contains over 140 profane words including the use of the “F” word 17 times. There is sexual content, drug use, suicide, violence, references to smoking. Chris Crutcher’s material is famous for his use of profane language in his books geared toward teens."
Actually if you were to talk with teachers at the National Council for Teachers of English or the librarians at the American Library Association they would tell you that Chris Crutcher is famous for writing books that people who don’t often read, and particularly boys, will read. Chris Crutcher is famous mostly among conservative Christians for his use of profane language. It’s been a while since I’ve read the book but I’ll stipulate to the complainant’s list. About all I can say is those are issues that young people face today, and yes, I do write about them..
“The more a teen hears/reads profanity the more comfortable they become with profanity, therefore, making the profane works a “norm” and okay to use because teens do not have the “impulse control” that adults have."
You know, that sounds good, but it’s way too sweeping a statement to be true from a developmental standpoint. There are all kinds of teenagers who choose not to curse, though they hear it in the halls of their schools every day. They make a decision for themselves about whether or not to use that language. They also make decisions about their behavior, which is considerably more important in my view. And you know what else? A lot of them who decide to go ahead and use profanity, for whatever reasons, then grow up to be doctors and lawyers and sociologists and business people and philanthropists and preachers. And authors.
“How can you tell a teen not to use profanity – then give him/her required reading that is full of profanity?”
This one is easy. You hand out copies of the book and say, “Okay, listen you guys, this book contains language that I can’t, because of school and community policy, allow used in the classroom. The language is reflective of the characters’ lives and the desperate conditions in which they learn to survive. And it is also reflective of language used by you, and many times by us, in the safety of our peer groups. We don’t have to use the language to talk about that desperation, or our responses to it. I don’t want you to get in trouble and I don’t want me to get in trouble, so let’s keep the class dialogue within the guidelines of the rules. Okay?"”
I can’t imagine not getting an “Okay” in return.
“Profanity used in the classroom by the teacher or the students can create a poor learning environment for some students. Not everyone wants to hear, let alone read, profanity. In addition Christianity is mocked several times and the names of Jesus and God are profaned over a dozen times.”
There is no requirement that teachers or students use profanity after they have read this book, or in the process of discussing this book. Any good teacher lays out the parameters of what is acceptable or not acceptable in his or her classroom. And while I agree that not everyone wants to hear profanity, it is true also that not everyone wants to hear righteousness and condemnation of the expression of hard lives. No one dies when a character, out of consternation or irritation says, “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ.” It may irritate some focused Christians, but those same Christians are unlikely, in my experience, to complain if the leaders or icons of some other religion’s names are taken in vain.
“Under the guise of literature students are being taught that there is a double standard which could create a lack of respect towards authority and rules.”
I don’t know what this means. I don’t know what the double standard is or what any of this has to do with the creation of respect of the lack thereof. Respect doesn’t happen when we dictate to kids that we require it. Respect comes back to us when we give it; when we let kids know we are working to understand their perspectives.
(I do not perceive any instructional value in the use of this item) “unless it is edited without profanity.”
The complainant is saying there may be useful information here – indeed instructional information – if only we would take out the cussing. Hmmmm. I guess I think that speaks for itself..
A five year old girl twenty some odd years ago, found her way into my heart because she endured the slings and arrows of a viciously racist step-father and came out still standing. She is the prototype of the girl who uses many of the “profanities” the complainant objects to in Whale Talk. If you saw her when I saw her: if you knew her when I knew her, she would break your heart, and her story would make you soar. Her depiction in my book is reflective of that. Many of the remaining “profanities” come from the representation of that vicious step-dad. I included them in the story to let readers know the truth of what I saw on a daily basis. Yeah, the kids talk like kids talk. I’m sure there are also “F” bombs that I, as the author, see as natural. If you don’t already know, go ask the kids if they talk like that.
In the final chapter of Whale Talk, before the epilogue, the adoptive father of the main character steps in front of a bullet to stop the killing of the above mentioned little girl. In that single act he finds redemption for some of the horrors he believes he has created in his own life. His dying words are “You’re going to… have to… forgive him, T.J…. He didn’t had no idea… what he was doing…” the present day equivalent of “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I wonder why conservative Christians who consistently want this book removed, don’t embrace that. It was written intentionally.
It amazes me sometimes when censors forget that the teachers their schools have hired are professionals; men and women who have trained at colleges and universities, who have read hundreds, sometimes thousands of books before selecting those they believe fit the populations they teach; men and women who study not only the content areas in which they will teach, but the students to whom they will teach them. It also amazes me when I see individuals or members of groups with agendas making broad claims about teenagers and about adolescent development that they can’t back up and that don’t jibe with developmental research. I have to be amused when someone goes to the trouble of counting words that offend them in a story; as if I’m allowed x number of “F” bombs, but not y number of “F” bombs.
We don’t have to use the language of our teenagers to show them the respect of knowing what that language is and that we are aware of the difficulties of some of their lives.
One statement made in the challenge indicates that some students may be made uncomfortable in an environment in which realistic issues and realistic language are addressed. I’m not sure education is always supposed to be comfortable. Life certainly isn’t..
My father was a World War II B-17 pilot who when he was the same age as I was when I graduated college, had flown 35. bombing missions over Germany; eleven before he came back with all his engines. He was a patriot and a vocal “conservative.” If you were to run as a “conservative” in our county for any office from Dog Catcher to President of the United States, my dad was your county campaign guy. He was also on the school board during all my, and my sibling’s, years in public school, and he’d have run a nail through his eye before allowing a book to be censored. He was a consummate believer in the Constitution he thought he went to war to defend. He believed the idea of “separation of church and state,” was a concept conceived to protect the church and the state. My father’s and my politics were very different, but we certainly agreed on that point.
If you’ve read this far, I commend you. I can ramble. Let me wrap it up by saying thank you for including my words in your discussion. I realize the issues that confront educators can get complex when religious or political beliefs have to be considered, but in the end, those beliefs aren’t what educate us. Curiosity educates us.
If there are many students like Michael Watson, whose thoughts on this issue I have read, then the controversy itself has been educational. He actually says it all far better than I. .