Right on the Mark? Or Mark on the Right? September 2008
September 28, 2008
I got a letter from Mark Rogers, geographic location undisclosed. In honor of BANNED BOOKS WEEK, I thought I'd post my response here. CC
Dear Mark Rogers,
I received your email containing the threat to get all my books banned from your son's school. You must be a very influential and powerful citizen. I couldn't keep all your issues in mind at one time, so I've answered you in point by point.
Are you right on the mark or Mark on the Right?
Chris Crutcher. My 12 year old son checked out "Deadline" this week at his middle school library. It was recommended to him by a friend who said it was "cool". After reading some I was appalled that this was allowed to be at the school. I am in the process to have this and your other books removed from the school. You can call it "censorship" or you can call it "filtering". Am I endangering my son or just forcing him to be more selective in his choice of books. I am upset that my school librarian thought that she had the last say on what was appropriate for my son. I am more concerned that you think that you are helping youth by talking so blatantly about social concerns in a way that is defiant, foul and very perverse.
I'm guessing your son's librarian didn't think she had the last say on what was appropriate for your son. I'm guessing she wanted to have a wide selection of books so that all kids could find something they might like to read. I'm guessing your son isn't the only kid in his school. You might want to check out why your son's friend thought the book was "cool." And you might want to check into your own belief system which seems to include taking the book away from your son's friend as well from him. And if I were in your shoes I'd be way more interested in what my son thought after he read the book (or chose not to) and in having a conversation with him about it so I could tell him my objections. You ask if you're endangering your son or just forcing him to be more selective in his choice of books. It sounds to me as if in your world he doesn't have a choice of books. You have a choice of his books. I mean, that's the point, right? And by the way, Mark, you don't know what I think I am doing. Truth is, I could flood your inbox with emails from kids and adults alike who love the book and believe it gave them a different, better, perspective on their lives. I'd be glad to do that, if you'd like.
In researching your background it seams that this challenge is not new to you, something that you are proud of as well. I quote, "I've been on the top 10 most-banned books list three years in a row, And I say that with a note of pride." What are your real intentions here Mr. Crutcher, to help a really messed up generation of young people or to see how many reactions you can get out of the conservative, church going, up standing, moral people of America. You use your "art" as a sounding board for your political and social views. It does not set a good and moral standard, nor does it up lift or inspire. I think you have a twisted agenda when you can say that your intentions are to "relate to young people" by using foul language and talking about having sex or being a homosexual or a racist parent, Well I say not in my back yard Mr. Crutcher. You do not have permission or the right to help my child.
Actually, you may be happy to know we have a point of agreement. I totally agree that you have the right to tell your twelve-year-old child what he can read and what he can think. You have every right to take the book away from him after he's checked it out and you've read it. The two of you can work that out in therapy when he's fifteen. But the school isn't your back yard, Mark. It's every student's and every parent's back yard. And it's my back yard, Mark. It has a library. I didn't read anywhere in your email that you're an expert in education. The teachers there are; as is the librarian. They spent years and money on that specific education.
You quoted me correctly regarding the banned books list. Do you know why I say that "with a note of pride?" Because if you look at banned books lists year after year, they are filled with some of the best literature of our time. There are normally at least two Pulitzer Prize winning works of fiction on that list. Names like Twain, Vonnegut, Angelou, Cormier, Walker, Blume and Shakespeare are on that list. The "note of pride," for me is to be mentioned in the same breath as the masters, though I in no way consider myself a master.
Look, if I were to spend my time seeing how many reactions I can get out of "conservative, church-going, upstanding, moral people of America," my job would be too easy. What a narcissistic, arrogant thing for you to say. I'm interested in where you get the right (other than that you live in America and you can say any ill-thought-out thing you want to say) to call your Christian perspective the only moral perspective. I know a lot of Christians who are embarrassed by your claim to represent them. They believe people need to make choices to grow; they believe Christ thought the same thing, and Mark, they are every bit as moral as you. Beyond that, one doesn't have to be Christian to be moral. One has to be moral to be moral. I challenge you to find anything on my web site or in anything I've said in public that even remotely approaches your charge that I "relate to young people by using foul language and talking about having sex or being homosexual or a racist parent." I've certainly written about gays and I've certainly written about racists. And I've certainly used realistic language. Those things exist in our culture and I write about them. Sue me.
It is a shame that my tax dollars went to buy your attempt to spread your liberal minded views to the most impressionable. You hide behind this notion that if we don't let our children be "free thinkers" and tolerate any form of social defiance that they will somehow lose respect for, or lose the trust to communicate freely with us parents. I will say that trust and respect comes from children seeing adults acting like adults and not children. Standing for what is right and living it in front of them. You do not have to talk like them or dress like them, or heaven forbid act like them to earn the right to say what is socially right and wrong, because that is the real issue here isn't it Mr. Crutcher. It is not yours or anybody else's place to say what is socially or politically acceptable to my son, that is MY place. If I say homosexual relations are not socially acceptable and is wrong that is what I have a right to as a parent. The school, political parties, or authors cannot take that right from me. The same goes for foul language, disrespecting adults, sexual relations, rape, murder, assaulting old ladies, you get my drift.
Boy, do I ever get your drift. However it's no bigger a shame that some of your tax dollars go for things you don't agree with than it is that some of mine go to cover the truth that your group is tax exempt. Hey, welcome to America. The difference between us in that regard is that I am more than willing to pay taxes for things I don't agree with because I understand that in a free country, the fact that everyone has a point of view is celebrated. Your simple assertion that you know what is "right" because you have a belief system is just that: simple. I find it interesting that you have something against letting children be "free thinkers," as if anyone could stop that. It's behavior that we need to pay attention to, Mark, not thinking. I won't take the time here to address the last truly powerful dude on the world stage who was against "free thinking." I agree it is not for anyone else to say what is socially or politically acceptable to your son, as much as it isn't your place to say that for other people's kids. I'm totally willing to let you try to control what your son sees and hears and thinks; as I said earlier, the two of you can work that out in therapy when he's older, or he can work it out for himself if you're unwilling to engage him should he discover the world to be different from what you described. And you're correct, you do have the right to teach your son to be intolerant of a group of people who make up approximately ten percent of the population of the world – I wonder how God let that slip by – and who feel they have the right to express their love and regard for each other the same way you do, and have that love and regard be accepted by the free society in which they live. A shorter way to put that is, you have the right to teach your son to be a bigot. By the way, I don't "talk like them" or "dress like them." My jeans are out of date and most teenagers wouldn't be caught dead in my choice of shirts. I rarely call anyone "dude" or "bro" in my day to day conversations, the above reference to Adolph Hitler notwithstanding.
I am sure you do not agree with me and think I am an over protective parent with a hidden agenda of his own, well you would be half correct, there is not a Protect the Rights of Parents Organization that I am aware of, so I have to protect him from free thinkers like you who do not think there is a difference in right and wrong only the perspective in which we approach right and wrong. Again I quote "My point is that good and bad, or good and evil, are relative terms, and they are also terms of perspective?"
Believe me, I don't think your agenda is hidden, and I don't know whether you're an overprotective parent or not. That too is a relative term. I also didn't say there is no difference between right and wrong. I said they are relative terms, and also terms of perspective.
This E-mail will be sent to the local media and to other outlets to expose as many people as possible for your lack of respect and contempt for the parent and anybody else that does not see it "your way.”
I'm sure they'll be happy to get it. And I'm sure they'll jump right on your bandwagon to expose my lack of respect and contempt for etc. etc. etc. I can't have contempt for you, Mark. I don't know you. I'm betting if I did I'd see a guy who has a lot of concern and regard for his son, and I'll bet his son feels loved. As an advocate of child protection for more than twenty five years and as an educator for ten years prior, I can have nothing but respect for that. What I have contempt for is your simple notion that you have the answers for everyone. I know kids who are crushed by your kind of inflexibility. I'm bewildered by any group that calls itself moral at the same time it cares less about how children feel than about how that group thinks. I am bewildered at the idea that for a free people to be truly free, they have to allow a small group of control freaks to control thought. I'm flummoxed by any group of people who mask their fear with righteousness. You're not an educator, Mark. You're not a child developmentalist. You're a guy with concern for your kid. So be concerned. Restrict him from whatever books and video games and television programs and movies you want to. Show him what you believe to be right and wrong. Lead by example. I don't have any right to stop you from doing that and I wouldn't try. But I will continue to write stories that reflect what I see, whether people like you choose to make personal attacks or not. In my view I have an obligation to the people who do believe they get something from my books, to continue to write, whether you want to take poorly-thought-out shots at me or not.
Believe me I had second thoughts about even responding to your email. Cooler heads on my side of this debate often say we need to find common ground to talk this censorship issue out, and there are times I attempt to do that. But as I said, your agenda isn't hidden and your heels are dug in as deeply as are mine. My father used to tell me that when a fool and a wise man argue, it's hard for those on the outside to tell which is which. But hey, Mark, there's your lesson in perspective, because I'll bet each of us has a different idea of who the wise man is.