What It Does: A Reflection on Crutcher’s ‘How They Do It’

Reading Reflection 4

Growing up, I always loved school and learning (Yes, I am, proudly, a self-described nerd!). For that reason, I don’t think that it comes as a surprise if I write that I think the classroom is one of the most unique places on earth, at least symbolically. Simply put, a classroom is a place where learning happens – a focused, mediated environment for students to discuss, engage, apply, and reflect on the information they are learning. Classrooms are ideally secure places for students with all different opinions and levels of knowledge to come together to test their knowledge and learn.

In his article, “How They Do It,” author Chris Crutcher (2011) discusses the censorship of his book, Whale Talk, in a Michigan city and concludes with this statement: “This is the trick, folks: within ignorance lies safety. So they attack the educational community – the enemy for the time being – with disruption” (para. 9). While this quotation is composed of many strong and discussion-worthy ideals, I was drawn to the idea that censorship (and consequently, the actions of censors) works through causing disorder and disunity in the education system.

Classroom Chaos (darkday, 2014)

Through class discussions and readings, I latched on to the idea that censorship commonly works through limiting material and people – through stopping the flow of information.  While that is completely true, I have also come to realize through researching my case and hearing about the research of my peers that it also causes the rise of other practices and opinions, especially of fear and disorder.

In discussing the Carroll County case, for example,  Goldwasser (1997) writes that “[d]isappointingly, some teachers and administrators in the country seemed to have learned nothing from all of this. One ninth-grade teacher the following the year was afraid to teach Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” (p. 41). Relatedly, to describe the impact of the Michigan case, Crutcher (2011) states that “[t]he damage had been done. The flow of the project was interrupted, various teachers and administrators intimidated, and what had been a successful, innovative project, crashed” (para. 5). Far beyond just influencing individual students and groups of students, these quotations speak to how censorship can disrupt the idea of the classroom and the educational process as a whole.

I tried to ponder: What is so dangerous about challenge publicity and parent complaints for public school systems? As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the negativity of the words that circulate or even the potential of the complaints to end the books that are being taught (though, that is certainly a danger). I think that the biggest danger of censorship lies in what it starts – chaos and uncertainty in the classroom.

Ultimately, this idea exposes one difficult and paradoxical aspect of censorship. Many parents and community members challenge novels to protect students but they sacrifice the stability the classroom – the place where students learn how to engage with different ideas and perspectives – to do so, which has negative consequences that reach far beyond a few choice words or scenes in a book.


Crutcher, C. (2011, August 02). How They Do It. Retrieved April 15, 2019, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-they-do-it_b_915605

Darkday. (2014, April 16). Classroom Chaos. Retrieved April 15, 2019, from https://www.flickr.com/photos/drainrat/13899503535/in/photolist-8MSVb8-nbfA9F-Kzbc9-7zaw9N-bQhtjx-DohZ3x-7z6KwT

Goldwasser, M. M. (1997). Censorship: It Happened to Me in Southwest Virginia–It Could Happen to You. The English Journal, 86(2), 34. doi:10.2307/819671



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