Please tell us a little about your academic background and your specific topics of interest as they pertain to young adult literature.
“I am Professor of English at Ramapo College of New Jersey. I regularly teach a course titled “Children’s and Young Adult Literature.” I have also taught a separate course on just young adult literature. Censorship of these texts is a frequent topic of discussion.”
In your opinion, what is the primary reason why young adult literature is challenged?
“Fear. I think people challenge children’s and young adult literature because they fear — many things. For most, they fear their own vision of reality is being challenged–directly or implicitly-and they don’t like that. They seek control. Adults have always tried to control childhood and young adulthood-and to remake it into the vision they wish it to be. The Puritans didn’t like fairy tales being read–they wanted kids to read only books they deemed morally instructive. What child would want to read a book like that?”
What are some of the common themes across censored texts that you have explored?
“I’ve explored with the students in my classes the common themes of censorship–including challenged and outright banned texts. These themes include sexuality–with its many subsets, profanity, and racial and religious issues.”
Under what circumstances do you think censorship is a positive thing for children/young adult?
“I’m very fond of the first amendment, and its free speech principles. Of course that includes, alas, hateful speech–“speech” –here a text–that many, even most, would find hateful. Unless there is a clear and present danger, let them read.”
Under what circumstances do you think censorship is a negative thing for children/young adults?
“Censorship is virtually always negative. American author Judy Blume is a heroine on the anti-censorship of books for children and young adults. She had and still has, so many of her young adult and middle grade books censored. She says fear has no place in a writer’s mind when they are writing–and of course that’s so true. Self censorship–fear of censorship–is the worst for art. Let kids read. Too many kids don’t read any books at all. Boys are particularly reluctant readers. When you have a fabulous writer like Philip Pullman, who creates fantastic fantasies, with children in charge — it’s a crime to try to censor him. His books are gateways to every other kind of book a child will eventually read.”
How do values regarding censorship tend to be different between different groups, i.e. children/young adults, parents, teachers, and administrators?
“Is it important, unimportant, or somewhere in the middle? Pressure is often placed on library or school administrators to censor books — to ban them from being read by anyone. Sometimes the pressure comes from parents–sometimes the administrator initiates the ban herself. The many attempts to ban Blume’s Are You There god? It’s me, Margaret is indicative of the problems with cnesorship. Really? Because it mentions the main character getting her period? An attempt to ban that book in a middle school suggests there is something shameful about a girl getting her period. And there isn’t; it’s a natural part of female life. Child and young adult readers have to be given credit for their intelligence. Let them explore their curiosities by reading. Just because Pullman is an atheist, does not mean his readers will become atheists! I know we as a society are afraid of the word atheist. I’m a spiritual atheist. It’s still taboo to say you’re an atheist–as Philip Pullman has bravely done.”
Do you think censorship benefits or hinders the education of young students?
“Censorship is always a hindrance to a child or young adult’s education–in or out of school. Let them read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian or Harry Potter and decide for themselves. Many institutionalized religions don’t like what they perceive of as their “domain” being incurred upon.”
Are moral/religious values taught in schools? If so, how? Should moral/religious values be taught in schools, in your opinion?
“Unless it is a private religious school, certainly a particular religion’s values should not be taught. But morals are being “taught” by being analyzed, every time history or laws are discussed, texts are read and discussed, students venture their opinions. Morals don’t need a religious framework to “exist.” Placing them within a particular religious framework is a personal choice.”
Do schools have a right or duty to teach students things that their parents do not want them to know?
“It depends of course on what the issue is. Schools have a right and a duty to tell the truth. Young girls get their periods. People curse and are not always good. Evolution and climate change are scientifically verifiable.”
What is your personal viewpoint regarding the censorship of The Golden Compass? Why?
“I love The Golden Compass. I think it is an imaginative fantasy of a young girl’s coming into her own intelligence and power. Pullman’s idea of each human having their own spirit animal is a great approach to character, as well as a rich metaphor.I think the book should never be censored. I believe a lot of the censorship of TGC happened because of Pullman’s brave public statement that he is an atheist. I think many are very threatened by that. The more people that say that, the more others might start to believe that. And of course atheism is a threat to many organized religions. And we should not conflate the artist with the art. There are many “versions’ of the Magisterium throughout fiction and film; why is Pullman’s creation attacked?”
Do you have any additional comments on the censorship of The Golden Compass, or censorship in general?
“Yes, read The Golden Compass! And let kids and young adults be free to read. If you, as an adult, don’t wish to read something–or even if you make a decision to not let your child read something (a great way to get them to read it, by the way), that’s one thing. But those who attempt to censor a work so others can’t read it are truly doing something unjust–even wicked. The American Library Association has led the charge on this issue of the freedom to read. It compiles censorship statistics. They are another hero in this ongoing battle.”