Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Judy Blume Speaks About Censorship and Good Teachers

Judy Blume was definitely one of the most important children's authors I read when I was younger. I probably--as many enthusiastic readers did--took out her books at a more tender age than even Ms. Blume might have imagined.

Did this hurt my impressionable young mind? Hardly.

Rather, Judy Blume books opened up a realistic world to me, showing me, even when I was young, that life is not necessarily easy for anyone, but we can always get over the things we think are terrible burdens.  (I am specifically thinking of "Deenie" and "Tiger Eyes" when I write this, although even "Fudge" deals with accepting and even appreciating that which makes us different, whether it's a personal problem or worrying too much about what other people think).

I was reading Judy Blume's amazing essay about censorship (link is above, and this is the introduction to a new anthology on the topic, "Places I Never Meant to Be"), and I was especially touched by her focus, near the end, on great teachers she has known who are no longer teaching because they were driven out of the profession by judgmental, hyper-conservative people who misunderstood their noble mission and purpose.

An excerpt from the excerpt, by Judy Blume:  It's easy to become discouraged, to second guess everything you write...I've never forgiven myself for caving in to editorial pressure based on fear, for playing into the hands of the censors. I knew then it was all over for me unless I took a stand. So I began to speak out about my experiences. And once I did, I found that I wasn't as alone as I'd thought...
       In Panama City, Florida, junior high school teacher Gloria Pipkin's award-winning English program was targeted by the censors for using Young Adult literature that was depressing, vulgar, and immoral, specifically I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier...a year later, when a new book selection policy was introduced forbidding vulgar, obscene and sexually related materials, the school superintendent zealously applied it to remove more than sixty-five books, many of them classics, from the curriculum and classroom libraries. They included To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Badge of Courage, The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights and Of Mice and Men. Also banned were Shakespeare's Hamlet, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night. Gloria Pipkin fought a five-year battle, jeopardizing her job and personal safety (she and the reporter covering the story received death threats) to help reinstate the books. Eventually, the professional isolation as well as the watered-down curriculum led to to resign. She remains without a teaching position.

It scares me how many parallels I see between my own life and what happened to Gloria Pipkin. Standing up for what you believe in does not always help you win the fight; sometimes, it just gets worse. Will it eventually get better?

We have to all fight to ensure that censorship of ideas (and people in schools) stops. Right now. This, to me, is where the focus should be, and this, to me, is the point of discussing ideas about censorship. 

What will our children lose if we censor their lives? Sure, they could "lose" bad things we don't want them to know about--that is the hope, anyway--but they might also lose a real perspective on life. They might lose teachers who could have helped them in innumerable ways.

Sugar-coating things and pretending that different opinions do not exist does not help anyone, in the long run. 

Isn't it a million times worse to realize, when you finally grow up, that you're not the World's Greatest Softball Player or Most Brilliant Student? A short lifetime of being told you're perfect does decades of disservice (and causes major depression) later on.

I am not saying we should be harsh to children. Never. What I am saying is that we always need to tell them the truth. No one is perfect. We all just do our best. 

As long as we aren't hurting other people, then our best is Good Enough.

More from Judy Blume:
The bottom line is, censorship happens, often when you least expect it. It’s not just about the book you may want to read but about the book your classmate might want to read. It’s not just about teachers and librarians at other schools who might find themselves in job-threatening situations -- it could happen at your school. Your favorite teacher, the one who made literature come alive for you, the one who helped you find exactly the book you needed when you were curious, or hurting, the one who was there to listen to you when you felt alone, could become the next target.


  1. This reminds me of the Martin Niemoller poem "And then they came for me..."

  2. Yes, you're right--and I address Pastor Niemoller in my essay, "They've Already Come for the Teachers"--you can see it in the July postings, or click on it up top. It's one of the popular postings.

    I love the fact that Judy Blume is not a teacher but she still stands up for teachers. It's horrible that teachers are so scared, most of the time, that they just suffer in individual silence. That's a huge problem actually, and if there is one thing I will do now that I am not teaching, it is to stand up and speak for teachers.

    Thanks for reading.



  3. Hey!!!
    it's quite amazing article. i got knowledge and will forward to others. thanks for that article..

  4. "Got knowledge?" Like "Got milk?" Well, that's all good, but please don't spam my blog...