Killing the Messenger

I have this week been paying close attention to Chris Crutcher and Limestone County, Alabama. Earlier this year, WHALE TALK was banned from Limestone County by its local school board following a narrow vote. The superintendent, Barry Carroll, Ed. D. actually opposed the ban, and he publicly supported WT as an important book.

As he is wont to do, Crutcher took up the censorship fight by visiting the area. After assuring the school administration of Clement High School that his talk would not contain the same curse words found in his books, Chris was booked to speak to students in the school. However, the same man who had supported WT pulled the plug on Crutcher, effectively censoring him–not the book, but the author.

I took exception to this. While I live in another part of the South, I felt the need to question Carroll’s decision, which smacks of hypocrisy. I’ve been a public school teacher, and I’ve felt the effects of censorship—both overt and implied. In every school where I worked, teachers have been afraid for their jobs to speak out against administrators who censor them. They react to book bannings by refusing to use any so-called “offensive” works in their classrooms. They self-censor. A climate of fear is created. When I was a teacher, my colleagues were afraid to speak up. Now that I have a different vantage point, I am not subjected to the policies of school administrators. Dr. Carroll didn’t like what I had to say to him, but “what” I wrote doesn’t matter as much as “that” I wrote. I see it as my duty to speak out in ways that some teachers think they can’t, to challenge people who challenge books, even if those people live hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Book banning and censorship challenge the First Amendment. The right to hear and be heard is the cornerstone of American freedom. I’ve been told that it’s none of my business what people do in Alabama or South Carolina or Michigan. But when it comes to stealing freedoms, it is my business.

It’s your business, too.

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