I Swear

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Aug
  • 24
  • 2007

How do you feel about censorship? Is it good or is it bad? Under what circumstances?

See, I’m against censorship as a general policy. Education wins over ignorance. I make a concerted effort not to censor my views on things in my personal life. I don’t want to read anything abridged and I never want to listen to the “clean” version of any album. If it’s not appropriate or you can’t handle it for whatever reason, don’t listen to/watch/read it. Consuming censored content shouldn’t even be an option.

At the same time, several hundred parents trust me with their children for one hour, five days a week. If I throw something awful in that child’s face, even if we debrief it afterwards and connect it to required curriculum, I run the risk of contradicting something taught at home. Additionally, never mind the skills I’m teaching, an enraged parent or administrator will focus only on the text used.

The obligation to my students is just as real and pressing. They deserve to see how brutal, cool, fun, and compelling writing/reading can be. Staring at a section of Chuck Palahniuk’s classic Fight Club, one half of me flipping through ways to use the text in class and the other half resignedly acknowledging that this might be inappropriate, I battle with the trouble of what to put in front of my students, realize that it would make a great way to talk about an author’s philosophy, and note where to draw thick black lines. (recurring Krakauer sentence)

Even More Interesting

What’s in this section of Fight Club is also found throughout many district-approved readings. Text very similar to what I’m thinking of censoring will be read later in the year by just about all students. Possibly even out loud in class. Lord Of The Flies, Catcher In The Rye, The Crucible, Siddhartha, The Things They Carried, Huck Finn, House On Mango Street, countless stories in corporate-manufactured textbooks, all have various swear words and/or sexual situations in them. And they are approved at the district, county, and state levels. Does that mean that the language and circumstances are approved? Is the tacit message here, “Teachers, we trust you to handle this material in a mature fashion and help your students through it”? If so, am I entrusted with helping navigate these waters no matter the book in which such things appear?

I’m not sure which other subject areas need to take this into consideration, but I constantly bump into it. Should I use this story, even though it employs a few four-letter words? Should I distribute this article, even though the intro is pretty sexually risque? But since One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is approved, why do I have to worry about any of this? R.P.McMurphy tosses around explicit sexuality and frequent curses, so I’m free and clear, right?

A Closing Poll


1. Damian Bariexca says:

[8/24/2007 - 9:48 am]

Hi Todd – I fought the same internal battle over whether or not to distribute passages by Irvine Welsh in my Honors Brit Lit class (for a lesson on dialect/voice connected to The Reeve’s Tale, not just for fun). I think it comes down to the value of the piece in reaching your objectives.

I’m of the same mind as you w/r/t censorship, but I also don’t think that the explicit approval of Mango Street, et al., is implicit approval of Palahniuk. I don’t know the relationship you have with your supervisor/principal, but if it were me, I’d go there first with strong case as to how this work meets your needs. Even if you don’t get Board approval, it’s much easier to fight this battle if you’ve got a) clearly stated educational objectives linked to the work, and b) admin on your side.

Two questions arise for me here: I’ve never read Fight Club; is there a passage you can post for us (or link for us) to help frame the context? Also, are you just giving them a section, or the whole text?

BTW, I decided against handing out the Welsh piece, less for the drug content, and more for the profanity. I think I hate myself a little bit for bowing to what I perceive as my community’s distorted priorities, but it wasn’t a battle I was willing to fight at the time. Maybe I’ll rethink that decision when I teach it again in February.

2. Todd says:

[8/26/2007 - 8:00 am]

It just strikes me as odd that teachers can discuss a book that has a few chapters about rape (Mango Street) with freshmen (that’s where the book is approved in my district), but I can’t discuss a chapter that has two small bits of nastiness with juniors. The fact that I even worry about legal action is what troubles me. Your Irvine Welsh comparison is a perfect one. I’ve read bits of Welsh and you were dealing with the same issues. I’m right with you on the decision not to hand out copies of this passage and right with you on the hating myself a bit piece, too.

Never read Fight Club!? Go to your local bookstore right now! Really, it’s a quick read and well worth it. You’ve at least seen the movie, right?

3. Damian Bariexca says:

[8/26/2007 - 3:41 pm]

Seen it; never read it. Palahniuk’s one of those authors I keep meaning to get to, but never quite do (Ian McEwan’s another). I’ve read snippets of his other books online, so I’m familiar with the style, but never gotten through one cover-to-cover. I’ll grab a used copy and get to it one of
these days; thanks for the recommendation!

4. Todd says:

[8/26/2007 - 6:48 pm]

Ian McEwan for me, too. Jose Saramago and Margaret Atwood, as well. Palahniuk does have a definite style, so if you’ve read one thing you are pretty clear on how he writes. He’s started to mix it up recently, but he’s really into the submerging the I style of writing; lots of second person pronouns.