Friday, October 15, 2010

Newsflash: All YA Books are Disturbing.

On Wednesday, I questioned whether or not my son’s teacher had the right to give low marks to a short story based on the fact that she found the premise disturbing.

Doc’s question to me was, “Mom, aren’t teachers supposed to read real books?”

Here’s the thing. They should. They really should. But that doesn’t mean they do.

If my son’s teacher is smart, she would have read, I don’t know, maybe, The Hunger Games. Or, To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Scarlett Letter, Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare, or any number of the current popular Vampire/werewolf/paranormal/fantasy/dystopian books. But maybe she’s not a fan of the fantastical. Maybe she prefers YA issue books. Still.

Here’s the thing: ALL those books are disturbing in one way or another. Heck, being a teenager is disturbing. They read about post apocalyptic societies in which children are forced to fight to the death. About deadly creatures who roam earth, right under the noses of the clueless public. They read about addiction, abuse, neglect, cruelty, and all manner of emotional trauma. They read about *gasp* the kind of true love that makes you do stupid things—like ask to become a vampire. Or a faery.

Show me a YA book that isn’t disturbing in one way or another, and I’ll show you a YA book only being read by adults. And not by many.

Is it really a shocker to discover that these teen readers write similar stories?

But then, I say that assuming the teacher in question has read any of these books. Because, as mentioned above, just because she should doesn’t mean she has. Or does. Or will. However, if she hasn’t, how is she able to fairly grade papers written by the kids who are her students?The ones who read disturbing books?

As mentioned earlier, I respect that teacher’s ability to grade papers based on opinion. Even when the technical aspects have been efficiently handled. But I am also troubled by her choice to discourage any kid from expressing their creativity in the best way they know by downgrading their paper for being disturbing.

I believe kids have a hundred times more power than adults behind their creative instincts, because they have not yet learned to care what others think of their work. They write, dance, create, play, and dream just because they can. It is only as they become adults and have numerous people working to convince them that they aren’t good enough, that they actually start to believe it’s true.

Again, I ask you. Does an adult—especially a teacher—have the right to begin the cycle of “I’m not good enough” for a child? Even if that child is on the verge of adulthood?

Something to think about I guess.


Angela said...

Adults do it all the time. We try not to, I try not to--but isn't that what domesticating kids is about?

"Sit still . . . stop talking . . . walk in a straight line, and would you stop laughing so loud?!"

Many kids are outside the box thinkers, a lot of adults are too, but a lot of teachers are inside the box thinkers(not all of them, to be fair). Directions must be followed to a tee, and order is more important than creativity.

Sorry, am I ranting too much? I'm sorry about what happened with your son's story, but now I'm curious: What did he write about that was so disturbing?

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

oh man, that would make me so mad. Nobody has the right to stifle someone's creativity. What if that person becomes discouraged and never tries again?

Quinn said...

Finding the premise disturbing is not an acceptible excuse for giving a low grade. But ... the same thing happened to me. I did an art project in my junior year. Anyway, the teacher gave me the lowest grade without actually failing me. When I asked her why, she said she didn't think I should be focusing on that subject matter -- even though the assignment was to do whatever we wanted to do in that medium.

Shari said...

Teachers have an amazing ability to inspire their students. All it takes is one comment to either encourage or deflate. I waited a hundred years to start writing. Okay, maybe not a hundred, but a whole bunch because of the influence of teachers. I hope that your son is able to find the positive influence he needs to continue creating. Thanks for your post.

Mary Campbell said...

I think the fact that the teacher found it disturbing means that some good writing was going on. I think you should challenge her on it.

L.T. Elliot said...

I had this same thought. All YA is disturbed. Truthfully, isn't almost all story disturbing? It always has conflict--rising conflict--and the stories that really change us and make us think are the ones that dare.

I'm glad your son has you because even if his teacher doesn't "get" this one, you do and you won't let him be stifled.

WindyA said...

It leads back to what I said before. Technical grade vs Content grade. And the content is too subjective, so it isn't fair to grade that way. And I think English teachers have a hard job. But it's like writing an opinion piece, right? If the teacher didn't agree with their opinion, would they have automatically had a bad grade because of the teacher's personal beliefs? This isn't math, it's not quantitative with a right/wrong answer. So they need to remove all the qualitative aspects of it in order to grade fairly.

P.S. Your font color and background in the comments section make it impossible to read previous comments without highlighting them. You may want to darken one of those things.

lotusgirl said...

So not fair! You shouldn't grade a paper on whether it's disturbing or not.

kbrebes said...

Three years ago my daughter wrote a horribly disturbing story. I couldn't believe it had come from her. However, I was proud of her at the same time for her tremendous writing ability! And, fortunately for us, her teacher agreed and felt completely fine with the content. I did feel very grateful for that, so I can imagine how you feel not receiving the kind of support your son should have gotten.

Michael Knudsen said...

Solid, thoughtful points. To disturb is one of the purposes of narrative and if you strip it of evil you strip it of interest. Of course, we want to protect kids from gratuitous evil, or narrative that actually promotes or glorifies wrongdoing, but we can't keep them from knowing it exists - or they'll find out when we're not around!