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Beth Fehlbaum

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Member Since: Aug, 2007

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Wrong, wrong, dirty, and wrong
Wednesday, February 13, 2008  7:17:00 PM

by Beth Fehlbaum



Young Adult/Teen
Censorship sucks. 'Nuf said.

On February 21, the Kanawha County (West Virginia) school board will meet to vote on a policy requiring that teachers at Nitro High School notify parents if a novel set for study contains offensive material. Teachers are required to offer an alternative novel for study if the parents do not want their children to read the "offensive" novel.
One parent wrote, "A parent has every right to decide what constitutes offensive for their child."
This brouhaha came about as a result of one teacher using Pat Conroy's novel, The Prince of Tides, in the classroom. Scrutiny of The Prince of Tides led to suspension of both it and another Conroy novel, Beach Music. According to the article (http://sundaygazettemail.com/News/200802060765), "Those books had been suspended from the high school after the parents complained about violence, sexual assault, child rape, suicide and other graphic themes."
In a terrific response, Conroy wrote,
I received an urgent e-mail from a high school student named Makenzie Hatfield of Charleston, West Virginia. She informed me of a group of parents who were attempting to suppress the teaching of two of my novels, “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music.” I heard rumors of this controversy as I was completing my latest filthy, vomit-inducing work. These controversies are so commonplace in my life that I no longer get involved. But my knowledge of mountain lore is strong enough to know the dangers of refusing to help a Hatfield of West Virginia. I also do not mess with McCoys.I’ve enjoyed a lifetime love affair with English teachers, just like the ones who are being abused in Charleston, West Virginia, today. My English teachers pushed me to be smart and inquisitive, and they taught me the great books of the world with passion and cunning and love. Like your English teachers, they didn’t have any money, either, but they lived in the bright fires of their imaginations, and they taught because they were born to teach the prettiest language in the world. I have yet to meet an English teacher who assigned a book to damage a kid. They take an unutterable joy in opening up the known world to their students, but they are dishonored and unpraised because of the scandalous paychecks they receive. In my travels around this country, I have discovered that America hates its teachers, and I could not tell you why. Charleston, West Virginia, is showing clear signs of really hurting theirs, and I would be cautious about the word getting out.In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read “Catcher in the Rye,” under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of “Catcher in the Rye” was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.About the novels your county just censored: “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music” are two of my darlings, which I would place before the altar of God and say, “Lord, this is how I found the world you made.” They contain scenes of violence, but I was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot who killed hundreds of men in Korea, beat my mother and his seven kids whenever he felt like it, and fought in three wars. My youngest brother, Tom, committed suicide by jumping off a fourteen-story building; my French teacher ended her life with a pistol; my aunt was brutally raped in Atlanta; eight of my classmates at The Citadel were killed in Vietnam; and my best friend was killed in a car wreck in Mississippi last summer. Violence has always been a part of my world. I write about it in my books and make no apology to anyone. In “Beach Music,” I wrote about the Holocaust and lack the literary powers to make that historical event anything other than grotesque.People cuss in my books. People cuss in my real life. I cuss, especially at Citadel basketball games. I’m perfectly sure that Steve Shamblin and other teachers prepared their students well for any encounters with violence or profanity in my books just as Gene Norris prepared me for the profane language in “Catcher in the Rye” forty-eight years ago.The world of literature has everything in it, and it refuses to leave anything out. I have read like a man on fire my whole life because the genius of English teachers touched me with the dazzling beauty of language. Because of them I rode with Don Quixote and danced with Anna Karenina at a ball in St. Petersburg and lassoed a steer in “Lonesome Dove” and had nightmares about slavery in “Beloved” and walked the streets of Dublin in “Ulysses” and made up a hundred stories in the Arabian nights and saw my mother killed by a baseball in “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I’ve been in ten thousand cities and have introduced myself to a hundred thousand strangers in my exuberant reading career, all because I listened to my fabulous English teachers and soaked up every single thing those magnificent men and women had to give. I cherish and praise them and thank them for finding me when I was a boy and presenting me with the precious gift of the English language.The school board of Charleston, West Virginia, has sullied that gift and shamed themselves and their community. You’ve now entered the ranks of censors, book-banners, and teacher-haters, and the word will spread. Good teachers will avoid you as though you had cholera. But here is my favorite thing: Because you banned my books, every kid in that county will read them, every single one of them. Because book banners are invariably idiots, they don’t know how the world works — but writers and English teachers do.I salute the English teachers of Charleston, West Virginia, and send my affection to their students. West Virginians, you’ve just done what history warned you against — you’ve riled a Hatfield.
Sincerely,Pat Conroy

My novel, Courage in Patience, addresses the censorship issue, using a real book, Ironman, by a real-life banned-book author, Chris Crutcher. Beverly Asher is a passionate high school English teacher, committed to reaching students where they are. Recognizing that the "clientele" in her summer school class will be difficult to "sell" reading to, she chooses a book that she knows the kids will find relevant. One student in the class is experiencing growing pains, and, rather than see the changes he is going through as normal and part of the the vital process of becoming an independent thinker, his parents zone in on some elements of Ironman. Their complaints include, but are not limited to, the inclusion of a homosexual character in the story; the use of the word, "nigger," swearing, including taking the Lord's name in vain; the inclusion of a mentally ill student in a general education classroom; the discussion of sexual abuse, and the fact that the characters talk about having sex.
In a pivotal scene before the school board, Beverly Asher pleads her case:

"Reverend Langley mentioned aspects of the plot of Ironman that included things like divorce, and sexual abuse, and kids not getting along with their parents or teachers, and those are real issues for today's teenagers. They have been issues for kids for years. They were issues for every one of us in this room, I'll bet. Even if your parents didn't divorce or you never had a conflict with a teacher, I'm sure everyone in here knows someone who has experienced those things. I'll bet that at least ten people in here are related to someone who is gay...Our kids, yours and mine; your grandkids, nieces and nephews, and friends' children—all of our kids are growing up in a world that's sometimes very messy, and they have a lot to deal with..Chris Crutcher does tell a story that includes some of those painful aspects of life—but did any of you who read the book recognize the healing that occurs? I assume that none of you would be here if you hadn’t read the book, correct?..Surely, then, you recognized the aspects of the story that balanced the painful stuff, didn’t you? Loyalty. Self-control. Facing the truth even when it’s hard. Seeing parents as humans instead of as one-dimensional beings. If you are as committed to truth as you claim to be, then you must be willing to see what is wholly true about Ironman, and not only what is true for whatever agenda you have.”

The notion of one person, or a group of people, deeming a work of literature "offensive" is blatantly unAmerican. The term "offensive" is subjective; it is infuriating to think that there are people who believe that they have the right to decide for an entire school whether or not a book is offensive.
And, with regard to a teacher being put in the position of identifying what will possibly offend one person, or a group of people, and having to offer alternatives: at what point will he or she know if the ALTERNATIVE novel will offend someone's sensibilities? Who is in charge of deciding what will be offensive to one group or another? Will there be 1 student reading the intended novel for study, and 24 kids reading 24 different novels that each of their parents has "decided constitutes an INoffensive novel"?
The Freedom to Read Statement says it better than I ever could:
There is no place in our society for efforts to coerce the taste of others, to confine adults to the reading matter deemed suitable for adolescents, or to inhibit the efforts of writers to achieve artistic expression.
To some, much of modern expression is shocking. But is not much of life itself shocking? We cut off literature at the source if we prevent writers from dealing with the stuff of life. Parents and teachers have a responsibility to prepare the young to meet the diversity of experiences in life to which they will be exposed, as they have a responsibility to help them learn to think critically for themselves. These are affirmative responsibilities, not to be discharged simply by preventing them from reading works for which they are not yet prepared. In these matters values differ, and values cannot be legislated; nor can machinery be devised that will suit the demands of one group without limiting the freedom of others.
It is not in the public interest to force a reader to accept the prejudgment of a label characterizing any expression or its author as subversive or dangerous.
The ideal of labeling presupposes the existence of individuals or groups with wisdom to determine by authority what is good or bad for others. It presupposes that individuals must be directed in making up their minds about the ideas they examine. But Americans do not need others to do their thinking for them.
To see the full text of the Freedom to read statement, go to: http://bethfehlbaum.com.p12.hostingprod.com/the_freedom_to_read_statement

Courage in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum, Author

 More News about Beth Fehlbaum
TEXAS TEACHER ADMITS SHE DREW ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF CHILDHOOD SEXUAL AB - 10/19/2008 11:10:00 AM

Chatting on Library Thing Oct. 6-20! - 10/6/2008 3:33:00 PM

YA Site Gives Courage 5 Stars! - 10/6/2008 3:13:00 AM

Survivor of Abuse Reviews Courage in Patience - 10/2/2008 3:51:00 PM

My Story of Hope Featured on Teen's Site (incl. Ch. 1 Excerpt) - 10/1/2008 3:44:00 AM

Interview on prominent book blogger's site - 9/30/2008 12:54:00 PM

Featured on Gay YA Fiction Site - 9/24/2008 9:35:00 AM

Incest Survivors' Site interviews author of YA Recovery Novel - 9/22/2008 2:34:00 AM

..a powerful, important book - 9/18/2008 4:59:00 PM

Denton, Texas! I'm coming your way! - 9/18/2008 9:48:00 AM

Innovative Teen Reviews Courage in Patience! - 9/15/2008 6:59:00 PM

STILL doing book signing on Sat., damn you, Ike! - 9/12/2008 6:30:00 PM

Book Trailer for Courage in Patience - 9/11/2008 2:35:00 AM

Themes in Courage in Patience - 9/9/2008 3:33:00 AM

Courage in Patience featured on two sites! - 9/7/2008 6:49:00 PM

Great book signing in Tyler, Texas this past Saturday! - 9/7/2008 4:36:00 PM

The stuff that great people are made of - 9/5/2008 2:50:00 PM

Telling. - 9/1/2008 6:17:00 AM

Courage in Patience featured on J. Kaye's Book Blog! - 8/27/2008 3:50:00 PM

Waaaay Cool Review of Courage in Patience! - 8/26/2008 6:57:00 PM

Frisco Enterprise Newspaper Interviews Beth Fehlbaum - 8/26/2008 6:52:00 PM

Beth Fehlbaum captures the heart and soul of the reader - 8/22/2008 3:48:00 PM

Courage in Patience featured on J.Kaye's Book Blog! - 8/21/2008 6:37:00 PM

Courage in Patience featured on Dragon's Library - 8/21/2008 6:07:00 PM

Courage in Patience featured on WordsToMouth.com - 8/19/2008 6:36:00 PM

Courage in Patience featured on Angels That Care - 8/15/2008 2:44:00 AM

Courage in Patience available NOW! - 8/14/2008 3:29:00 AM

Countdown to Courage - 8/13/2008 12:38:00 AM

Faith and Writing-- yeah, I'm talkin' religion... - 8/1/2008 4:24:00 PM

PW Review of Courage in Patience - 7/28/2008 6:53:00 AM

Courage in Patience Author Profile in Texas Newspaper - 7/21/2008 4:33:00 AM

Courage in Patience featured in my local paper! - 7/19/2008 4:26:00 AM

Cool Book of the Day! - 7/17/2008 6:34:00 AM

Guest feature: Dr. Dorothy Neddermeyer - 6/21/2008 3:01:00 PM

Courage's Publisher is NUMBER ONE! - 5/31/2008 1:37:00 AM

Interview with me on New Writers Int'l - 5/23/2008 2:58:00 PM

Karen Harrington's Janeology Tour! - 4/8/2008 6:57:00 PM

Chapter One Courage in Patience posted online! - 3/28/2008 5:58:00 PM

Courage in Patience doing well in pre-order sales - 3/23/2008 1:41:00 PM

NOT Reading Lolita in Charlottesville - 3/20/2008 11:40:00 AM

Interviews - 3/17/2008 3:34:00 AM

Early Reviews of Courage in Patience - 3/17/2008 3:32:00 AM

Courage in Patience avail. for pre-order NOW! - 3/13/2008 5:33:00 PM

Californians: Right-to-Know Act needs YOU! - 3/6/2008 4:20:00 PM

Hilarious metaphors found in high school essays - 3/4/2008 2:55:00 AM

Update to Pat Conroy situation - 2/27/2008 3:39:00 AM

Domestic Violence Database: you can help! - 2/15/2008 6:14:00 PM

Deal of the Day..with the Devil? - 2/11/2008 4:35:00 PM

Give me your tired, your weary..your English-only speakers - 2/8/2008 3:49:00 AM

Survivors' Welcome Courage! - 1/13/2008 6:41:00 AM

Invisible Girls: the Truth About Sexual Abuse - 1/12/2008 6:34:00 AM

Check out my new blog! - 1/8/2008 4:27:00 AM

Courage in Patience's cover! Beautiful! - 1/3/2008 6:41:00 PM

Protect this Freedom in 2008! - 12/28/2007 5:44:00 PM

Courage in Patience SOLD to Kunati, Inc., for Fall, 2008! - 12/22/2007 1:46:00 AM

Review of The Last Troubador by Derek Armstrong - 12/13/2007 6:50:00 PM

I have an offer of publication!!! - 11/18/2007 7:30:00 AM

required reading in schools, churches, and counseling centers.. - 11/17/2007 3:54:00 AM

Review of T.K. Kenyon's Rabid - 11/15/2007 2:39:00 AM

22 year old reviews Courage in Patience - 11/12/2007 7:03:00 PM

New Short Story Posted - 11/9/2007 2:15:00 AM

Provocative, controversial, life-changing story - 11/4/2007 6:36:00 AM

Incest Survivors' group says, The first of its kind I have ever read - 11/1/2007 5:31:00 AM

Story of Ashley. Sexually abused since age 8. & Mom knows. - 11/1/2007 4:17:00 AM

Cuss words, the n word, censorship, & Pat Conroy - 10/31/2007 1:42:00 AM

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Article: Who says teens don't read? - 10/24/2007 2:24:00 AM

Beth Fehlbaum announces new website - 10/22/2007 8:15:00 AM

..hard to believe that this MS, as yet unpublished.. - 10/13/2007 3:51:00 AM

Apex Reviews: 5 stars for Courage in Patience! - 10/11/2007 3:14:00 PM

Incredible literary jewel.. - 10/5/2007 1:32:00 PM

Compelling. Stark. Highly Recommended. - 10/1/2007 3:33:00 PM

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FBI investigating white supremacist website - 9/23/2007 5:25:00 AM

FREE THE JENA 6 - 9/21/2007 6:55:00 AM

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Chris Crutcher rocks! YES he does! - 9/3/2007 4:15:00 AM

Alone in the dark: fear and hope collide - 9/2/2007 4:40:00 AM

Provocative, controversial: a story that will change lives - 8/31/2007 2:21:00 AM

Courage in Patience Rights Posting - 8/9/2007 6:10:00 AM



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