Since being published in the Netherlands in 1947, "The Diary of Anne Frank" has become a staple in American classrooms.
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It seems as though Anne Frank is making the news quite a bit recently.
From Justin Beiber's self-centered and shallow note left in the guest book at the Anne Frank Annex.
To what I assumed was well-intentioned, but questionable and certainly insensitive assumption behind the Mormon Church baptizing Anne Frank posthumously. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/21/mormons-posthumous-baptism-anne-frank_n_1292102.html.
I don't know, but neither imposing one's"beleibes" or one's beleifs on another without consent just seems a bit audacious; well-intended or not.
However, does the same imposition by parents of their beliefs upon their children, or the children of others fall into a different area of concern?
It is the parents' duty to raise their kids as best as they can, and whether we as educators or neighbors or strangers may recognize that it may not be within our purview to impose contradictory influences. We've already recognized that parents have a right to approve or not approve the viewing of videos they do not want their children to see. We don't have to agree, however, I don't think it's right for any educator to believe they have the right to trump the parent's right to make such decisions.
We've also for the most part accepted the notion that providing alternative options for that child is a professional obligation. However, the touchy edge of this issue is whether or not a parent has the right to make such calls for the children of other parents.
There is a sort of Venn diagram between censorship and professional judgment. There were books I chose not to teach due to professional judgment. And, while teaching The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ALOUD, I chose to replace the "N-word" with "N-word." Yet we would also discuss the controversy over the use of the word both in the book and in contempory times.
And by the way, I happen to think that Mark Twain's use of the original term was quite intentional. And, that the intention was to be abrasive to ethical ears. The book is awash with examples of the negative impact of what many people at the time believed was acceptable behavior. Huck was raised within that society where slavery was defended in churches.
And, the whole point of the story comes down to Huck's coming to realize that his default upbringing was faulty in many ways. Why else did Mark Twain have Huck decide, after spending time with Tom who had not had Huck's experiences, decide that he didn't want to go back to Tom's world?
So, back to the article. The references objected to dealt with Anne's wondering about the vagina and it's role in reproduction. The entire passages is as follows:
"Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn't realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn't see them. What's even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris…When you're standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you're standing, so you can't see what's inside. They separate when you sit down and they're very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there's a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That's the clitoris."
Read more: http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/22056965/northvillle-mother-files-complaint-about-passages-in-the-diary-of-ann-frank#ixzz2Ry5am8tl
What would your call be? But, before you answer too quickly...
There's certainly no doubt that it wasn't the writer's intention to titillate. If anything, it was more in the nature of simplly expressing a pubescent curiosity in the biological structure of the female genetaila. With this in mind I don't see the issue here of being whether the passage is pornographic. However, even if we excuse the loose use of the word "pornographic," there is still the issue of parents' rights to determine what they believe is the proper approach to sex education for their children. And, again this is not the purview of educational systems to feel they have a right to trump the parents' decision in this regard, whether we feel it is justifiable or not.
The two elements and perhaps a third, that I think might be of most concern here have to do with the grade level at which the protest is being made. The parent in this case is objecting to the passage which only appears in a "Definitive Edition" (unedited). This is apparently not the traditional edited edition that has been in standard practice for years. If this the case, the question becomes are all 7th graders ready for this level of "condoned" exposure to the description Anne gives? In my own recollections of my readiness for "sex ed" information when I was a 7th graders, I think my own response would have still been a bit on the "Yuck! That's disgusting" level and certainly not at all as being titillating. Heck, when I was in the 8th grade I could not get through my oral report on the plant Uranus! And, even when I was a sophomore I was really nervous about even listening to my biology teacher say the words "penis" and "vagina."
Yet, I knew a lot of "dirty jokes" about everything sexual, most of which in retrospect were disrespectful and sexist along the lines of those blonde jokes only a bit more sexually focused.
I suppose also that girls in middle school are already quite aware of the biological changes they're going through and might be less "harmed" by the passage.
But boys really are a different animal at that age, many boys are still much more like "big little boys" than like "young men." Some might be less ready or incapable of sufficient maturity or more than ready and/or mature to read such passages.
I would not see the teacher's role in this case as having to "tolerate or take a stand against" censorship. I would see this as an issue regarding professional judgment.
Like showing films in the gray area, if the professional judgment is that the "unedited" version of the book is justifiable, then I don't see an issue with parental permission slips being required, and alternative assignments being available. It would be inconvenient and perhaps even resented, but the question is not whether the parent is right or wrong, but whether the parent has the right to make certain decisions about what their child are exposed to.
So would the traditional edited version be a suitable compromise?
Does the unedited version provide a learning experience of such value that compromising on the traditional version is unacceptable?
I hesitate to mention the last concern that arises in my mind about this objection. Though there is no evidence in the story to suggest that the parent in this article is in any way an anti-semite, we live in times when racism, anti-semetism, anti-immigrationists, gun control advocates and anti-gun control advocates have taken to using "code" language to express their positions.
I will just leave it at that. You either already know what I mean or you haven't been paying attention lately.