Saturday, November 26, 2005

School Censorship-Part 1

11th grade came time for us to read Shakespeare's Macbeth. I was in the office when the shipment of brand new books arrived. The next day, our English teacher announced that the books were not ready yet. "Oh, I thought I saw some in the office the other day," I suggested. "Yes, they're HERE, but they're just not READY," she informed us.

Later that week, I found myself in the office again. I walked in and laughed. Two women sitting at the desks, sharpees in hand, systematically turning pages and crossing out selected lines in our books. The stack of completed "censored" books grew, and it dawned on me that the cover was mismatched. A closer look revealed that the cover photo had been covered with some opaque contact paper.

"Are you censoring our books?" I asked, rhetorically. "I don't get it: if it's not good for us to see it once, why is it better for you to read it so many times as you cross it out? How do you feel about the fact that they are making you read something inappropriate?" They confessed that they didn't understand it either, but they were merely following directions.

The next week, we finally received our copies of Macbeth. "Oooooh my Gosh...." my classmates murmured, as they effortlessly peeled off the contact paper covers and rolled their eyes at the mild picture of a man and woman leaning on one another. We finally understood why our books had arrived but were not "ready."

As we progressed in the book, we found our marked-up paragraphs. We laughed as the girls whose books hadn't been perfectly censored read the paragraph aloud. They got help from the girls who simply held their books up to the light to reveal the forbidden text.

Now, I see that their intentions were good. But think about it this way--if they wouldn't have put some contact paper over a mild PAINTING of a woman leaning on a man, (not even kissing or anything) nobody would have noticed or cared. If they wouldn't have used a [see-through] marker to cross out mildly sexual content, we would have either skipped it in class (and gone to read it on our own-or simply forget about it), or just read it casually and get over ourselves. Get over the fact that we live in America. If we want to have a secular education, and read Shakespeare, that's what comes along with it. Come on. I think they took this trip a little too far. They called more attention to it by doing what they did!

Also, for the girls who were rebellious and resentful of the school-it only helped them form these negative thoughts toward the school for restricting them. They already feel like they are stifled by not being able to wear anything they like, go anywhere they want...this does not help the situation.

35 Comments:

At 11/27/2005 6:52 AM, Blogger Y.Y. said...

yea i never could figure out why all the censorship its not porn or anything so how much mildly sexual contents do we see anyway daily on the street whats the big deal if we see it in a book too?

 
At 11/27/2005 11:06 AM, Blogger Jeru Guru said...

Love your blog.
Your writing is so fresh.

JG

 
At 11/27/2005 1:15 PM, Blogger Semgirl said...

The more you say dont eat the chocolate, dont eat the choc, the more ppl will, its human nature.

Thats why diets that encourage healthy eating in moderation are much more effective than those that make you live on lettuce and fatfree cottage cheese..

All the more so, with sensual matters..

 
At 11/27/2005 2:43 PM, Blogger Lvnsm27 said...

I agree with semgirl, I think the diets that say eat in moderation are the most effective.

 
At 11/27/2005 4:00 PM, Blogger A Frum Idealist said...

I remember when I was school if something was censored it just made me want to see why it was censored. It's like someone saying, "Don't look to your right". Inevitably, immediately afterwards everyone looks right.

 
At 11/27/2005 7:04 PM, Anonymous a thought said...

The irony- the language itself is probably obscure enough that most people wouldn't notice. but for the sake of prefect transparency, there is a line from Othello that still echoes in my mind...

the saddest part of it all, is everyone seems to agree, that it really isn't a big deal.

 
At 11/28/2005 5:05 AM, Blogger nobody28 said...

Wow! I thought I went to a restrictive high school! But yours takes the cake! If I remember correctly (I must be really old if I can't totally remember) we were allowed to read Macbeth - all of it. I guess things have changed.

 
At 11/28/2005 6:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear a lot of resentment in most of the comments. I think the total disdain for censorship stems from other issues with one's school etc. In truth, it is the school's responsibility to ensure that students are not exposed to anything inappropriate. Parents trust their children to the school, and that trust must be well placed. As one who tries not to expose himself to these type of things, I would have been quite upset if I had avoided it all along, and then my school of all people, which is supposed to be a safe haven amidst our sick world, exposed me to it. Whether rational or not, if a school is a "frum" one and touts certain values, it is their job to censor.

 
At 11/28/2005 7:20 AM, Blogger nobody28 said...

Anonymous - I don't think cencorship is a bad thing - just when it goes too far - it's a little annoying. Like I said - I went to a ver strict high school and even they didn't censor this stuff!

 
At 11/28/2005 8:07 AM, Blogger Elster said...

Unfortunately, with many people, there is no thought put into the censorship they so badly desire. You are right Michelle, MacBeth is probably harmless enough to have been let in without the contact paper and markers. But the heavy handed theory behind it is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Silly but true.

 
At 11/28/2005 8:15 AM, Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

I'll play Devils Advocate here...
If you censor that mild picture..then if you want to feel "naughty" or "rebellious" you'll satisfy yourself by looking at the mild pictures.
In other words you're highering the bar...true people will look..but if that's what's considered naughty than ..that's good news.

D

 
At 11/28/2005 10:04 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

I see both sides of the argument. But in terms of what David said, the way I think about it is the girls are going to be looking for naughty pictures, this is not going to cut it for them. Either way, they'll seek more. As for the girls who sincerely find it inappropriate, they just won't look it again.

Now, as for the argument that it's the school's job. That was actually mentioned in the discussion that inspired this piece. Here are some options:
1) don't teach it all, 2)get us a different edition (like another school did), 3)skip around randomly --and don't say,"we're going to skip this because it's inappropriate"--IDIOTS!---or 4)simply come to terms with the fact that if you're gonna claim to give a superior secular education, your students will read all of macbeth.

 
At 11/28/2005 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michelle-what is the big deal?!?!? If someone does not want to expose themselves to it, they will appreciate the school's censorship and will NOT rip off the cover or overexert themselves to read through marker. If you want to do that, that's your problem. Why can't they teach Macbeth-a classic piece of literature which one would be considered ignorant should he not have read it-and remove the inappropriate lines-of which there are a few? And since when does exposure to inappropriate lines constitute a superior education?

 
At 11/28/2005 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michelle-in response to your options:

1) A-Macbeth is required reading for anyone who wants to consider himself somewhat educated.
B-Unfortunately, in the world we live in, it is very difficult if not impossible to find completely clean literary works. Sadly, Macbeth is one of the better ones. Schools have a hard time when it comes to finding educational literature that is approprate. Would you rather read "The Spiders Web?"

2) Sometimes, finding another edition just doesn't work out. Whether it's price, or availability, a school is not wrong to expect that its students will be mature enough to appreciate their censorship. And like you said-it's not like the cover had anything REALLY inappropriate.

3)What do the few inappropriate lines have to do with a superior education?!?!?

 
At 11/28/2005 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see where the school is coming from. They're in a tough spot, because you don't want the serious parents complaining about the material (it is, after all, bais yaakov), so they do it to avoid the sfaykus. The ideal would be to acquire mosdos press books, which have been sensored.

 
At 11/28/2005 12:13 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Jeez...I take back the option of not reading it at all. My point was to show the pointlessness of crossing out mildly explicit content. FYI-if the marker was running out of ink by the time they got to us, there was no exertion required. Try white- out,people.

 
At 11/28/2005 1:29 PM, Blogger Elster said...

Ok all you anonymous people - Get off of your literary high horses. There is no single woek that is a must read to be cnsidered "educated". That's absurd. Why, then, would it be Macbeth anyway? Why not To Kill A Mockingbird? Bleak House? Something else. It's a silly argument for psuedo-intellectualls to cry about.

My opinion is, if you are going to allow your chilkdren to read something, they should read the whole thing. If not, let tem read something else./ You can be educated without Macbeth,

 
At 11/28/2005 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok elster-so name me some literature that is cleaner than Macbeth (and of the same literary quality)? And i still don't get why everyone is so hung up on reading the whole thing. It's not like you lose a major part of the plot if you cross out some inappropriate lines. What is this whole obsession with reading every line?

 
At 11/28/2005 2:13 PM, Blogger Elster said...

Cleaner than Macbeth but of the same literary quality? Well again, it's all opinion. I think Shakespearre is overrated but that is just me. How about To Kill A Mockingbird? How about Dickens? It all depends on what you think of a particualr work.

Also, comparing books to plays is apples and oranges.

As for reading every word - a work is something which layers upon itself, bult from the ground up. By removng layers, you sre removing from the work.

How would you like it if artscroll (lehavdil) randomly decided to skip translations from its translated works? Would that bother you? Oh wait, they do (in rare instances).

 
At 11/28/2005 6:09 PM, Anonymous litchick said...

"Cleaner than Macbeth but of the same literary quality? Well again, it's all opinion... How about To Kill A Mockingbird?"

elster, u obviously never read to kill a mockingbird or maybe u just forgot that the ENTIRE book is about a guy on trial for..RAPE
mockbeth is kosher besides for (if u wanna be REAL picky) lady macbeth's mention of nursing a baby at her breast and1 or 2 other eqaually harmlesss references.

 
At 11/29/2005 6:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elster-you remind me of a parable where a woman visits the Louvre, and as the tour proceeds she loudly criticizes each work of art. The tour guide then informs her that these paintings, on display at the Louvre, are no longer on trial. They are known to all as the greatest paintings of all time. The only thing that is on trial is the visitors who may or may not appreciate the paintings' greatness. He then turned to the lady and told her that she failed her test miserably. So, elster-shakespeare is uncontestably one of the greatest playwrights. If you disagree, that is your problem.

 
At 11/29/2005 6:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for reading every word-firstly, it CANNOT be compared to the torah because those are holy words and each letter has untold significance. Lihavdil, Shakespeare can be understood quite well if one would skip a couple of lines. Don't tell me you lose the whole plot when you skip two lines?

 
At 11/29/2005 8:35 AM, Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

oy..let's move on to part 2 already...lol

 
At 11/29/2005 8:49 AM, Blogger Elster said...

For starters anon:

Your argument is silly. Art, like literature, is all subjective. Impressionism gave us what is considered some of the finest and greatest paintings of all time. yet with a few exceptions (Monet's Lily stuff off the top of my head) I don't like Impressionism.

So does that mean I don't know anything about art? No art, lit are all about opinion. Yes, there are obviously some works that are more universally acepted than others, but that doesn't mean you have to like everything that is considered a classic. Have you ever read Moby Dick? The first 100 pages are painfully boring. What about the Old Man and the Sea? Awfully boring. Or the Pearl? ZZZZZZ. But they are all "classics". Yet I dislike all ofnthem. Des that mean I don't know anything about literature?

Besides, I did not criticize Shakespeare. I merely said I THOUGHT he was overrated. it was my opinion. Critics call Stephen King a hack. Maybe he is. But he sells millions and millions of books. So people must like him, no? Does that make his works classisc? Of course not. But it just goes to show it's all about opinion./

As for To Kill A Mockingbird. yes, that is the premise, but there is still not one unclean reference in the book that I can recall (haviung read it a loing time ago).

As for comparison to Torah, of course you cannot compare, that was a little too far.

As for losing the plot by taking out the "bad parts". It's the principle of the matter. If you have never written anything, maybe it's harder to understand. But if the work is assur it
s assur, it can't be cleaned up. Again that's my OPINION, as stated above.

 
At 11/29/2005 5:52 PM, Blogger Lost said...

Let's be realistic. We found about Sex before 6th grade. We (BY) all saw movies in the home, outside of the home, with our parents, with out... Is Macbeth really oging to make a difference to our (already) twisted minds? I didn't think so. Your BY was worse than mine though, they would have NEVER been able to get away with censoring books...parents might complain bout the lack of honest literary education! But then again, parents complain about e/t nowadays wen it comes to schools...
Good Point as usual love.. Have a g'nite

 
At 11/30/2005 7:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"they should have used whiteout"
Is your problem with the fact that they censured or that they didn't censure well??

 
At 12/01/2005 7:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lets move on to censorship part2

 
At 12/01/2005 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might seem childish but the school does not want to feel as if they are condoning a picture of a man touching a women or some words in the book. The school is not concerned if the students see the picture or peek through the witeout at the words, they don't want to be "giving" the students such a picture or words.

 
At 12/02/2005 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the most logical answer offered so far.

 
At 12/02/2005 9:14 AM, Blogger Elster said...

So then, isn't the school hypocritical? We don't care if you see these small samples of lust, as loing as we don't give them to you? Do you really believe that's the school's message?

 
At 12/02/2005 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hypocricy:The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
The school belives that a man should not be seen touching a woman;therefore the school does not "give" such pictures to its students. The school does not believe that any harm will come to the students if they peek through and see a picture of a man touching a woman.

 
At 12/08/2005 12:16 PM, Blogger Elster said...

Um, if no harm will come from it, why, the, do they believe it shouldn't be seen???

 
At 12/10/2005 7:33 PM, Blogger The real me said...

Seems like you go to a interesting school.

If they dont like the content dont teach it.

 
At 12/25/2005 9:00 PM, Blogger Yael said...

When a BY school gives college credit, regents, and has Shakespeare on the curriculum, they are acknowledging that their student body is planning on continuing secular education. That in itself is a statement that the students are not completely sheltered, meaning that covering up pictures of Lady MacBeth leaning on her husband is probably pointless. Parents who are offended by their children being exposed to such content would not send their children to a school that is providing regents and college credits. I respect people who maintain a sheltered lifestyle, but being sheltered only works if you do it all the way. Sending your children to a college-minded high school and then expecting the school to edit works that are necessary to achieve a Regents diploma is counterproductive.

 
At 1/18/2006 9:56 AM, Anonymous Chani said...

Personally, as much as I thought that covering the cover of the books was stupid, I wouldn't have wanted to go walking around carrying the book with that picture on the cover. I don't see why it would've been so hard to find another book altogether, but that's another story. I think that most of the girls, after they took that first curious peek, covered it back up again & forgot about it(Except for you!) I definitely agree that crossing out those sentances was stupid. Half of the girls in our class wouldn't have understood it anyway. We didn't read every single sentance & page in the book(so much for a proper literary education), so they could've just skipped out those parts also.

 

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