Banning The Fault in Our Stars

According to the September 29, 2014, Los Angeles Times, John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars has been banned in Riverside, California. The Riverside Unified School District’s Book Reconsideration Committee voted to remove copies of the novel from the library of Frank Augustus Miller Middle School and to forbid its inclusion at other middle school libraries.

The ban comes after a complaint from a parent that the book contains profanity and references to sex.

On September 30, five panelists discussed this ban on a Fox Network show called “Outnumbered.” The panelists were unified in their agreement that the ban was a good move. Rachel Campos Duffy said it wasn’t the teenager’s death from cancer near the book’s end that bothered her as much as the sex scene in the novel. Katie Pavlich also agreed with the ban, arguing that American Education is failing our kids, partly because we have gotten away from teaching “classic literature.” Finally, Andrea Tantaros cried out in frustration, “Whatever happened to The Catcher in the Rye?!”

Okay, you got it.  If I were a Language Arts Teacher in the Riverside Unified School District, here is the first announcement I would make to my 8th grade class: “As you all have heard by now, John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars has been banned from middle schools in our district. Whatever you do, don’t buy this book from any local bookstores.  Don’t download it onto your Kindles. Do not borrow it from the public libraries, because some grownups have decided that you cannot handle this novel.”

Then I would continue: “The next book we are going to read is J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  This is the story of a disturbed young man who flunks out of high school right before Winter Break. As he meanders slowly home, he drinks and smokes his way through the seedy streets of New York City.  At one point, a prostitute visits him in a hotel room.  The “F-bomb” gets dropped a few times before we get to the end, where we learn that the protagonist has had a nervous breakdown and been institutionalized. How this is better than The Fault in Our Stars, I am not certain, but Salinger is sanctioned and Green is not, so here we go.”

A week later, here is my second announcement: “As many of you know, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has been banned from middle schools in Riverside, California, after an alert parent discovered that it contains profanity and references to sex.  Furthermore, I have been warned against mentioning that you will see piles of this book on tables in your local Barnes and Noble.”

Then I would continue: “On the advice of Katie Pavlich, we will read instead a classic work of Western literature, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This play includes drinking, off-color jokes, sex, and violent death.  Two teenagers meet, fall impetuously in love, and are married with inappropriate haste by a misguided Friar. In due course, we will read a scene revealing Romeo and Juliet together in bed the morning after, longing to remain in each other’s arms. By the conclusion, overwhelmed by cultural and familial pressures, both Romeo and Juliet commit suicide. Juliet, by the way, is fourteen years old.”

Assuming no alert parent tries for a ban on Shakespeare, the class is in for a great read.

Lesson #1: Censorship never works.

Lesson #2: Even if censorship did work, once you start, where do you stop?

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