Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on self-censoring

I was at a school once where one of the teachers didn't want to read ME AND RUPERT GOODY to her class because of the "child abuse." I confess that I was taken by surprise when I was told that and had to think hard to even realize what she was talking about.

This is what she was talking about:

"Mama slaps them silly when they say that, leaving her red handprint on their cheeks. They start howling and holding their faces and she says, "Y'all hush up that bawlin' before I give you something to bawl about."

I thought a lot about that incident - wondering why it would have been a bad thing for children to hear that.

Not long after that, I was at a school discussing "show, don't tell" with some third graders. We were brainstorming ways that people show anger. A small and very spunky boy announced very matter-of-factly that one time his mother got mad at him for sloshing bath water onto the floor and she slapped him. (However, he prefaced that with "before my mom was in therapy....")

He literally used the word "slapped", not "hit".

His mother slapped him.

Naturally, it made me think once again about the issue of children reading about children being slapped by a parent.

Do we not want children to know that some children get slapped? If so, why not?

For the children who are slapped, do we not want them to read about it? If so, why not?

Okay, fast forward to yesterday. I wrote the following in my work-in-progress:

"Velma stomped over to Popeye and gave him a little whack on the arm when she asked him what in the world had gotten into him. Then another whack when she asked him if he had plumb lost his mind. And one last whack when she asked him if he was trying to worry her right into the grave."

Then, a few passages later:

"Popeye could tell that all she wanted to do in the whole world, at that moment, was find herself a rolled up newspaper and swat Starletta's skinny legs. But, of course, she couldn't. So she turned to Popeye and said, "Let's go."

I woke up during the night thinking about that.

My thought was this: Maybe I should change that.

Maybe Velma should just nudge him a little and not whack him.
Maybe I should take out the rolled-up newspaper stuff.

Sigh.... I hate it when my THINKING self gets in the way of my creative self. (Wild mind vs. monkey mind.)

For cryin' out loud, Velma would have whacked his arm and swatted her legs. That's the way Velma is.

As I said before, sometimes, like in the country western song, "I wish somehow, I didn't know now, what I didn't know then" - if you know what I mean.


Sarah Miller said...

Down with the pansies -- I vote for whacks and swats!

(Can you hear the mobs with their pitchforks coming after me?)

Jill E said...

Yeesh, as if our own personal internal editors aren't bad enough....

Leave 'em in. People get slapped. Whacked. Slugged. Swatted. Kids know that.

Linnea said...

hi barbara,

i understand being confused about the issue. i'm inclined to say "down with the sugar coating!," but it gets dicey for me when i think about how uncomfortable i am hearing parents say that sometimes kids just need to be slapped. i remember flinching when my dad would yell and threaten to hit me (but oddly, i don't remember him actually doing it) and, let me tell you, it is one of the most horrible things i can think of. my fear is that if a kid who is being hit (or "slapped") is reading your book and he sees an adult slapping a kid, then it justifies the adult who is slapping the reader in the reader's mind (you follow?). i think the way for it to work is for you to make it clear that the action is not ok/normal without making it seem fake. that should be easy enough, right? kids gets slapped and not just in instances of textbook abuse and you should write about it.

Maria Z.

Megan Germano said...

Lawd... I am thinking of one of my favorite read aloud books The Watson's Go to Birmingham-1963 where Christopher Paul Curtis has his mother character ready to burn her son who was messing with matches. Talk about abuse. Kids get hit and some kids don't, but everybody better know about it. Those who don't, so they know some do and those who do, so they know others do too. (Not saying it is right, just sayin it is)

Barbara O'Connor said...

Oh, Megan...if there were only more teachers like you!