Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Banned Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

This book is an autobiography-the first in a series. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is about Maya Angelou's childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, where her grandmother ran a general store during the Depression, in the heyday of Ol' Jim Crow.

Maya Angelou tells about a segregation so complete, that as a child she never really believed that white people were real.

Angelou's parents' divorce leads them to send the little girl and her brother to Stamps to live with her father's mother. She later goes to live with her mother up North and encounters indoor plumbing among other marvels. She is also sexually assaulted by her mother's boyfriend. Besides recounting the terrible rape, the book also depicts an unplanned pregnancy, drug use and runaways, all behaviors which, apparently, freshmen high schoolers will immediately imitate.

American teens aren't being taught to think for themselves. If reading an account of a teen pregnancy or rape makes them go out & get pregnant then they have been failed in so many ways that keeping one book from them is pointless.

The point of reading literature in school is to learn to identify & evaluate the ideas within a book.
What censors are essentially saying is that their 15 years can't do that.

The most infuriating challenge on this book was from the Alabama State Textbook Committee, which claimed that the book encourages "bitterness and hatred toward white people." This is the same Alabama State Textbook Committee that also struck The Diary of Anne Frank from their curriculum saying that it was "a real downer". Because, apparently, Nazis should be cheerful!

Maya Angelou's book does not encourage hatred toward whites. It does, however, tell the story of racial discrimination.

Maybe in Alabama, you're supposed to pretend that for the most part, slavery was fun and the Jim Crow signs were merely kind suggestions (No Niggers Allowed- Have a nice day!).

We're supposed to pretend that Nazis and Klan members are admirable members of society who were misjudged and the victims of their actions should be silent so we can maintain that pretense.

The historical record as penned and photographed by Southerners themselves shows exactly how Southern society dealt with African Americans, Italian Americans, Jews (like Leo Frank who was lynched in Georgia) and Native Americans.

No, all Southern whites certainly weren't like that, but if you grew up in a segregated society, those were often the only whites you ever knew- that's what it meant to be segregated.

Angelou's autobiography tells her real life story as it is. People who challenge it are denying the mistakes of history. And such people will be the first to repeat them.

27 comments:

lizzie said...

I'm from UK but I do know exactly where you are coming from. I have always been of the opinion that banning books from schools is wrong. If a child is old enough to understand the book, that's good, if not, it doesn't really matter anyway. The best way to make kids want to read a book is to ban it.

Denise Kawaii said...

It's interesting that schools keep banning all of the books that I have enjoyed reading. The bulk of them are books that I read as a kid, and my sensibilities are still intact. Not sure what it is that parents are so afraid of?

Design Training said...

Angelou's autobiography tells her real life story as it is.

Rebecca :) said...

I loved this book. It is honest and heartfelt and real. Wonderful book. Angelou lives in a city near mine but I have still not been to see her. I need to get a hold of her schedule and see if she is appearing near here anytime soon.

RJ Evans said...

I think that many parents fear liberalism - because of the sh*t that has been put down their throats by right wing politicians who predominate in the South. Liberalism, so they are told, will lead to socialism and that will mean the end of civilization as we know it. Despite the fact, of course, that Europe has been enjoying centre left politics as the hub of power in many countries for almost a century.

Talking of Europe... Holland has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates on the continent. Why is that? Because their kids get the most measured and grown up sex education advice available. Knowledge is power. It doesn't mean that kids go out and have sex but almost the opposite. Curiosity sated, the Dutch kids wait until it is absolutely the right time!

Enjoyed this article - I wasn't aware that such a powerful book had caused such a hoo-ha.

katien said...

This really sounds like a book that teenagers should be encouraged to read.

Joni said...

Banning this book is wrong for so many reasons. I agree with RJ Evans. Knowledge is power. How can we correct the mistakes of our past without full understanding of the situation. You always write such great posts.

Miss_Nobody said...

Banning books in schools is such a wrong,not to say unfair thing to do.It just wipes out the whole meaning of its existence,providing unbiased learning.This sounds like a great book,and THAT is a GREAT post.

jo oliver said...

I have not read the book in question, but I am going to buy a copy this week.

I say again....why must people ban that which they are afraid of or disagree with. Why not let it be, and let people decide for themselves if they want to read/listen/look at/ etc..???

sharazad said...

Yay, Jo! Banned book reader! Hope you like it- it's a powerful read and it makes you so sad at times...

sharazad said...

...but then it also let's you see how such things can be overcome.

Bren Parks said...

I remember when I was very small........under four years old......my parents lived in the south....then we moved to colorado. I was severely injured in a fire and spent several months in the hospital when I was just under four years old.........I had never even met a black person before that and I had a black nurse assigned to me in the hospital.

I remember that at first I was terrified of her and screamed when she came near me. But by the time I left, I loved her so much that I would cry for her at night when she went home.

It was 1958 when that happened and I can tell you that many times, white children were led to believe all sorts of terrible stories about black people. Although my parents never told those sort or tales, I heard them all around me in my friends homes and so on......
I
will always love the nurse I had. She was a really wonderful woman not only for her kindness to a small, frightened child, but for the fact that she did so despite my foolish fear.

I write this comment to say, yes, the segregation really was that complete. I will never look at black people with contempt because of that marvelous woman who helped me to understand........

Mardel said...

We have a large poster of Maya Angelou in our library, but strangely no books by her. I think we need to buy some of her books and enter them in our collection. Wouldn't want that poster to be misleading! Right?

Cleopatra said...

I read Maya Angelou's biography when I was 14 years old and I cannot fathom why this wonderful book was banned. Reading this book did not make me want to go out and have sex. First of all banning this book goes against Ms. Angelou's freedom of speech and secondly if anything this book would discourage teens from participating in sexual intercourse. Only ignorant people would say that this book has sex in it,therefore it should be banned, because teens will want to have sex after they have read it. Well if that is the case then about 70% of books are going to be banned. This book is impowering and teaches you that you can overcome hard trials. Ignorance is not bliss and if do happen to believe that, then you will go past through life without enjoying some of the greatest pleasures.I really pity you.

sharazad said...

Well said Cleopatra- you have to feel sorry for people who can't enjoy this book and so many others- and that narrow mindedness keeps them from falling in love with literature- which is, just as you say, one of life's greatest pleasures.

Truely said...

This book sounds like a great read. When school starts up I'll have to to the LMC to see if they have it.

Isn't banning books against the Bill of Rights or whatever? I guess if you're an author, there is no freedom of speech. Either you aren't published, you are and are loved, or you're published, hated and banned. And to think, people like me dream of be a published author!

Anonymous said...

I have just recently read this book and think that it SHOULD be banned from all schools. I think that it incourages pre marital sex and uses way to much profanity for any student of any age should read. Sure its her life story but some people don't need to read that, and some don't even care. Banning this book is one of the best ideas i have heard all year! The rape scene was a little to much and students shouldn't have to read about that. I have been through some tough times in my life and reading this book brought back every bad memory i have had. Kids shouldn't read this horrible book and soon they will start thinking that its okay to have sex at a young age. This book does no body any good and all it does is encourage bad behaivor!!!!

sharazad said...

Hi, Anonymous, thanks so much for commenting.Here's why I disagree:

First, you say this book will encourage premarital sex, because people in the book have premarital sex.

Hormones themselves encourage premarital sex- which is why so many teens have premarital sex with or without reading about it in a book.
The key is to get students to a position where their mind can overcome irresponsible actions.

It is far better for young people to encounter the problems of teen pregnancy, premarital sex, rape etc, in a book first where they can think about and discuss these issues, than to pretend they don't exist despite the prevalence of these problems.
Inevitably, students will encounter these issues themselves- as police officers, teachers, jury members,doctors, counselors parents or even, sadly as victims themselves.

So, why shouldn't difficult topics- especially those based on true stories- be a part of education?

My second issue is about teaching teens to read. A critical reader should ask:
Why do the people in Angelou's life use so much profanity? (the answer is that the people in the book aren't very well educated)
What made Angelou's rape as a child more traumatic? How do we keep such things from happening?

This is reading as an art- not just reading because your teacher told you to. I don't think students are learning that.

Anonymous said...

You guys know she says it's totally ok to steal from white people, and that she got pregnant by someone she bearly knew, in an alley no less? Is that a ‘role model’ figure? So Angelou is a racist slut. Lots of those around. How many should be assigned reading in highschool? Shall we assign mine kampf and deepthroat too? I’m sure some find them ‘inspirational.’

sharazad said...

Anonymous-
We guys do know she got pregnant by someone she barely knew- it's in the book. It didn't happen in an alley either.

I would be interested to see where and when she said it's okay to steal from white people.

Mein Kampf?
You mean the book that can do more than perhaps any other to show how Hitler influenced the German people and why the Holocaust happened?

This is the book you don't want students reading?
What do you think literature is for exactly? Just to entertain? To give kids something to copy from ("a role model")?

How do you prepare them for college without giving them something to think about?

American public schools are all about influencing behavior instead of teaching history, literature and critical thinking.

Removing books that deal with hard subjects is part of the reason why.

Anonymous said...

I am a 8th grade student who was assigned this and i have read the book and i understand it is wrong in some parts but it was the truth and i wouldnt want to follow in her footsteps of couse but I got the opportunity to see how they saw things through her eyes and I would get it if they banned the book from elm and maybe 6th and
7th grade because i almost wasnt ready to see or read all those sad memorys of her...Though there were some very happy parts to and i enjoyed those very much!!

Anonymous said...

I am a 8th grade student who was assigned this and i have read the book and i understand it is wrong in some parts but it was the truth and i wouldnt want to follow in her footsteps of couse but I got the opportunity to see how they saw things through her eyes and I would get it if they banned the book from elm and maybe 6th and
7th grade because i almost wasnt ready to see or read all those sad memorys of her...Though there were some very happy parts to and i enjoyed those very much!!

Anonymous said...

Im in high school and in my opinion it dosen't encourge any of that at all it just gives me more reasons NOT to do that..err..stuff

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