Shattering The Glass Castle
During my junior year of high school, we were assigned to read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. It’s a memoir of the difficult childhood and adolescence of a young woman. Our class read four chapters before it was removed from the approved reading list and pulled from the classroom following a slew of parental complaints. Parents condemned the presence of swearing, intoxication and sexual assault in the book. The majority of the parents that challenged The Glass Castle did so on religious terms; my high school had a significant number of Mormon families. My teacher was fairly eccentric, she often deviated from the traditional book lists to pick texts that her students could identify with. She chose The Glass Castle for the strong theme of overcoming obstacles. The challenging or censoring of books is prevalent in the public school system. The censorship of books is a complicated web of educating and protecting students while preserving the right to read.
In my particular case, The Glass Castle was censored by my school. The removal of a book from the classroom breaks our First Amendment which “ensures that none of us has the right to control or limit another person’s ability to read or access information” (Doyle 9). Most book challenges are presented with the noble intent of shielding children from graphic content, but the introduction to difficult topics in a classroom setting can be beneficial to students (Doyle 3). A teacher’s guidance through books that touch on controversial matters would allow the student to gain a more comprehensive understanding of real life issues. While reading the first four chapters of The Glass Castle I began to identify with the narrator. I related to many of the emotions discussed in the novel, because of the similarities in our backgrounds. If the book had not been pulled from our classroom, I would have benefitted from discussing the novel. Harsh topics are sometimes hard to handle, especially when a student has past personal experience. Guided classroom discussions are a good outlet to address these topics.
Although exposure to these difficult parts of life is important, these topics are not real life for all students (Beasterfield 22). Parents tend to know their children better than their teachers and reserve the right to decide what their child should read. Some parents express concern over the heaviness of high school literature, that it takes students to a dark place (Beasterfield 23). Students who have experienced hardships, sexual abuse, or struggle with mental illness might be triggered by this heavy content in school assigned literature. The presence of sexual assault in The Glass Castle could have easily been a trigger for one or more of my classmates. An objection to that portion of sensitive material is reasonable when considering past emotional trauma of a peer. Censoring out content that acts as a trigger for them would be beneficial to their education, because it removes the anxiety of an emotional flare up. Teachers also contribute to book censorship when they select pieces of literature for students. Picking materials that students can comprehend and relate to is important in facilitating critical thinking. Educators often choose books based upon the age and maturity of the readers.
Censorship is created by those who play an active role in choosing the literature that is taught. It is essential to make an effort to “hear all the voices who have a stake in educating students” (Beasterfield 27). When the decision was made to remove the book from the classroom, the school board didn’t ask for a student’s opinion. I felt like the school was trying to avoid controversy by sacrificing my learning experience. In order to ensure a fair education for students, teachers and parents need to openly discuss classroom texts and decide which pieces are appropriate together.
Beasterfield, Suzanne. “Parental Concerns About Book Content Should Not Be Dismissed”. At Issue: Book Banning. Ed. Thomas Riggs Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2012. 18–28. Print.
Doyle, Robert P. Books Challenged or Banned: 2014–2015. Chicago: American Library Association, 2014. Print.
Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2005. Print.