“Is that story too bloody?”
“Is there too much violence in that story?”
When is it appropriate to censor the writing our students do?
As my students wrote during our Quick Write activity today, I paused to reflect on boys and writing…
A month ago, one of my students read aloud his story to the class. It was about a super hero killing bad guys. He was descriptive with the blood and gore, but it was age appropriate language, in my opinion. When his peers were asked to provide him with feedback, one of the students wondered if the story was too graphic. Now, while normally I don’t like to get on my soap box and preach to my students, this was one of the times when I felt compelled to discuss this with the boys. I don’t want to stifle the creativity of any of my student writers. They are all so talented and are at the age of exploring words, topics, and new ideas. If I let the comment be and made that particular author question his ability as a writer, I worry that his motivation to write and explore the world would be lost. We need to allow students the freedom, within reason of course, to write about what interests them. If they are not truly connected to what they are writing, its is futile. Forcing students to write a story or essay on one topic or idea that doesn’t engage them creates a classroom full of liars. They are learning to write to please the teacher instead of writing for the sake of growing and maturing as a writer.
So, I took the opportunity to reveal what the research on boys and writing reveals. I informed my students that writing about violent subject matter or playing violent video games makes you no more prone to violence than one who doesn’t write about violent topics or play violent video games. In fact, exploring the nature of good vs. evil in writing is healthy and normal for the development of boys. This is part of the process of growing up. If I told my students they couldn’t write about violent topics or reality, then they would have very little to write about that would be engaging and fun for them. Again, the neuroscience research shows us that when we make students do something that is not interesting or relevant to them, genuine learning does not take place. How can we foster a love of writing and help our students grow as writers if they are not enjoying what they are writing about. It’s so much easier to talk with a student about character development regarding a story he chose to write because he already knows so much about the character.
Now, I’m not advocating for the freedom to write about any topic using any type of language. I don’t allow vulgarity in my students’ writing because there are always other ways to describe or say something. The words we use to communicate reveal so much about us as individuals. I don’t want my students to think that cursing and swearing is an acceptable form of communication. I also believe that certain mature topics and situations may not always be appropriate either. However, all of these issues need to be addressed case by case and individually. Each student is unique, just like each situation is different in its own way. I wear mismatched socks as a way to remind myself that no two students I work with are alike. Plus, I’m lazy and don’t like matching my socks.
Censorship is an important topic for me. As a writer, I had teachers that allowed me to explore various topics and situations that other teachers deemed inappropriate. Had I not been permitted to take risks in my writing, I would not be the same writer I am today. I thank those teachers for allowing me to grow as a writer and a person. Just because a student writes about a bad person killing another person, it doesn’t mean that student will be committing murder in his future. I know we live in a society where bad things happen in schools and to our children. However, we need to put a lot more faith in humanity, our students, and the greater world.
Just like that famous singer once said, “Every little thing is gonna be all right.” Let’s build a future of creative and risk-taking writers, and who knows, perhaps one of them may go on to write a bestselling novel because of what we allowed them to do in the sixth grade.