The Shield and the Sword

To trust or not to trust, that is the question.

That is the heart of any question when it comes to relationships between people. I see this every day as I watch the news or click on my friends’ posts for political news, and I see in at the heart of every relationship between myself and others. I see this with my high school students and their parents, and the parents and the teachers, and the administrators and the teachers.

I work at a high school where I am largely allowed to draw up my own curriculum, as long as I following the standards of the school and the requirements. This year, I was unpleasantly surprised to get my book list for the school rejected, because there were some parental concerns. When you have A Hundred Years of Solitude1984, and Fahrenheit 451 on your list at a private school, a Christian private school, there is some upraised eyebrows. After all, these books contain difficult subjects like sex, drugs, violence, governmental abuse, and power. Some parents might get concerned with the topics. I could understand that.

And then I found out my book list was rejected because of the swearing.

Not for the storyline, for the characters, or for harder topics. The parents themselves did not read the books. They were worried if their kids saw it – never mind watching it in movies or seeing it in live arguments – and read it, they would do it.

Needless to say, as a teacher, I was just a bit insulted. I think if I heard that from my parents, I would be insulted, too.

While I understand there is a push for more controversial books in some cases – I don’t want to read about pedophilia, for example – I do think there needs to be a safe way to discuss these things with kids as they grow up. And swearing, well, it just seems to be such a small complaint. While I don’t think swearing is necessary in books, some of the best books I have read have swearing in them. I can’t change that. But I can still appreciate the story, and the journey of the characters. That could easily be a whole other post/rant.

At the heart of the issue for me, however, is how I struggle with trust.

I have my master’s degree, I have my teaching certification, and I have experience in showing controversial information with people, and in teaching them how to come to their own terms with it. In addition to this, most of my kids I have taught for several years, and they trust me, too (I am their favorite, many of them.) I believe I should be trusted with discussing topics with them that have valid concerns in today’s world – such as the idea of censorship and what it means to be human, what it means to be passionate and dedicated, the ideas of right and wrong and growing up and making mistakes and changing your mind. A lot of that is wrapped up in inner struggle and physical struggle, and even some on the extrapersonal level.

It is insulting to think the objection is swearing after all that. Isn’t that part of growing up? Using “grown-up” words? Every kid desires the freedom which comes with adulthood (who doesn’t want to be able to eat ice cream for breakfast).

It is insulting to think your children, after reading books with swear words, will become incessant potty mouths, or reading about witchcraft will make them want to go out and join a satanist cult, or if they read about vampires and werewolves they will go out and try to get creepy boyfriends.

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My mother was my hero growing up. She still is, even as I have stepped up into more of a battle-field ready position for my own self and my own kids. She let me read whatever I wanted. She trusted me to read whatever I wanted, and yes, some of the books I read were not “good” or “clean” books; a lot of them had swear words in them, and sex, drugs, lying, betrayals, violence, and questions of gender, sexuality, rape, and drunkenness. But I was able to face a kind of reality with those things that when it comes to living in a world with them, I am better prepared on how to react to them and how to respond to them.

My mother shielded me from a lot of things when I was younger; I know this. She didn’t want me dating very much, and she wanted to know who I was going with and where, and when and how long and why and whose parents. But she knew I could be trusted to handle myself. She didn’t know it, but she gave me a precious gift through both of those thing.

My teachers, in teaching me books with the “bad” things in it, taught me to protect myself and challenged me to become myself. In the teen years, there’s a lot of confusion, but it eats away at the illusions you allow yourself. Books can be a safe way to allow challenges, especially with those harder issues to face, to define you and defend yourself.

I told my students about the issues; I don’t believe in lying about a ‘sudden’ book change. And I told them the truth about their parents. “They have been protecting you your whole lives, and I respect that. I am not against that, but I am a complement to that. It is my job to prepare you to defend yourself, to fight for yourself,” I told them, “They are your shield, but I am your sword.”

Besides because of the imagery, they liked that. They liked that I trusted them to train themselves, and to begin to take over the training and protecting of themselves. I do not regret it. A teacher’s job to help the student get to the point where the teacher is unnecessary.

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