**Updates on this story have been added at the bottom**
As many have already heard, a 20 year old adult student from Yucaipa, California has demanded four books on her English 250 reading list be given a warning for “adult content” and even banned from the curriculum and school bookstore.
The books on the student’s chopping block are as follows;
“Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel
“Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1” by Brian Vaughan
“The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman
“Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi.
I have a problem with that.
It’s no secret to anyone in the industry that comic book artists are often discriminated against in the literary world. Graphic novels are often misrepresented and misunderstood, assumed to be “child’s entertainment”, nothing serious and certainly not noteworthy or contributive to the literary community as a whole. (Even though countless graphic novel artists and authors have been recognized across all literary bridges receiving prestigious awards such as the Hugo Award, Eisner award and yes, even the Pulitzer.)
Comic book writers and artists know going into their craft that they are working against the tide, working for their passion, not for a paycheck. Even in this golden age of comic book films and global spotlight on superheroes, comic books are still seen as frivolous, trivial and a waste of time to many.
This is why, when a teacher chooses to utilize the unending universes within the comic book culture in an English class to represent humankind’s most influential emotions, the results can be enlightening and inspiring, while also opening the door to a whole new, unexplored world of literary opportunity to countless students who may never have known what modern comics truly are.
One such teacher in Yucaipa’s local junior college, Crafton Hills College, did exactly that. Professor Ryan Bartlett is quoted by the Redlands Daily Facts to have chosen a list of four graphic novels for his College English course, English 250, (which, as a side note- is NOT a “entry level” course), “not because they are purportedly racy but because each speaks to the struggles of the human condition,” he went on to say “As Faulkner states, ‘The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.’ The same may be said about reading literature. The characters in the chosen graphic novels are all struggling with issues of morality, self discovery, heart break, etc. The course in question has also been supported by the faculty, administration and approved by the board.”
Although he has taught the course a few times before without conflict, recently, a single, adult student has spoken out against his reading list. She is claiming it to be pornography and stating, “I had no warning,” she said. “I had nothing.” In regards to her helplessness in the situation in which she feels victimized by being forced to read books that she believed to be indecent or receive a zero in the course.
Now, because of her clear misunderstanding of modern comic books having stated, “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography”, she is demanding the books be removed from the class reading list and removed from the bookstore for purchase and her father is leading the charge. They have protested at the school outside the administration office demanding the books be removed and warning students to avoid Bartlett’s course.
Their aggressive and entitled demands based on their ignorance of the art form are sending waves through our local comic book community and beyond. Even the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization devoted to protecting comic book authors, artists and first amendment rights “of the comics art form and its community of retailers, creators, publishers, librarians, and readers” is getting board. They have posted an article on their website’s main page and have vowed to watch this situation closely.
There is no word on whether or not the student; 20 year old Tara Shultz, asked to be transferred to another class or even when within the semester she decided to read through her book list to find the “questionable content”, so we cannot glean any insight here at all. We assume that, had she read through the books she purchased prior to her first day of class, she would have noticed right away by simply thumbing through the pages that the content was not appropriate for her. At that point- it would have been logical to ask to speak with the professor to work something out, switch classes, clearly SOMEthing could have been done, had she taken the time to open the book to find out and it would not have been a black or white decision of “earn a zero or deal”, as she claims.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the info to verify this, (though attempts to reach out to all parties have been made) so we can only go off of what we know about how college courses work and what the expectation of the administration is. A student has a certain number of days to drop a class before a zero is issued. If they do not do so within that timeframe, they either stick it out, or take the zero.
I couldn’t be more angry for a whole host of reasons, but for the sake of preventing this from turning into a 20 page personal rant, I’ll just list a few points.
1- As I already touched on, I cannot believe she did not have a choice to back out of the course before it was too late. Clearly, she did not bother to open her books until it was too late. That is NO ONE’S FAULT but her own. To chastise an instructor and demand the books be banned from the campus because she personally was offended when she chose not to review her coursework on time is absolutely ludicrous at best.
2- Her father does FAR too much speaking for her. Now, I know many parents are deeply involved in their children’s lives, and that’s absolutely fine. Those children are blessed to have loving parents who look out for their best interests and we should all be so lucky! What concerns me and shines an important light on their dynamic, are the words he chose when he explained his frustration- “we wouldn’t have taken this course”, he said… as though he is taking the class, as well.
Of course, I don’t blame her for this. I don’t even blame him! Sometimes loving parents cross the line from good parent to overbearing without even realizing it and the marks of a loving, yet probably a tad over-protective parent is clear. Parenting adult children as though they are still in high school can leave a child/adult feeling insecure and unprepared for their independent lives. Often called “helicopter parenting”, this parenting style begins in early childhood and rarely offers the child much chance to speak for themselves as they grow. The parent often superimposes themselves into the lives of their children in unhealthy ways, speaking for them, making their decisions, causing the adult to continuously question themselves. Supporting her as she fights is one thing- speaking for her, as though he is part of this process, is quite another. And before the argument can even be made, Yes I stand by this- even if he is paying for her education. He chose to send her to a public junior college. He is not paying them to hide her from the darkness of the world, he’s paying them to teach her in whatever way they see fit. She chose to take an elective course focusing on graphic novels, some of which were clearly marked for mature readers. This is the equivalent of an “R” rating on a film. If either of them were that concerned about what this, or any other class in a public junior college might teach, he may have considered a private college with more stringent rules on reading material for her instead.
Now, please understand- I’m not totally heartless about this. I understand his desire to protect her, to guide her, to help her find the good things in life and to avoid the bad things, as best he can. We all want to protect our children from the world. Mine are only two and four years old and there is SO much I have to shield from them, most people think I’m crazy! I understand a parent wanting to support his daughter, especially when she feels she is being put in a situation that goes against her beliefs, her morals, or in any way makes her uncomfortable. I understand how a parent looks into the eyes of his perfect, precious child and wants nothing but beauty to ever pass those lenses, I want that for my children, too, but that is just not the world we live in. At SOME POINT he has to let her know the truth, or, at least how to navigate those truths without being mortified, offended or outraged to the point where taking away another’s right to learn seems an acceptable alternative to just dropping the course. At some point, she has to know that not everyone has her opinion and that is okay- just because someone disagrees with you, does not mean they are not allowed to have their opinion or to continue what they think is best.
At some point, he has to allow her to fight her own battles, to prepare her with the truth, to arm her with her beliefs as a guidepost, but not use them as a weapon. It is unfortunate he did not teach her to understand that CONTEXT is important. Watching pornographic images for “fun” may not be acceptable for them (and many others, myself included) as a family, but within the context of a college course where complex storylines are reviewed and analyzed academically, vivid, sexual and even violent images may be educational, relevant and necessary. This father, in his obvious love for his child, seems to have created an adult woman who does not know about the world and when she is faced with it, not only does she reject it, but she demands that no one else be subjected to it, either. It seems as though she makes an assumption that because she finds it offensive, everyone else should, as well and no one has a right to the material.
This attitude speaks volumes, as it reflects the prejudice, intolerance and hate we experience in so many areas; race, homosexuality, religion, gender bias, counter-culture lifestyles and that only lists a few! Intolerance is the root in this situation, intolerance and entitlement as they and their supporters demand their perspective be enforced rather than considering and respecting that, just maybe, not everyone feels the same way and perhaps others’ perspectives should be respected, too. They are dangerously choosing a curtain over reality and fighting for the right to pull it over everyone’s eyes, not just their own.
Having been where she is, having stood in the same sheltered shoes she walks in now, I feel for this girl as she enters into adulthood. Breaking out into the world with that level of naivety can and refusal to accept the world as it is can leave her vulnerable to those same evils she is trying desperately to shut out. Walking with blinders only works in familiar territory. For her sake, I hope this adult child never ventures too far from home.
3- Book banning by an adult because the “mature content” is too mature for adults in college seems absurd. She is calling for, “at the very least” a warning. CHECK THE BACK OF THE BOOK YOU PURCHASED-It says “Suggested for mature readers” in big, bold letters. (Yes, I know I’ve already said this but it’s important so I’m saying it again) Perhaps she should have considered what that might mean in the real world and take a look to see if the content was not aligned with her beliefs before continuing the course. Would she have taken a film class if she knew they would be featuring “rated R” films? Again- her ignorance does not warrant the removal of these works from a college course.
Sure, book banning is a thing. It’s not just something that took place in the 1930’s or in Nazi Germany. It happens now, today. Yes, even in America. Back in 2007, they banned the original printing of Huckleberry Finn because it was racist. It happens. But when you suggest banning the selling of a book because of sexual or perverse content in a college bookstore or library and demand the cessation of any instructor from teaching from those books, you open up a whole new world of ridiculous.
Why? Well, let’s see what else she will have to ban…
The Canterbury Tales
ANYthing by Shakespeare
The Oedipus Trilogy
Nearly EVERY PLAY ever written (okay that’s an exaggeration, but still- more than 10 and DOZENS are in the library on that campus- believe me, I was a theatre student there!)
Books by Chaucer, Miller, Faulkner, Chopin, Joyce, Nabokov, Updike and countless others that dive into human tragedy, deviance, pain and fear. My point is- it’s a lot. She and her helicopter parenting father would have to shut down the entire school, rewrite all the teacher’s curriculums, restock the bookstore AND the library because chances are – at least ONE of those authors would be on her reading list at some point in ANY instructor’s class, as it is now.
4- The sheer entitlement exhibited by this father/daughter duo is appalling. As a parent, I am known for being *ahem* “cautious” with my children’s young minds and at times, maybe more than I need to be but they are toddlers and at this age, it’s called good parenting. At age 20, a grown woman should recognize she is an adult and be far more offended by her father is speaking for her in an interview than the drawings in her reading list. At this age, she should be able to tolerate challenging and even risqué topics such as sex, rape, homosexuality, murder, drug addiction and many others in an educational forum in order to complete a semester of coursework. She should be able to be willing to give an instructor the benefit of the doubt, possibly even seek redemption in these terrible situations she is reading about and be willing to expand herself, even just a touch, outside her comfort zone to understand that these situations are someone’s reality and by understanding them, she may grow as an individual. These may be fictional, sci-fi/fantasy stories, but many of the issues she seems concerned about are shockingly real and it’s not unthinkable for a college professor to expect an adult woman to dive into these topics for the sake of any college course.
I am sure she is a sweet girl and I appreciate the courage it takes to stand up for what she believes in. I don’t blame her. I blame her parents for raising a child who, as an adult, cannot bear to look at the horrors of this world with open eyes and consider them for the sake of one English class. No one is asking her to like these stories, or to enjoy the graphic nature of them – just to learn something from them. No one is pushing her to read the entire Sandman saga on her own time or demanding she pick up a copy of the complete works of the Marquis de Sade. It’s a college course- not a lifestyle choice.
Discrimination is real. Violence is real. Sexual deviance is real. Evil and pain and heartache is real. A world absent of those things is NOT REAL. I shudder to think of a world in which we leave our children unprepared for these horrible realities, and I fear for the world where those children are in charge.
These are the same children who screamed “justice” when they were denied their high school diplomas because they didn’t pass all their classes. These are the same children who demand “fun” at their jobs and refuse to do the work they are hired for unless it makes them feel good or if they get extra rewards like incentives trips, days off, prizes or money. These are the same children who grow up to demand a job in a fast food restaurant pay the same rate as a seasoned customer service rep with a college degree in a corporate office.
The entitlement generation has no future in the modern world and when you add this lifestyle of “I DESERVE BECAUSE I AM” mentality to a horrifying willingness to blind oneself from the realities our cultures are drenched in, I just can’t see any good to come of it. You get situations like this, where an adult wants a book banned because she doesn’t like it.
I’m at a loss to understand how any parent would be so willing to allow their child to enter into their future so completely ill prepared for what is truly out there.
And finally ;
5- I am a fierce supporter of the comic book industry and any artist’s right to exhibit their creativity- even if I don’t personally like it or agree with what they are doing. I know several authors, artists and creative teams who pen, ink and publish comics all across this nation and they are FIGHTING every day against discrimination. They fight to bring their craft into the light of validity, to have it stand for something, to mean something beyond the perceived assumption that they are childish, silly or a waste of time. Comic books, graphic novels- ARE valid. They are important and these artists bleed for their craft DAILY not expecting anything and knowing they are unlikely to be given any recognition for their countless hours of work, day and night to produce something that moves people. Why are filmmakers more respected than comic book artists? Because watching a movie is easier than reading a book. That’s it. Many years ago, before there were televisions, there were comic books and if you know your history, only a few of them were ever intended for children. When Miss Shultz states she was “expecting Batman and Robin”, clearly, she has NEVER READ a Batman comic in her life, or she would known well what to expect.
Her ostentatious actions from start to finish stand to do damage to the craft and all who spend their lives and livelihoods bringing these works of art to the world and THAT is unacceptable. That cannot happen.
We will stand by Ryan Bartlett’s side and the side of all who seek to share this beautiful medium with the world.
Trust I will watch this story, expand upon it as new information and opinions come to light and keep you updated. I have a feeling this issue is just getting warmed up and I’ll be ready to share it all with you, as it comes.
To read the Redlands Daily Facts article, click HERE.
To read the CBLDF article, click HERE.
*UPDATE* 6/17/15 –
Over the last few days, I’ve kept a close eye on this situation and I’m glad I did. New developments seem to be popping up everywhere.
First, two days ago, the Crafton Hills College President, Cheryl Marshall stated the following:
“I support the college’s policy on academic freedom which requires an open learning environment at the college. Students have the opportunity to study controversial issues and arrive at their own conclusions and faculty are to support the student’s right to freedom of inquiry. We want students to learn and grow from their college experiences; sometimes this involves reaffirming one’s values while other times beliefs and perspectives change.”
I was ecstatic and felt hopeful the case would be closed. Unfortunately, I spoke too soon. Tara Shultz’ father, Greg Shultz, has chosen to continue pursuing the ban, going above the College President’s head. The father/daughter team, in an updated article in the Redlands Daily Facts on June 15th, made it clear they would continue to pursue this issue by reaching out to San Bernardino Community College District Board of Directors, as well as State law makers.
A full update on these details along with the Forbidden Panel reaction will be posted later today.
To read the updated Redlands Daily Facts article, click HERE.