Monday, April 14, 2014

Banning L'Engle

As a writer, who is also Christian, L’Engle has faced much opposition to her work. She is one the top 100 most frequently banned authors in the US. One reason for this is her mixing of religion and science. L’Engle, unlike many other Christian, feels that religion and science are “one and the same”.
                L’Engle doesn’t feel that religion and science have to be at odds. This is evident tin her interview with Bob Abernethy. L’Engle about how science and her religion can comingle. One does not have to put science in one place and religion in another. As L’Engle says they inform each other. L’Engle, in her interview also, somewhat, challenges her religion when she says, “Science knows things move and change, and religion doesn't want that”. She is more comfortable with science than with religion but doesn’t just stop believing in God. L’Engle’s attitude about science and religion has led to the banning of many of her works.
                The funny thing about banning a book is that the actual banning of a book is more harmful than the book itself. The fact that many people fight to ban L’Engle’s book is, sort of, ironic because they are doing more harm by trying to ban the book than the books themselves are doing. Though, A Wrinkle in Time has some parts that some think challenges Christian ideology, there are still positive Christian messages in the story. In fact, I would argue that A Wrinkle in Time is more of a pro-Christian than an anti-Christian, though L’Engle asserts it is meant as neither.
                  Those who want to ban A Wrinkle in Time because, it goes against their Theology are, themselves, being very anti-Christian. I understand not agreeing with a message from a book but to ban a book for going against Christianity just doesn’t make sense to me. It seems to go against the core idea of Christianity, which is acceptance. By fighting so hard to ban L’Engle’s work the people doing so are expressing their ignorance of their own religion and are in turn doing more harm to the cause.
                After doing service at Tunbridge I thought whether or not this book would be appropriate for the students to read, since they are about the age when some students read it. My answer was, and still is, an unequivocally yes. I fell this book is very appropriate for students to read. I contend that it is a disservice to the learning of the students to ban this book as their options are being limited thereby, in a way, harming them.

Banning Is The True Obscenity

Banning Is The True Obscenity

Marine Adam Kokesh describes the proposed ban on curse words to be “more offensive, vulgar, and obscene than any curse word.” Madeline L’Engle echoes this sentiment when she says, “You have got to be very careful of banning. What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is.” L’Engle relates this to Hitler banning books and then eventually killing people. Throughout this class I have come to the conclusion that many books are banned because they do not fit into a neat “box.” The box usually being the standards and customs of society or a particular group. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned because it challenged the society’s ingrained customs (as well as other issues, such as the continual use of the n-word). Twelfth Night was banned because the characters did not fit into the neat gender boxes. A Wrinkle In Time is often challenged because it not Christian enough or, paradoxically, not secular enough. It mixes science with religion. L’Engle’s works refuse to be “pigeonholed.” Hettiga attributes L’Engle’s messiness as being part of her appeal. She can reach out to many different people, and in some cases, reach out to many different interests and facets of a single person.

            Hitler wanted to eliminate diversity. He hoped for a world with one type of person. This is why books are so dangerous; they can challenge a person on many different levels. A book can often be whatever a person needs it to be, or it can be whatever a person looks for it to be. One example of this is seeing links to a Nazi Youth rally to The Polar Express. The critic admits that maybe she sees this because that was what she was looking for. Yet I believe sometime books are meant just to be books, especially for children. In A Wrinkle In Time, I think that it is extremely unimportant to categorize the book. It is a children’s book, but it can also be enjoyed by adults. It has elements of adventure, ethics, religion, science, and many other subjects. As L’Engle states she is foremost an author, this book is foremost a story. It does not matter how it is categorized, it still teaches basic ideals and concepts. There is a universality to this book that supersedes whatever box someone might attempt to cram it into. I think children reading books is essential. They come to books with open minds and hearts, ready to take from it whatever they can find (sometimes that might just be the pleasure of a good story).

Banning and Freedom

Banning is a sticky situation.  It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing.  One on hand, restaurants should be able to have a dress code, but on the other, towns and cities shouldn’t be able to tell their citizens what to wear and how to speak.  But books, on the other hand, should not be banned.  As Madeline L’Engle suggests in her interview with Bob Abernathy, the act of banning itself is much more dangerous than the material it prohibits.   

In his essay, A Wrinkle in Faith, Donald Hettinga, he quotes L’Engle as saying, “if we take the Bible literally we don’t have to take it seriously” (5).  L’Engle’s gripe with Christian readers (and I’m sure most readers for that matter) is that they take thing too literally.  She says that by focusing on the literal aspects of the Bible, people often miss the spiritual significance.  The same can be said for banning profane or complex literature.  If we look at L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time and only see overt Christian teaching, or immoral clashing of science and religion, we miss the implicit themes of love, strength, perseverance, and the power of the human spirit.  This same method applies not only to literature, but life as well.  If we ban saggy pants, or tattoos, or certain language, we miss the beauty of individual creativity and expression.  Of course, there is a fine line between allowing complete freedom and individuality, and allowing anarchy to ensue.  It seems nearly impossible to deem what is “okay” and what is not. 

In modern terms, freedom is known as independence from rules.  In our society, we see freedom as being unrestrictive, as emancipatory.  Because of this viewpoint, when we do face rules and regulations, we feel trapped and confined by what we “can’t” do.  Maybe this is the problem with banning, and why is elicits such a rise from those in favor of or against it.  Perhaps we should take a cue from the ancient concept of freedom, in which people feel free because of the rules that hold them in place.  This way, as L’Engle suggests, we’ll stop taking things so literally, and begin to see the beauty of what surrounds us, even if we are opposed to it.   

Step Back and Be Suprised

Hettinga and Galbraith’s essays support the idea of taking a step back to explore perspectives dfferent than one’s own in order to cultivate a space for surprises. Hettinga presents the misuse of cutting and pasting perspectives to shape an argument while dismissing the context from which it was first applied, particularly in fiction. Hettinga presents her concern; she states “Perhaps it is the academic critic in me that wants to worry about selections ripped out of their contexts and offered as touchstones of meaning. Such a technique is particularly problematic when the quotations are taken from fiction. Suddenly the values and authority structures established by the author as she created the narrative have vanished” (Hettinga, 2). Even citing these statements, I worry that I may have been guilty of that myself; I sincerely hope not. I hope I understood what she meant and that my thoughts in this paragraph are not too far from hers.

There is a danger with conviction when dealing with issues that humans are not equipped to understand through sense perception. Hettings states, “According to L'Engle, when we tenaciously devote ourselves to purely rational paradigms, we [construct] idols we can comprehend with our senses instead of waiting for the revelation of God in his own terms” (Hettinga, 5). On a similar, but not necessarily the same train of thought, I wholly appreciate Galbraith’s emphasis on considering what children need as opposed to what adults need children to be able to do. Sometimes adults forget to see children as individuals. The expectations are, in a sense, like the constructed idols; adults get wrapped up into thinking about their own standards for them, but when allowed to be themselves and trusted to be independent, children can be impressive all on their own—like “the revelation of God in his own terms;” there is, after all, a piece of God in each child.

Along the lines of not underestimating children (which seems to be something I naturally keep coming back to this semester), Galbraith mentions “a larger project to be with, support, and negotiate conflict with children without oppressing them” (Galbraith, 189). My heart lit up when I read this. At the Montessori school where I worked last summer, I remember the school director’s word choice about children using the bathroom. They didn’t call it “potty training,” they called it “bathroom independence.” Little ways of mindfulness like this particular difference reminds us that children, too, have a strong sense of dignity. Also, in their bathrooms, everything is children-sized, including the toilets. The ceiling is proportioned to their size, as well. This relates to Galbraith mentioning that “an emancipatory childhood studies approach begins where true children’s literature begins: with the existential predicament of childhood in an adult-dominated world” (200). In the classroom I worked in, children were very much in control of their surroundings and were able to be independent. Before being immersed in the Montessori culture, I was less mindful about children’s personal bubbles; when I met a cute two year olds, I would just pick them up and hug them. Now, I ask first. Also, I encourage them to walk on their own more so that they have control over their environment and I only pick them up if they ask for help or if they are in trouble.



Because We Like To

            For an entire semester now, we’ve been discussing the banning of books and continually asking the question: “Why?”. In Bob Abernathy’s profile on Madeleine L’Engle, I think she answers the question perfectly and concisely when she says, simply, “We have always liked banning.” It isn’t exactly the deepest or most profound answer, but it gets to the point: we do it, because we like it. People have a natural desire for power and the ability to control what is read is an easy way in which to exert it. Unfortunately, by exercising this power, we suppress the power of others by taking away their freedom of expression or communication.
            L’Engle warns about this danger saying, “Hitler and his cohorts started banning books, and then to killing people. You have tot to be very careful about banning. What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is.” When it comes to books, there is little harm to be done amongst the educated, as our consensus in class seems to show, because all they do is spread ideas and create a medium through which to gain and give knowledge and in order to protect the uneducated, I would say, is one of the responsibilities of those with the privilege of having this knowledge. The removal of materials from the public sphere is dangerous in taking away a valuable source of innovation, education, and thought, only adding to the potential for ignorance, as we’ve discussed with other works throughout the semester, but L’Engle is getting at something deeper.
            The suggestion made by L’Engle’s statement in her interview with Abernathy brings up the dangers of oppression and the abuse of power. The previously stated points about removing sources of knowledge and communication speak to the danger of oppression, but stemming from that is also the tendency for people to accept their oppressed state and to submit to the role of victim and stop trying to communicate or spread their thoughts and creativity at all. This would create a vicious circle in which innovation would cease altogether and we, as a civilization, would assume a state of stasis, never to grow or develop.
            While a lack of growth is something to be wary of, it is not nearly as dangerous as something like Hitler’s regime and the abuse of power that can come from acknowledging and embracing one’s ability to control. That sort of power easily goes to one’s head and once it has begun, is hard to end. Once the banning begins and people realize they can have a say in such matters it is not likely to stop after one work is banned, or even after fifty are taken off the public shelves. This shaping of the potential views of others by imposing one’s own opinions is not only hypocritical, but highly detrimental.

According to the ALA website, 307 books were challenged in 2013 alone. Clearly literature is not something that is taken lightly in America and its influence is evident simply by the amount of controversy it causes. In this light, L’Engle’s point is something to be strongly heeded: It’s not really the books that are the dangerous one’s, it’s the banning of them.

bikins and baggy pants

A lot of the issues brought up about sagging pants were families concerned for their children being exposed to peoples bums. It is simply a generational fad, one generation complaining about the new generations risky, provocative, or crude behavior. It is similar to how parents used to complain that their children would be forced to go to school with African Americans. A change in the social standards are always expected. In the 1900’s fashions that showed the ankle were thought as outrageous. Norms change, progress is made and what we complained about yesterday will become commonplace tomorrow. To ban clothing for being too baggy seems like a petty thing to argue about and could lead to more progressive bans. If one generation completely controls the norms of society, it will not progress into the future, even if it is seemingly unimportant as clothing. 
One of the banned areas discussed was on a boardwalk, literally inches away from the beach. A man was quoted complaining about the attire on the boardwalk when families can see bikini clad women and speedo clad males feet away, “You want a family atmosphere here," he said. "You don't want to see someone walking around with their butt crack hanging out. On the beach is one thing, but not here on the boardwalk.” During the summer in sweltering heat while people are there to enjoy themselves in the sun, this man is worried about a bit of butt crack? There is so many other infractions at the beach that he should be more concerned with; socks and sandals, overly sun burned children, the unhealthy fried foods available. The beach is by no means a wholesome family atmosphere, I have seen girls in bathing suits usually reserved for the covers of risky magazines. 
I know my parents complain about baggy pants, their parents complained about men’s long hair, and my grandmother said her mother complained about how girls would hike up their hemlines for their dancing dresses. At one point it was vogue to have separate bathrooms for different races. In Huck Finn gender roles were also so defined that the woman he visited was able to tell he was playing a girl because of the way he threw and the way he caught something with his legs. All of these things have changed, and for the better. Everyone is equal and integrated into schools and no one can even legally ask for separation based on race. Pink toys used to mean girls and blue toys meant boys. Now toys are being made genderless and science and tinker toys do not only target boys. With the progress of society, it is only common that human express that with how they look. If someone sees the progress in society through an expression of baggy pants, then no one can take away their ability to wear their pants like that. 
The 1920s was the beginning of the female liberation, women cut their hair and started wearing pants. It signified a change in values of society and of course, people who wanted to keep the norm would be resistant to the change in attire. As long as someone is in public they should be allow to express themselves in what ever way they see fit. Now on the other hand pertaining to private areas of business they are more than able to put bans on baggy pants. Just as restaurants can refuse service to any one they choose to. That is as much as their right as it is the right to wear baggy pants. 

Tattoos no longer have the same social stigma than they do today. They used to mean you were either a criminal, a soldier, or going no where in life. That has completely changed, tattoos have developed into a way to mark life changing events and the create a story board of art on your skin. Tattooing is an art form and it becoming more respected as such. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many US troops have collected tattoos that have become personally meaningful to them, “kind of like mile markers in their lives,” Eldridge says. People have adopted the military’s ideas of tattoos holding a significance in the story of one’s own life and the creativity of the tattooers have made it into an art form. 
My grandfather and my mother were having a discussion about tattoos and he was completely against the idea of them. He thought they were pointless and looked trashy. My mother who I had to convince that tattoos were socially acceptable defended them. She herself who now has two small ones is coming around to the idea that tattooing is art. She asked my grandfather who was set in his view that tattoos are gaudy if he knew which one of her three children, his grandchildren had tattoos. He said that none of us would have them. In fact, all three of us have very visible wrist tattoos. We all actually got the same tattoo signifying the bond we all have with each other. He didn’t even notice them. Tattoos aren’t the problem, it’s simply how people think about them. He believed tattoos were ruining people’s bodied, but didn’t even notice when the three of us had such visible ones. Sometimes it is not how people choose to dress or express themselves that is detrimental to society, it is how people perceive those decisions of expression. 

The Education of a Corpse

When examining the similarities throughout the bans on saggy pants and tattoos with Galbraith’s exposition into the education of young children by their parents in regards to the issues surrounding A Wrinkle in Time, one of the central elements in understanding the disparities between those involved is the manner by which we speak of these issues. Although saggy pants and tattoos appear to be harmless to many younger audiences today, the meaning behind the banning of each reflects issues that have changed in modern times compared to when the people coming up with the laws experienced the meaning originally. Therefore although younger audiences do not see saggy pants as tattoos or maybe have joined in causes that argue for the artistic expression of saggy pants and tattoos as part of who someone is, the older generations who were around when these breaks from the cultural norm first occurred could potentially see these actions as a degeneration that could cause harm to others. In this sense, the realities surrounding baggy pants and tattoos appear similar to that which Galbraith has to say about parents educating their children in the degree that adults risk determining the understand of their children due to the influence of language and experience.

            Responding to the issues through the lens of A Wrinkle in Time, one of the primary understandings that is taught in the novel deals with the rejection of the appearance of things. Whether it is Aunt Beast, Meg’s father, or the concept of love, the key aspect that is taught by L’Engle is that things mean more than that which they appear as. In this sense, the meaning of each aspect of Meg’s world has the ability to constantly change, which is important for Meg due to the problems of her conception of her father which was literally held in stasis until she broke through the appearance and discovered the multiplicity of meanings for one thing, and allows Meg to come discover things on her own rather than repeat definitions that are predetermined for her. Therefore, much like baggy pants and tattoos acting like a catalyst for degeneration for an older generation, the predeterminism of the older generation freezes the ability of the new generations to discover any meaning. Caught in this constant re-education, no new information is learned and the concept ultimately dies, or loses meaning for the people due to their inherent acceptance from others.   

Our Future Smells Like Hope

Our Future Smells Like Hope
            In Mary Galbraith’s essay, “Hear My Cry”, she explains that, “Children’s literature raises many ethical questions in its appeal to deep-structural truth”(Galbraith199). I felt that Galbraith’s assertion was particularly true in regards to A Wrinkle in Time, in that, “despite its uplifting tone, there is something about the book that is troubling”(Hettinga 3). Specifically L’Engle’s style is one that—as Hettinga explains—“carries risks” and causes confusion for her readers, mainly because her writing is “not tidy”(Hettinga 4). Hettinga goes on to define this “untidiness” as L’Engle’s “refusal to be pigeonholed”(Hettinga 2); however, it is this “unpredictability that some readers find unsettling that accounts for L’Engles appeal”(Hettinga 2) as a writer. Hettinga later explains that L’Engle’s style, “offers a kind of familiarity with readers that virtually invites us to address the author by her name . . . But it also, and more importantly, models how a woman of intelligence integrates her faith and her life, how she reconciles joy and sorrow, how she responds to criticism and sorts through ideas”(Hettinga 8). Encountering her own struggles in reconciling the various codes that govern her personal, religious, and social life, L’Engle builds these struggles into the very structure of her text. Hettinga explains, “in [L’Engle’s] fiction, she creates heroes and heroines who are similarly messy. Thus, when readers hear L’Engle muse about beliefs subject to change, they know what she means. It is that very struggle that she works out in the pages of her nonfiction and that her characters muddle through in her novels . . . such messiness is part of L’Engle’s appeal”(Hettinga 4). I also found it interesting that in Abernethy’s interview, he includes that, “[L’Engle] reads both the Bible and books about particle physics, and she sees no conflict between them”, viewing them as  “one and the same”(Abernethy 1).
            In the various articles about banning: swearing, sagged pants, and tattoos, I noticed many similarities between the implications of these bans and the banning of books. In the article “New Pentagon Rules Ban Tattoos on the Neck and Below the Elbows or Knees”, Mr. Eldrige—a US Navy veteran and owner of the Tattoo Archive-- calls these parts of the body (neck, below the elbows and knees), “public skin”(3) and therefore justifies the government’s right to control tattoos on theses areas of the body. Although, I do not condone profane tattoos, or tattoos that intend to hurt others, I feel uncomfortable referring to ANY part of the human body as “public”. By extension, it is deeming a part of the human body as government property—treading in dangerous territory that is reminiscent of slavery. 

            In the article, “Public Swearing Ban Cursed at Protest in Massachusetts Town”, Alon Harish includes libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul’s opinion of this ban, he writes: Paul “acknowledged in an interview today that First Amendment right are not boundless, but he said government should limit speech only when it endangers others, as cursing does not. The content of speech, he said, should not be subject to government regulation”(3). I tend to agree with Paul’s approach to this ban, because similar to the ban on tattooing (on certain areas of the body), I feel that it is inappropriate for the government to have control over our actions and personhood. Additionally, acquiring offensive tattoos, using offensive language, and dressing in an inappropriate manner does not really pose a threat on our society, but rather, these choices reflect poor decision making skills and character on behalf of the individuals themselves. Similar to the negative effects of banning literature, banning these social practices yield the same outcomes. Abernethy explains, “What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is”(Abernethy 1). As we frequently discuss in class, removing controversial books from library shelves is essentially removing controversial or “difficult” topics from our conversations. This is detrimental to our society because it is only through discussing these painful matters that we are able to obtain justice and peace. Also, in regards to the saggy pants articles, I think that many of the people who oppose saggy pants are missing the point. In the article, these people explain that they “passed this law…to teach the kids to be a better person” (1); however, regulating the positioning of one’s pants is not necessarily consistent with becoming a “better person”. In addition, regulating an individual’s pants, tattoos, and language of choice is only a temporary—or band-aid—solution to a much larger problem—these issues are the least of our worries. Instead, I believe we should teach people how to recognize universal humanity and how to treat others with compassion. Coinciding with my belief, L’Engle states: “Meg finally realizes . . . love is stronger than hate. Hate may seem to win for a while, but love is stronger than hate”(Abernethy 1). In order to overcome the negativity that currently exists within our society, we must combat hate with patience and more importantly: with love. If we accept L’Engle’s notion that love will ultimately drive out hate, our future “smells like hope” and that is something “we have to hang on to”(Abernethy 2).

Private vs. Public

            The banning of sagging pants, tattoos, and cursing are clearly highly charged and opinionated controversies. The main conflict I noticed in all three bans was the rights of the person wearing the sagged pants or having tattoos versus the rights of bystanders not wanting to be exposed to such things. Ultimately it boils down to the rights of individuals and it seems slightly ridiculous for the government to step in and ban things such as these in public places. I understand the desires of people who own private establishments such as the pizza restaurant in New Jersey. That is their private place of business and they should be able to set a standard of dress code. But what makes their ban different from government bans is that they are banning sagging pants in a private establishment. I was honestly shocked that various city governments felt they had the right to dictate how people dress and act in public. Many of our constitutional rights are drawn out in the first several amendments of the Constitution. My understanding of the constitution was that it was the final authority on all matters related to the personal rights of American citizens. Sure maybe it isn’t tasteful to be cursing or exposing your rear end in front of families or the average citizen; however, people in our country have the basic right to act as they please as long as their actions do not harm or discriminate against others. Personally I think sagging your pants is ridiculous, but when I see someone wearing their pants like that am I offended? Do I feel like they’re mocking or attacking me? Not in the slightest. They are simply making a fashion choice that is different from mine. I kept thinking back to L’Engle’s initial description of Aunt Beast. Aunt Beast is a character who shares no physical commonalities with Meg or anyone else in the novel; however, Meg connects with her on an extremely deep level and comes to love her as much as anyone in her own family. The takeaway lesson here is the old cliché of never judging a book by its cover. Often, when we see someone with sagged pants or tattoos we tend to make value judgments on that person. We think ‘why would they wear their pants like that?’ or ‘why would they mark up their bodies like that?’ Ultimately, it is their choice and it is their bodies. They made a conscious decision to present themselves the way they did and no one has the right to question that. Having tattoos doesn’t say anything about the values of a person, it’s actually a way for them to be individuals. Don’t we as Americans value individualism? Shouldn’t we be celebrating the right to dress as we please rather than banning it?
   I understand on one level the military’s ban on visible tattoos. The military is an establishment outside of society. When you enter the military you voluntarily adhere to its codes and regulations that often go further in restricting certain behaviors than the average society would. It is their right to demand a certain standard of appearance on behalf of their personal. What is not their right is to turn a blind eye to tattoos when recruiting men and women in times of war and then demanding that they pay for the removal of these tattoos in times of peace. The military should either demand no visible tattoos at all times or completely do away with the ban in general. What they have done since the Afghan and Iraqi war is the definition of hypocrisy.

    As we have seen all semester there is an inherent danger in banning things. When we restrict access to books, we restrict access to extremely profound sources of knowledge that would often benefit society. When we restrict the way people can dress, we restrict their ability to be individuals. Banning should only be enacted when it is clear that the book, song, or action is only detrimental to society. Banning things simply because we do not fully understand them or they seem foreign to societal norms is a very dangerous path to be treading. 

No shoes, No shirt, No Problem?

Throughout the semester, the same question continues to resurface: what is obscene? According to some lawmakers, baggy pants and tattoos are too lewd for family establishments. I once worked at a neighborhood-dive bar. My boyfriend walked in—it was mid-July and he had just gotten off from his job working on a boat. It was hot, and he took off his thick, cotton polo shirt and was wearing a white, tank-top. My boss (not knowing that this particular patron was my significant other) escorted him out of the bar. He told me he didn’t want his bar to attract a “certain kind of crowd.”  

I agree with Mary—I am not ecstatic about the saggy pants fad but I also do not feel threatened by pants that hang below a person’s rear. What is the aim of these people who instill these rules? Where does the danger lie? 

Since 1992, New York City law declared it legal for a woman to be topless anywhere a man can be, as long as not engaged in commerce. The law has been in act for over two decades but NYPD officers are still often reminded not to arrest shirtless women. Gender activists consciously remind law enforcement with marches and rallies with displays of unconstitutional gender discrimination. Activists suggest that the female breast has become too sexualized—something that is genuinely human is now seen as obscene. There of course are many implications to consider—most who oppose this law are worried for what children might think and how it might influence their character. One articles suggests that bans are placed to “teach kids to be a better person…to be more respectable and have a decent life when they get much older.” 

In A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle teaches her audience to simply not judge a book by its cover. The theme and concept are extremely cliche, but certainly society needs to be reminded of this lesson. Aunt Beast tells Meg, “We do not know what things look like. We know what things are like. It must be very limiting, this seeing.” The truth isn’t seen, the truth is understood. 

If I were arrested for being topless on a hot summer day—frankly—I’d be pissed off. It’s insulting that some are offended by the fact that I am a woman and find my anatomy profane. I am more than a vagina and a pair of breasts, I have a mind and thoughts and feelings and ideas. Ron Paul said that the first amendment is not boundless, but that the government has no business restricting the content of language. Those who govern should protect their people from harm, not restrict subjective attitudes. 
Reading the list of articles on banned tattoos, saggy pants and use of profanity, I found myself wondering why so many people have spent so much time and effort on these issues. In some ways I do understand the point of view of all parties involved, but in my opinion all of these problems have simple solutions, except maybe one: military tattoos. I have always found the simplest solution to problems such as profanity and saggy pants to be to remove yourself from the situation. In my experience, if you are in a public space where you are seeing or hearing something undesirable, you have the freedom to move to a different space or look away. 
In the article highlighting the use of profanity in Massachusetts, I found the argument of the reverend and 80 year old lady to be absolutely ludicrous. What I found even more ridiculous was the fact that this town voted to issue fines of 20$ for use of profanity by a vote of 180-53. So now this town is going to pay police officers to walk around and give tickets to people swearing? Or perhaps someone might call 911 in order to report a case of profanity! I find this to be a complete and utter waste of resources. If someone is using language that is offensive to you, move; go somewhere else. Find a different place to eat, drink, hang out or walk around. If this 80 year old lady feels like profanity is going rampant throughout her town, she can move. That is one of, if not the greatest part of America. If you don’t like your current situation, for any reason, you have the right and ability to change it. For me, the same logic would apply to the saggy pants.
Saggy pants have been popular since I was a young child, and I personally have never understood it. That does not mean that people are not entitled to wear pants around their knees or however that person would like to wear them. Similarly to my logic with use of profanity, if you don’t like to look at people with saggy pants, look away. There is nothing forcing someone to look at someone else’s boxers or underwear. At the same time, I don’t think anyone should be able to show their bare bottom in public. I believe that is already a law (public indecency), so why should there be any discussion about it? If someone’s butt is hanging out for all to see they should get a fine. 
I will now talk briefly about the article on tattoos in the military. I am someone who has multiple tattoos. I have always chosen not to tattoo anything below my elbows, knees or above my collar line because of the associations some people hold of those with tattoos. I have done this because I always want to be able to cover my tattoos if I choose to do so. 
In terms of the military, I completely understand if the military does not want recruits that have tattoos in highly visible areas. My problem with this article is when the military chooses to take recruits with undesirable tattoos when they need recruits to fight wars, but then force them to get them removed when they no longer need as many soldiers. I find this to be a typical way in which the military deals with recruits. I can speak to one experience of a good friend years ago.
About 7 years ago I had a friend that was considering joining the army. My friend, Ben, had graduated high school a year earlier. He decided not to go to college and was working odd jobs until considering the military. He was worried that a prior drug conviction would effect his chances of being admitted to the military. After Ben’s interview with a recruiter, he informed me that the military was in dire need to recruits due to the escalating conflict in Iraq. This was surprising to me because I always thought the military had plenty of reserves, but this was obviously not the case. Ben decided to join the Army, and his prior drug conviction was never spoken of after his initial interview. It was as if the drug charge never existed; the recruiter completely disregarded it after Ben agreed to a 4 year term of service. 
Although Ben is now out of the military and again a civilian, he does have many tattoos around his neck and forearms. I could not imagine forcing Ben to remove his visible tattoos if he was still in the military. Why should he? Because the elite in the military decided they don’t want anyone more visible tattoos? “Sure, give us your life for 4 yeas. The war might even take your life. But you’re not allowed to mark your skin in these areas.” Essentially the military takes what they can get, while they can get it, then when there aren’t any wars to be fought, begin to weed out the members of the military that might be undesirable to some. If you ask me, changing military policies for men already enlisted men should be a violation. 

I just find topics of discussion such as saggy pants, profanity and tattoos to be completely senseless because all of these things have to do with OTHER people. Why can’t everyone just appreciate their own values when it comes to the language you use and style of clothes you wear? Why do people feel the need to manage someone else’s life? I will finish with the wise words of my former college roommate: “Don’t worry about me, worry about yourself”. 

Hidden Agendas and Ulterior Motives

                Hear My Cry: A Manifesto for Emancipatory Childhood Studies Approach to Children’s Literature is Galbraith’s argument for a critical look at children’s literature through an emancipatory lens. She claims that children are a social group whose rights we must protect, because they are young, naive, and dependent on adults. As adults, we hold natural power over children, who have not yet learned how to communicate/articulate all their thoughts. As a result, the children’s literature we give them is both incredibly influential as a form of emancipation or oppression. Galbraith critically looks at The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. She finds parallels between the whimsical picture book and Nazi Germany, claiming that the adoration showed to Santa Clause establishes a “Great Man.” She says that the “Great Man” teaches children that, through irrational belief in a greater figure, we can get “what we need from the universe despite our depraved condition in reality” (197). This immediately recalls the Third Reich in that the depraved German children who grew up in poverty were able to look towards the songs, speeches, and jubilant rallies established by Hitler and his government.
               According to Galbraith, once readers are aware of the “Great Man” in the Polar Express, the magical spell is “ruined as an innocent narrative” (197). We as adults are forced to address the difficult task of handling this book. Is it hidden with fascist connections that encourage an irrational belief in a savior figure? Is it a comment on the unbearable weight of loneliness that is only fixed once we find a figure to believe in? Is it simply a story about the Santa Clause figure we have always associated with Christmas?  One particular position that caught my eye was the position of a “triumphant critic who ‘outs’ a hidden agenda” (198). In all fairness to Allsburg, any hidden agenda would be much more successful if the narrative had been more explicit in its “Great Man” theme. Galbraith even says that she is unsure of whether or not Allsburg or his editors saw the historical connection. If that is the case, how on earth could this reading of Polar Express hold water? Was the agenda so wonderfully hidden even the author didn't realize his emotional manipulation of children?  
               In addition, Galbraith’s article discusses the psychobiographical influence of authors on their works. How did an author’s childhood influence his/her writing of childhood or writing for childhood?  While Galbraith claimed that the psychobiography of Allsburg could support her theory, she admitted that she knew nothing much of Allsburg other than his incriminating name. I decided to look the author up. Turns out he was born in 1949 (four years after WWII) and in America.  While this may refute the direct claim that a “Great Man” Hitler connection to Santa Clause exists in the book, does it refute the “Great Man” theme entirely?

               Over the summer, I went to the New York Public Library’s exhibition, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.”  While it was incredibly inspirational I had seen, for the first time, an intensely critical view of certain children’s novels. There were theories and interpretations of some of my favorite works that I had never (repeat never) would have come up with. In a way, this connects to Galbraith’s point that once we critically look at one of our beloved childhood novels, we are forced to shed some innocence and see the darker truths hidden behind the text or pictures. The picture book, Love You Forever, concerns itself heavily with the passage of time and human mortality. Alice in Wonderland is as much about youthful self-discovery as it is about utter nonsense. Maybe The Polar Express could encourage a belief in a “Great Man,” but it doesn't necessarily have to be negative. Maybe it isn't Hitler – maybe it’s the concept of kindness and charity and comfort personified – that if children believe in these positive qualities then they can recreate them. Even if they’re not at the forefront, adult themes are central to a children’s book and can be as dark or as light as we wish to read them.

The Ideal Citizen

Sagged pants are a trend that I personally have never understood. Having one’s underwear hanging out beneath pants seems to be counterproductive to wearing pants in the first place, but that’s merely my practicality speaking. Although it is a fashion statement I do not particularly enjoy, it is not something that would ever occur to me to ban, other than in a school setting where such clothing would arguably be distracting to fellow students. Otherwise, as Madeline L’Engle said of A Wrinkle in Time being banned, “You have got to be very careful of banning. What you ban is not going to hurt anybody, usually. But the act of banning is.” Seeing someone’s underwear or, less fortunately, bare bottom is unpleasant by the standards of many people, but there is more danger in making certain fashion choices illegal and punishable by law than it is for underwear to show every now and then.

            The desire for uniformity in appearance, education, and language is shown in an extremist way in A Wrinkle in Time, but such tendencies are apparent in the banning of saggy pants, tattoos, and cursing in our own society. In conformity, many find comfort, but the desire for conformity, beginning with the banning of books, as L’Engle points out, is the way that Hitler’s genocide of millions of people happened. Although some people may find cursing or saggy pants to be offensive or disrespectful, attempting to control people and mold them into an “ideal citizen” has frightening implications. To me, however, the banning of saggy pants in a private establishment, such as the restaurant in New Jersey, is far less concerning. In a private place, the owners are attempting to create a certain environment and may ask people to dress a certain way to maintain that standard. People who like saggy pants are perfectly free to not attend such an establishment. Once these bans go public though, the message is that the people governing that society are attempting to mold it’s citizens and not just a restaurant.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Better Late Than Never...

Finding out your parents aren’t perfect is the continual process of leaving childhood behind and emerging into adulthood.  Discovering that your parents are not the infallible beings you’ve always thought them to be is somewhat disheartening.  For a split second, the perfect person you’ve always envisioned them to be disappears, and you’re left with someone as just as flawed as you are.  But, just like in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, we learn that life is all about the lens we view it through.  When we catch a glimpse of our parents’ flaws, we realize that they were never actually perfect, but the lens we’ve always viewed them with was.  
My mom is a saint.  I’m not kidding, she’s nearly flawless.  Incredibly giving, she’s the kindest, most selfless person I’ve ever known.  Her smile is infectious, her laugh inimitable.  She never gets mad; in fact, I’ve never even heard her so much as raise her voice.  She’s beautiful, funny, smart, hard-working, all the things you’d ever want to be.  It’s no wonder I’ve idolized her my whole life.  So when she dropped the f-bomb a few months ago, let’s just say my world was rocked. 
My mom’s easygoing temperament can be detected from her very speech.  The woman refrains from any kind of extreme language, never mind swearing.  I remember being nervous the first time I used the word “hate” in her presence.  Which is why I was nearly dumbfounded when she said the F-word in front of me.  Of course, it was a moment of heated frustration.  Her outburst was certainly warranted.  Had I been facing a similar situation, I’m sure I would have said it a lot more than just once.  But at that moment, I saw my mom in a completely new light.  For the first time, she seemed human to me, not this near perfect saint I’ve always envisioned her as.  The fact that she let down her (long held) guard in front of me, made me feel as though we reached a new, and deeper point in our relationship.  Because my mom was willing to be so  vulnerable with me, she showed how much she trusts me.  Sharing her imperfections allowed me to become her confidant.  For the first time, she came to me with her problems and frustrations, not the other way around. 

When Meg, Calvin, and Mr. Murry need to escape from the evil grip of IT, and save Charles Wallace from permanent destruction, Meg is dumbfounded when her father does not have a solution for their problems.  “You’re supposed to be able to help!” (165).  Meg screams in a moment of frustration.  She can’t fathom how her nearly perfect scientist of a father is just as vulnerable as she is.  This moment helps Meg to see her father in a new light.  She sees a flawed, human side of him that she has never seen before.  But seeing this helps Meg to realize that no one, not even her incredibly smart dad, is perfect.  Knowing this helps her to accept her own flaws, and embrace them as part of her being.  Though she’s not the smartest, or the prettiest, she has the capability to love.  And love, not intelligence or attractiveness, is the attribute she needs in order to save Charles Wallace.  

Just like Meg, seeing my mom’s imperfections was jarring.  But, the experience has allowed me to better accept myself and my flaws.  It is empowering to know that the person you idolize most is just as flawed as you are.  The love my mom and I share clouds the lens with which I view her.  Her overwhelming goodness outweighs any spark of bad she might hold within.  Neither she nor I is perfect, but the bond we share most certainly is.    

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Looks can be deceiving

            While reading A Wrinkle in Time I noticed a theme of lenses. Many of the main characters wore glasses and a pair of glasses allowed Meg to save her father. What I think L’Engle is doing here is showing the reader how different the world can be through the different lenses through which we see.
            Our perception of the world is based on what we see and how we experience things. Both of these are very subjective. Sight obviously is obviously not an ultra-reliable source because our sight can be tricked; optical illusions for example. Thus what we see is not entirely real. It is how we perceive reality but others may perceive it differently. Each person has their own unique reality, based on how they experience the world; through the lens they experience. The question that comes to my mind though is; does a universal reality exist?
            At first I was not sure how to answer this question. I wanted to say no but I for some reason I just couldn’t, for some reason. Then I thought if there was, indeed, a universal reality what was it. I couldn’t answer this question either. It wasn’t until I thought about Aunt Beast that I started to get somewhat of an idea of a universal reality. The beasts cannot see and they ask Meg to describe things as the way they are not by how they look. The way the bests experience the world seems like it could be a universal reality. If people truly think how things are and not how they appear to be we may stumble upon a universal reality. Though, I am still not sure if I believe in a “true” reality, I am starting to lean more that way.
            The idea of viewing the world through lenses and the different realities relates a lot to service. Going into service I have to realize that those who I am serving have had much different experiences then I have. It is important to recognize because it allows me to be more open. Realizing there are different lenses through which to view things, possibly allows me to see things in new way. And through doing this I feel I can relate to the people I serve, the students at Tunbridge, to a much higher degree.

Incongruence and Self-Image

     In my Psych 101 class, we have recently been talking about the idea of incongruence and its role in the development of a person and their personality. The term incongruence is used in describing the discrepancy between the way a person views themselves and the way they are viewed by others. For many, starting at adolescence and throughout adulthood, the view of the self is much more negative than the way they are viewed by others, giving testament to the idea that we are our own toughest critics. For children though, they base they tend to base the view they hold of themselves on the way others perceive and describe them and sometimes this is beneficial, but a lot of times it is not.
     In Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, we are presented with Meg Murry as our central character, a young girl who struggles with her own image and is frankly, quite unhappy with herself because of the way others see her. For a girl Meg's age, the views of others are crucial in how she can define herself and unfortunately, Meg does not fall under very "favorable" conditions in this realm. In the opening pages of the book, Meg refers to herself as a monster and an event is even cited where she is called a baby. In the shadow of brilliant scientist parents, Meg "do[es] everything wrong" (5). While Meg's mother is incomprehensibly beautiful, Meg has the typical preteen appearance issues of having glasses, braces, and "mouse-brown hair" that won't cooperate (7).
     Meg just cannot seem to fit in or impress and she is hyperaware of this issue as are many children her age that might be found reading this book. This is why Meg makes the perfect heroine for young people, specifically young girls. In her appreciation, Anna Quindlen writes, "The most memorable books from our childhoods are those that make us feel less alone, convince us that our own foibles and quirks are both as individual as a fingerprint and as universal as an open hand." Meg's character, just by being herself, even before the story begins, is relatable for young people and let them feel less alone, reminding them of many things that are often failed to be mentioned in everyday life.
     As cliche as it may sound, we tend to forget to remind each other of how special we are, especially children, who fight with identity problems constantly. Not everyone can fit into the same mold and for young people, learning how to live and act based on the examples surrounding them, it can seem impossible to fit in at all, which is very discouraging and school is a major place where this occurs. School is the main source of socialization as well as development for people, today. School can either drag you down or lift you up, but just as every child is different, so is there experience with education.
    Meg  is confronted by one of her teachers who says, "I don't understand how a child with parents as brilliant as yours are supposed to be can be such a poor student" (5). This observation, along with the other criticisms she receives, only serves to discourage Meg even more from even attempting to succeed in school. Later, though, we find out that Meg is far from unintelligent, in fact, she excels beyond measure at math, but does poorly only because she does not understand how to do it exactly the way they tell her to do it in school. Meg actually knows the ins and outs of mathematics so well that she knows too many shortcuts to do problems "the long way" anymore.
     Not everyone can excel at everything, but that does not mean that they excel at nothing. This is what we try to emphasize at the gymnastics gym I coach at. I see a lot of girls come into the gym to take classes who do not have as much natural ability as others and are clearly not made for the sport, but that does not mean they cannot learn anything or even that they are not good at SOMETHING we do during class, because everyone is. I have to find those different things that each child is good at and make sure to emphasize them so that they will not become discourage and will continue to want to learn, because children DO want to learn, and they want to be good at things, but sometimes they do not realize they are good at that thing until it is pointed out and praised.
     Because there are so many young people out there who do not have their good qualities emphasized and have their will to achieve slowly become snuffed out, books sometimes become an excellent guide and solace, especially ones with characters like Meg who start off "wish[ing they] were a different person" (52). Through characters like these, they can find a way to feel less alone and gain some hope in finding something about them that is special. As much as loved ones and teachers should be aiding young people as they discover themselves and develop, a lot of times, they spend more time focusing on what a child CAN'T do or how they DON'T fit in, rather than admiring what a child CAN do and encouraging them along that path, but having someone to relate to, even if he/she is fictional can take a child a long way in accepting themselves as a member of and yet, separate from the rest of society.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Breaking Modernity

A major theme in A Wrinkle in Time is the power of love. I immediately picked up on this theme since we are reading it in such close proximity with The Color Purple. Both books present readers with female protagonists who live on the fringe of society. Both of these characters lack a true father figure and feel as if they will never fit into their surroundings. However, both are ultimately saved through the power of love. When Meg is finally able to defeat IT, it is because she realizes the one thing she has that he does not is love. She realizes, “She had Mrs. Whatsit’s love, and her father’s, and her mother’s, and the real Charles Wallace’s love, and the twins’, and Aunt Beast’s. And she had love for them.” (L’Engle 199). Meg realizes that her one extraordinary power is her uncanny ability to love those in her own life. As we saw in The Color Purple, by loving someone, we grant them an identity. In that novel, Celie feels as if she is worthless and simply an object to be used by men. However, as she grows in her relationship with Shug and learns to love she begins to see that she truly does have worth and power as an individual. The act of loving and being loved in return both grants others an identity while confirming your own.
    The main conflict in this novel is the cliché conflict of good vs. evil. However, even though this novel is a children’s book, L’Engle is making serious adult claims about the nature of love in the modern world. On the planet where IT rules, there are strict rules and everything operates as if it has been coded into a computer. L’Engle could be commenting on the obsession with technology our culture has. This obsession has further developed in our own time and has even subdivided into smaller categories. Nowadays, we are dependent on things such as social media and cell phones that fulfill no physical or emotional needs that we as humans need to fulfill. We become like the people on Camazotz because we are so immersed in the technology of our time. L’Engle is suggesting that we need to break free from this obsession and focus on human interactions rather than technology. Notice that the various gifts that the Mrs. W’s gives are not superpowers or high tech gadgets; they are emotional powers that expand each characters’ ability to interact with other people. Ultimately the power of love is what saves Meg and her family. She breaks Charles from the monotony of IT (possibly symbolic of modernity) by declaring him an individual with her love.

            An obvious form of love in our community at Loyola and in Baltimore is the presence of service. There is no greater form of love than to offer ourselves up to the needs of others without looking for any personal gain. Whether we work at Habitat for Humanity, the Refugee Youth Project, or Acts for Youth, we are giving of ourselves as individuals to help other individuals. Our society has a tendency to overlook the less fortunate as we constantly are striving towards new goals or markers of success. By serving our community, we break this train of ignorance. The act of service is directly parallel to Meg’s use of love to defeat IT. L’Engle is calling us as readers to step out from the norm in attempt to fix a society that she sees has skewed values. The “Dark Thing,” as Meg calls us could be read as a symbol for modern materialism. We are always looking to buy the newest things or have the latest technology but L’Engle is showing us that the interaction between humans is far more worthwhile. At one point in the novel, the Mrs. W’s mentions all of the great humans who have joined in the fight against the Dark Thing. They mention figures such as Jesus, Einstein, and Gandhi. While this obviously where some of the controversy lies, there is a reason L’Engle chooses these figures. All three men preached warnings about becoming obsessed with things of no value. They told us to focus instead on loving one another. Einstein even said it himself, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” 

Traveling Together (with People You Love) is Like a Mobile Home :)

            Through Calvin's experience, A Wrinkle in Time portrays love as the feeling of "going home." Until Calvin meets Meg and Charles and they invite him to dinner, Calvin struggles to find a sense of family and love. He states to Meg and Charles, "I've never even seen your house, and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I'm going home!" (44). Calvin, Meg, and Charles travel to Uriel, Orion's belt, a two-dimensional planet, and to Camazotz. Their visit to Orion's belt exposes the chaos in Calvin's household. The Medium's globe shows "an unkempt woman with gray hair stringing about her face. Her mouth was open and Meg could see the toothless gums and it seemed that she could almost hear her screaming at two small children who were standing by her. Then she grabbed a long wooden spoon from the sink and began whacking one of the children" (107). The description evokes both pity and frustration. Mrs. O'Keefe's inability to keep order affects not only her environment, but also her ability to take care of herself. Her inability to keep order accounts for the lack of mindfulness and care toward her children. The suggestion of child abuse juxtaposes the way Mrs. Murray treats her children and emphasizes the importance of showing nurturing kindness toward children, especially one's own.
            Calvin's experience portrays the importance of keeping a child's home life in harmony. Order is important when trying to cultivate an environment that promotes independence and a sense of feeling loved. At Tunbridge, when the first graders eat their snacks, I go through their homework notebooks to check if they did their math and reading homework. If the work is complete, I put a stamp that says "Fantastic!" on the pages. If the work is incomplete, I circle the parts of the homework that needs to be done. One part of their work involves a parent or guardian. Every day, there is a reading tracker that requires the parent or guardian to read to the child. The consistency of this task being completed varies. Sometimes, the homework would have a note to the side that says "Child read on her/his own." I think it's important to promote independence and confidence, but it's equally important to have time to read together. In addition to that homework assignment, the quality of the writing among the students vary. Some have perfectly neat handwriting, so neat that I wonder if the parents do it for them, while others' are quite messy. Some write in complete sentences with sound grammar while others write only a few words. I sometimes wonder if there is a direct correlation between how much attention a parent/s gives his/her/their child and the quality of the handwriting. Last week, while working on a flip book project, a boy named Marvin erased a mistake on his caption and said "my grandma would get maaaad if I left it like that." Jemel leaned over and asked "What'd you do?" Marvin snapped "Mind your business." I wonder if that's something he's bringing in from home or from somewhere else.
            In A Wrinkle in Time, Calvin, Meg, and Charles are perceptive and they respond to others' pain by showing empathy. After seeing the scene with Mrs. O'Keefe, "Meg took [Calvin's] hand in hers, not saying anything in words but trying to tell him by the pressure of her fingers what she felt" (107). That action, at the very least, says "I'm here and you're not alone to deal with it. I'm sorry you have to go through that." This scene reminds me of one of the most beautiful moments I saw while at Tunbridge. Taejon, a child who I observed to be naturally more emotional and sensitive than the other children, pressed the palms of his hands to his eyebrows and was looking down at the table angrily while crying. He was unable to finish his project before snack time. The other children were putting their projects away and getting ready to eat their snack, except for Nehemiah. He came over to Taejon's table, tilted his head to make eye contact with him who was looking down, and sweetly asked, "Are you okay, Taejon?" Taejon's tears were still falling and he answered with a grunting sound that sounded like "No." Nehemiah in a most caring tone, said, "It's gonna be okay, Taejon. We can have snack now," and pulled up a seat right next to him. After a few sniffles, Taejon relaxed his arms, his face, and wiped his tears when he faced Nehemiah. A reoccurring theme this semester is the importance of not underestimating children for various reasons. Huck Finn teaches not to underestimate their innate moral compass. Calvin, Charles, and Meg teach not to underestimate their intelligence and ability to empathize.
Whatever the students at Tunbridge experience/observe at home can be brought into the classroom, and vice versa. L'Engle presents how important it is for children to have a harmonious home life; it's not called home based for nothing. Luckily for Calvin, Meg, and Charles, being together is, in a way, a mobile home; love and a sense of belonging that travel with you.