Press Freedom & What We Want Our Children Reading

Press Freedom & What We Want Our Children Reading

I keep going back to this line, from Doc's excellent First Draft post about a school district freaking out when a student newspaper has the temerity to point out that rape is not hilarious:

The student PUBLICATION is being punished for pointing out that RAPE IS REAL and it SUCKS WHEN IT HAPPENS TO HIGH SCHOOL KIDS.

After I read the article, I had a conversation with another parent in my kid's class about it and the reaction from the parent was, “Well, when your kid gets to high school, would you want her reading about this?”

My answer, looking at the tiny girl human in her play swing in front of me at the moment? Of course not.

Of course I wouldn't want her reading about rape in high schol.

Of course I wouldn't want her reading about rape jokes, ha ha so funny.

Of course I wouldn't want her reading about how she must prepare for a situation in which she might be attacked and then be belittled for it. Be told it's her fault. Be told it wasn't "really" assault.

Be told she shouldn't have walked alone at night. She shouldn't have been at that party. She shouldn't have had that drink. She shouldn't have smiled at that nice boy she liked, that she should have been able to expect liked her back. She shouldn't have let him kiss her. She shouldn't have let him anything. Let him, as if it was up to her.

Of course I don't want her reading about rape. But she has to read about rape, if only to understand that if (when, most likely, god, when) it happens to her friends, or God forbid to her, it will not be her fault, and she will not be to blame, and there will be nothing she could have done to prevent it.

As Hobbes put it in the comments on Friday:

High schoolers know rape exists. I would have found high school a lot easier to deal with if this had been the framing of the conversation - particularly that "punchline" note from the editors about how ridiculous it is that amongst the stories told by the three girls, one still has trouble believing that it wasn't her fault, one makes distinctions between different kinds of assault and won't call most of them "flat out rape", and the last won't even go so far as to call her assault "assault". Dear GOD that's a thing that EVERY high school girl should be reading.

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You know what's worse than reading about rape? RAPE. Rape is worse than reading about rape. And rape will keep happening while the issues so excellently raised in this high school publication are buried so deep that young men and young women think this is something they can't talk about. Can't deal with. Can't eradicate.

I listened on Friday to an excellent radio interview with Tanvi Kumar, the editor of the paper, and what struck me immediately was the disconnect between the image administrators want to paint of these high school students (impressionable, fragile, at risk of destruction from the slightest unpleasant thought) and the composure and courage these students were actually showing. I mean, this young woman:

Kumar says she talked directly with superintendent Dr. Jim Sebert about his concerns about a picture that appeared in the article, some of the words used to describe sexual assaults and potential confidentiality breaches.

“Something Dr. Sebert mentioned several times during our meeting was that we had to keep in mind that our audience was between the ages of 14 and 19,” Kumar said. “Something I said in response was kids between the ages of 14 and 19 are getting raped, kids between 14 and 19 are acting as rapists.”

Interfering with the educational process, this person? I want her RUNNING IT. When I was her age I was scared of my own shadow. If she doesn't have college presidents fighting to recruit her like she's a quarterback, those people are not paying attention, because someday she will own them.

We think teenagers are so delicate. We don't want them reading about scary things. We act like every natural disaster, every politician's peccadillo, every human tragedy, is something we have to "explain" to our children, something that has to be carefully couched, lest the information wreck them, lead them down a treacherous path, harm them irreparably. When nine times out of ten, they not only know already about all the horrors of the world, but are actually properly horrified by them.

And I think that shames us, sometimes. Because they're horrified by what we've come to accept as normal, and they make us ask why we're not as outraged as they are. Why we've gotten so lazy and chickenshit. Why we sit back and take it. I think that shames us, and we're afraid of being ashamed.

We think teenagers are so delicate, which is probably why they think everybody over 30 is so stupid. They're not delicate. They're fierce and wild and angry and they should be. They should rage against the world they see around them. They should confront the things they find outrageous and try to change them. They should loathe any easy acceptance of the way things are, if the way things are is unfair or stupid or bullshit.

And instead of being afraid of them, instead of trying to tamp down all that righteousness and glory and energy so the contrast doesn't make us feel weak, we should be inspired by it. We should be inspired to try to change what we don't want them reading about.

We should, most of all, keep our eye on the ball here, as Kumar so beautifully points out. I don't want my daughter reading about rape in high school. And I don't want my daughter BEING RAPED IN HIGH SCHOOL, and thinking it's her fault, and watching the person who did it to her be excused while she's excoriated.

If the former prevents in any way the latter, the editorials these students in Fond du Lac have published should be broadcast from every billboard ten stories high, and if the so-called adults in the room can't hack that, they should take a lesson from their teenage betters, and take a good hard look at the world they live in. If it's not the one they want their children reading about, they've got some work to do.

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