inEducation: Forbidden Fruit
For anyone wondering: “Just Say No” is alive and well and thriving in area schools. It is universally effective with school age children at all grade levels—elementary, middle, and high school— all across the region. Its efficacy transcends race, IQ, and the socioeconomic divide.
Oh–not as a weapon in the War on Drugs (save that discussion for some other forum)–but in the arsenal of warriors who battle literary ennui. For it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a reader denied a particular book, must be in want of that book.
Just ask the fourth grade teacher from Fairfax County who required a note from home before her students would be allowed to check out The Hunger Games from the class library. She had to buy a second copy to keep up with demand.
Or try asking the parent who read Our Solar System every night for months to the preschooler who insisted his older sister’s book was exactly what he wanted to hear—and not just because every time he picked it up she screamed, “That’s mine! You can’t have it!”
Then there’s the student who transferred to a Montgomery County high school from an “unapologetically religious” private school. Along with her pens and notebooks, she arrived at school with a multi-page letter detailing the subjects she would not be permitted to read about. The forbidden topics included violence, magic, the supernatural, witchcraft, sex, and death.
If any of these was present in the assigned literature, she could choose to leave class and go to the library with an “alternative text.” It took only a cursory overview of the course syllabus to see it would barely be worth learning the child’s name, since she would be spending so much time in the library.
Every assigned text included something taboo: Of Mice and Men (violence, death), Julius Caesar (violence, death, supernatural, magic) and The Odyssey. (all of the above). With the exception of the time in class spent correcting the Sentence of The Day, it looked like she would be in the library with an “alternative text” for the entire semester.
But something funny happened on the way to The House of Usher–she decided she didn’t want to leave. As part of a short story unit, the students were going to be reading The Black Cat (a story which, in addition to many of the other prohibited topics, also included some rather grizzly animal abuse). Intrigued when she learned that the class would be reading the story to one another in a darkened classroom using only a single shared flashlight, she did not want to miss out. Even knowing that when her classmate’s tell-tale hearts pounded from supernatural terror, she could be safely ensconced in the library, she did not want to go; she stayed for Poe.
She came to class the next day with the requisite parental permission in hand. Attentive and engaged, she proved to be one of the most passionate readers all semester. Never once did she ask to be excused; instead, she treated each text as exotic and forbidden fruit to be consumed deliberately, thoughtfully and with gusto.
Admittedly, there is nothing groundbreaking about reverse psychology, or the defiantly human desire to have that which is denied. But from the paper bag-covered copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, to the Judy Blume books hastily hidden beneath pillows, the truth still prevails: if you want a sure way to grab a reader, Just Say No.