"What you are about to read is a true account of events. Trust me folks, I couldn't make this stuff up. No one is that creative."
This is National Banned Book week. The American Library Association (ALA) sponsors this awareness raising event every year to raise the issue of censorship in American schools and public libraries.
So today I went to school in a t-shirt that proclaimed “I’m with the banned”. First of all, several people tried to tell me I misspelled “band”.
I had a slide show going with the title “Banned Book week” and slide after slide of book titles of the most often challenged books. I thought I would simple raise questions among the students as to what was going on. But being the drama filled kiddies they are, they assumed it meant I was banning those books for the week. They were very upset, which I guess is good.
The most frightening thing was that as we discussed the books, my students displayed the most appalling lack of cultural awareness and simple knowledge about the world, literature, history and art. One of the books on the list is “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”. I explained this was a book by an amazing poet, Maya Angelou and waited. Every year I have at least one student ask if I meant Michelangelo. I explain no, Michelangelo is the Renaissance painter and sculptor and Maya Angelou is a talented African American poet.
What followed however, resulted in my having to step into the hall and take several deep breaths to keep from banging my head against the wall.
Student 1: “The dog from Beethoven was a painter?”
Student 1: “Michelangelo is the name of one of the dogs on the movie Beethoven.”
Student 2: “No he’s not, he’s one of the Ninja Turtles”
Me: “No guys, those characters were named for the artist just like the dog Beethoven was named for the famous composer?”
Student 3: “What’s a composer?”
Me: “Someone who writes music. Michelangelo is famous for sculpting The David and painting the Sistine Chapel.”
Student 3: “What’s that sistinn thing?”
Student 4: “Is that like one of the places in Las Vegas where you can get married?”
Me: [groaning] “No, the Sistine Chapel is in Rome…[blank stares]…at the Vatican…[blank stares]…in Italy…[blank stares]…where the Pope lives…anyway, he was a Renaissance artist.
Student 3: “Oh, I know like Paul Revere.
Student 3: “He rode through the town yelling the Renaissance is coming, the Renaissance is coming.”
Me: [stunned silence]
Other students: [blank looks of confusion]
Me: "Noooo, Paul Revere road through the countryside telling people the British were coming…you know the American Revolution?”
Student 3: “Oh”
Student 5: “So are Michelangelo and Maya Angelou brother and sister?”
At that point I had to step out side or scream.