Question of the month: Feeling misunderstood?

I tuned in to the radio the other day and caught an interview with a high school English teacher in Indiana who assigned the book, “The Freedom Writers Diary,” and was suspended over it. Students are hungry for the real-life essays written by their peers, but adults who run the school think it’s not “appropriate” material.


Some of the most beloved books are also the most hated. Why such an impasse?


If my life were a book, it probably would be on the “ban list” as I have been feeling misunderstood lately. I find myself questioning my communication abilities at such times.


During my years reporting for a daily newspaper, I learned that the flashiest quotes dished up by a source require just as much vetting as the bland ones. Perhaps I squandered a few good headlines, but I think it is more respectful of readers to offer substance over splash. Editors chided me for not being “jazzy” enough, but I think it was a necessary part of my development as a writer. Substance first. Jazz second. Apologies to anyone who fell asleep reading my stuff.


I like these (condensed) musings from one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis — partly because the word “wiseacre” is such a good one.

“About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale. Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defense, as reading for children.

            It is accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. Does anyone suppose that (the child) really and prosaically longs for all the dangers and discomforts of a fairy tale? — really wants dragons in contemporary England? It would be much truer to say that fairy land arouses a longing for he knows not what. It stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach, and far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension and depth.”


Fear catapults the most treasured stories to the top of the “ban” list. Fear leaves us feeling misunderstood or slighted. Fear prevents us from standing up to an abuse of power. Fear sends the stock market down nearly 800 points in minutes. I read a good book recently, “Dreamers of the Day,” by Mary Doria Russell. Don’t buy anything from a man selling fear, she says.


Don’t let fear stop you from writing what’s on your heart or championing an English teacher who assigns a book that scares school leaders into silence. Stand up to fear. It’s the work of a writer. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I meet the challenge. In the end remember this: Fear stands against peace.


Jennifer Sandmann





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