Thursday, March 13, 2014

Censorship, and How You Can Help

Hey everyone!

I don't often wear my blogging hat, usually because I can never get those pesky thoughts to align properly so I can write them down. But here I am, with an important message.


No no, that's not my message. That's the topic.

So over in Strasburg, Colorado, a situation is going down involving a proposed upper high school elective course. An enterprising high school English teacher has assembled a curriculum of some of the most popular Young Adult novels from recent years, along with a couple of classics, and wants to teach them in the classroom. This wouldn't be a problem, except a few local parents have taken issue with what they term "books...contain[ing]  excessive profanity, explicit sexual scenes, drug use and/or violence."

Here's the list for those who are curious (source: the incomparable John Green):

Feed, by M.T. Anderson

Thinner Than Thou, by Kit Reed

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver

Uglies, by Scott Westerfield

Taken, by Erin Bowman

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, by Mark Haddon

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

Will Grayson, will grayson, by John Green and David Levithan

Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous

13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson

Paper Towns, by John Green

If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

I don't know how many of these you've read, but I've read a fair few, and all that excessive mature content the petition references? It's there, sort of, but never excessive, and always in a way that makes sense in context.

In case you couldn't tell, this situation annoys me greatly, for a number of reasons:

1) Censorship, with which I take issue in any form;
2) Intellectual dishonesty on the part of the parents who submitted the petition;
3) Fearmongering coupled with said dishonesty, ie "teens have very impressionable minds";
4) My respect for and loyalty to the authors of books I treasure; and
5) My concern for the future state of US education.

If this situation makes you as mad as it makes me, please join me in taking action to save this course from censorship. You can email with your messages of support. Please address all letters as "To the School Board".

If you would like an example of the sort of thing to write, mine is below. Thank you for doing the right thing and taking a stand against censorship.



To the School Board:

I am writing to you upon learning of the petition to alter the proposed curriculum for the Young Adult Literature course.

I am a future educator who, having received a well-rounded education, desires nothing more than to pass it on to future generations. I have read many of the books under consideration, and I am desperately trying to understand how any of them are, in the words of the petition, "profane," "pornographic," "violent," "criminal and vile," or "crass and crude.”

Young adult literature is a genre that includes many classic titles dating to long before such classification, and it has a proud reputation for asking difficult and important questions. These books are no different. From the Pevensies' struggles with faith and trust in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to Hazel and Augustus' search for the purpose in terminal illness in The Fault in Our Stars, each of the books in the proposed curriculum explores some essential part of what it means to be human.

The people in objection to this curriculum claim to try to produce "responsible and productive members of society." I don't mean to malign their character, and I'm sure their intentions are good. However, it is clear to me that they do not understand what creates such a member of society. It is books such as these, presenting real facets of the human condition, that are vital to the growth of compassionate, well-rounded, tolerant yet discerning young people and adults. I appreciate the attempt to preserve the innocence of their students, but to remove books like these from curricula is to purchase innocence at the high cost of all these qualities.

Let me assume for a moment that these accusations are true. I say to you that each of the experiences the petition protests is one necessary to the growth I have just described. Strong language expresses strong emotion. Sexual content is a direct result of the nature of humans as sexual creatures. Violence can be the fruit of many things, but it is chiefly an outlet of normal human emotion. There are criminals and vile people in the world, just as there are those who are crass and crude. I ask these parents: would you rather your child read about and discuss these things in a guided context, or hide these things from your child until they are on their own in the world, and they encounter the full reality all at once? In the words of Australian author Mem Fox: "If we sanitize everything children read, how much more shocking and confusing will the real world be when they finally have to face it?"

All these statements assume, however, that these books contain the abundance of things they are said to contain. In my experience - and again, I have read the majority of the titles - none of the accusations are true.

Do some of the books contain strong language? Yes - but none more than a few instances, and certainly far less than your young adults hear in the hallways or in media on a daily basis.

Do some of them contain sexual content? Yes. In fact, in The Fault in Our Stars, the fact that the two main characters have sex is a highly effective way to show that those with terminal illness - even and especially young people - are still human and still have the same needs and qualities of being human as healthy people. Is it pornographic? Hardly. No mention is made of anatomy, and the act is not glorified. It is portrayed simply and without fanfare.

Do some of them show violence? Yes. Thirteen Reasons Why is about a girl who commits suicide. However, like the way in which The Fault in Our Stars portrays sex realistically without glorifying it, this book through its narrator seeks to understand why someone would make that choice - a choice that far too many people make every day - while neither demonizing nor lionizing the one who made it. It is overwhelmingly compassionate; a portrayal of violence does not a violent book make.

This content, in terror of which the petition is presented, is nothing to fear. In fact, your young adults are privileged to benefit from frank study and discussion of this material. Should any of the parents in your community desire nonetheless that their young people not be exposed to these books, the course in question is an elective, and their children do not have to take it. For the rest of your community, however, there is no reason to ban or alter this course, and those parents who would prevent other parents' children from taking this valuable course are acting beyond their authority. The petition, while well-intentioned, is ultimately without merit, and further, advocates censorship in place of good parenting and honest education.

Young adult literature is a beneficial lens through which adolescents and adults may critically examine the world, and I count myself a better person for having read each of the contested books. I applaud the brave educator standing by her curriculum, and I would like nothing more than to one day stand in her shoes. I trust that your board will choose intellectual honesty and freedom by choosing not to censor this course.

Yours sincerely,

Samuel M. Snyder

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Yesterday I was in downtown working on a project for a class. As I walked down the sidewalk, almost empty because of Memorial Day, a man approached me. He was tall and thin, with dirty clothes, heavy eyes, and several days' worth of stubble. "'Scuse me, c-can you spare- spare-" He didn't seem able to get the words out, but the few coins in his hand spoke for him. Knowing that I had no coins or bills on me, I kept walking, only turning slightly to say behind me, "Hey man, sorry, I got nothing."

I should probably mention at this point that I was clean-shaven (well, as much as I ever am), wearing some pretty nice, clean clothes, and staring at my iPhone for directions as I walked. "I got nothing?" Bull. I don't know the meaning of nothing, and yet, here I was telling this man who had all of fifty cents to his name that I had nothing. It was a privileged and audacious sentiment, and he knew it. As I moved down the sidewalk, his yellowed eyes bored into me, as if to say, "You liar."

It's true that I had nothing to offer him in the sense that he was asking for. However, I can't help but think that I failed him in that moment. Some people call being a straight, white, American male the "easy mode of life," and yesterday, I lived up to that statement. It would have been one thing - although still not ideal - to say truthfully that I had no money or food to give him, but to claim that I knew what nothing was to the face of a man who knew nothing but nothing was almost cruel.

When faced with people in poverty, I tend to either ignore the problem entirely (have you ever avoided eye contact with the homeless man at the stoplight?), or pretend to engage it while still maintaining my distance (like I did here). I can honestly say, though I am ashamed to, that I have no skills in this area, and I am simultaneously jealous of and in awe of those around me who effortlessly look past poverty and see people. I try, but I fail as often as I succeed. If I had to give this aversion and failure a name, I'd have to call it fear. Fear of the other, or maybe just fear of letting go. Of engaging. I know that I am not alone in this - far from it, in fact - but I also know that's no excuse.

Bottom line: Aren't I called to love my neighbors? So where was that love yesterday?

Food for thought.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Short Post! Also, Stars.

I've got homework to do tonight, but I didn't want to skip out on blogging, so I give you this image.

Here's to all who have ever gazed with wonder into the night sky.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I don't particularly care for opera.

The vocal styles aren't usually to my liking, the melodies are unlike anything I'm used to, and I generally prefer to understand what the singer is saying, which I usually can't do even if the work is in English.

...So why do I keep coming back?

The plots stretch even the generous credulity granted to the stage, the characters are oh so flat, and dear God. So. Much. Sex.

So why do I keep coming back?

I often ask myself that question.

Maybe I love performance, no matter how it's packaged.

Maybe I love to see human beings using their God-given talents to the fullest.

Maybe I love the process of learning, or the challenge of something I have yet to conquer.

Maybe it's a combination of all of these.

Or maybe - and this is, I think, my ultimate stance - I love to create.

That's what we artists are called to do, isn't it? Some of us are given a canvas on which to create, others an empty journal or a blank score.

I have been given the stage. Opera and all.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Nerds Like Us

(via the fabulous John Green's tumblr)

Let's Start At The Very Beginning....


If you, oh reader, have found your way here, you probably know me in some non-digital capacity. For your sake, I will spare you a David Copperfield introduction, but to those of you whom I do not know as well (or perhaps at all, and to you I give a special welcome!), I owe you at least the basics:

My name is Sam. You can call me Samuel, Samwise, or more or less anything that strikes your fancy - many do. I'm a sophomore at Abilene Christian University, where I am currently working toward my Vocal Performance BM. You might, then, correctly deduce that I have a passion for music and performance. With that in mind, please pardon in advance the frequent instances of song lyrics, Disney references, and the like.

However, with apologies to my mentors, colleagues, and friends in the field of music, I aim to be much more than "just" a music major; appropriately or not, I style myself a student of the world, with an interest in a wide variety of topics. I will as soon discuss theology as music theory, or literature as law. It is to that end that I have chosen to take up blogging, in the belief that I will find it an invaluable tool with which to document the many adventures I hope I will have along the way.

Like many of you, I process in written word. In addition to more academic pursuits, you will find chronicled here my hopes, fears, insecurities, obsessions, joys, successes, mistakes, and occasional fits of relative insanity. It is, then, inevitable that in the course of my endeavors here, I will say things you, daring reader, will disagree with - perhaps very strongly! Frankly, sometimes I end up saying things I disagree with, and along those lines, I'm certainly not immune to foot-in-mouth syndrome. Please, oh, please feel free to contact me, and we'll talk! I look forward to learning from you, just as I hope you will learn from me.

There. Now that we're through with all that, there is the matter of the title of this blog, Calmly Adapt, which was taken from the following quote attributed to Henry Thoreau: "Those who look forward to change and calmly adapt are those who gain the greatest opportunity." While I do not pretend to adapt calmly to, well, much of anything, I am hoping to train myself to embrace change and take myself a little less seriously, and thereby free myself to pursue opportunity.

I cannot conclude without acknowledging the intended focus of my work and life: God. My writing here should honor Him, and I humbly ask those among you who share my faith to keep me accountable. With that said, I don't think it's any secret at this point that some of my writing will be less than pleasant or agreeable, and I believe that I would do Him a greater disservice by pretending life is perfect, when the truth is that people are dirty, the world is broken, and life often sucks. Even so, I don't want or need to be overwhelmingly critical or pessimistic. Help me honor God by remembering in my writing His good works and presence.

I close with my goal from Scripture, Micah 6:8. I'll probably do a post on this verse down the road, but for now I leave you with just this: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"


"It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy.... Let's go exploring!" -Calvin and Hobbes