Here’s a question.

I allow my students to read books that deal with taboo topics (such as drugs and teen pregnancy) and contain occasional curse words—as long as they have literary merit and are reasonably age-appropriate. I tell students I know they are mature enough to understand that those words are there because the author wanted them to be part of the story, to create realistic characters and settings, not because they are welcome in our classroom community. Students seem to do well with that fine line.

So what about when it comes to their fiction writing? Can I justify controlling the content they write about when I’ve exposed them to great writers who write uncensored?

Today I read an 8th grader’s story that began like this:

“Yo, my dog, where the weed at?”

As crazy as this sounded to me, I read on to find a thoughtful and detailed story with pretty three-dimensional characters that held my attention… and though it’s not quite finished yet, it seems to be sending a positive, but not sugar-coated, message about some of the realities teens face. This from one of my most reluctant writers.

So what would you do?  English teachers, how do you handle students writing about taboo topics in your classroom?


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