ALAN v27n3 - Why I Choose to Teach Sapphire's PUSH

In the following, the author addresses another part of the censorship battle; she provides a rationale for choosing to teach a YA novel that is sure to become a target for would-be censors.

Why I Choose to Teach Sapphire's PUSH

Mary Baron

I have decided that I will teach the novel PUSH by Sapphire in my Adolescent Literature course this year. I have talked about this choice with my three adolescent children, whom I will not allow to read the book; with my Department Chair, who will no doubt field complaints; and with my priest in light of the apostle Paul's advice, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirableĀ…think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

PUSH is obscene and violent. It is true and admirable. Precious Jones, the sixteen-year-old heroine, is unlovely, excellent, and praiseworthy. She would have cherished the option of purity.

Sexually abused and battered by her mother, Precious is twice impregnated by her father. Courtesy of social services she is the homeless mother of a newborn; courtesy of the public school system, she is illiterate. Sidelined into a dumping ground remedial program, she finds the bedrock teacher every child longs for. Together they set out to save her life.

I am going to teach PUSH because I know students like Precious. Last year I talked with a girl PUSHing a pacifier into the mouth of her three-day-old baby. She was sitting in her "home" school cafeteria waiting for a bus to the Center for Pregnant and Parenting Teens, her new high school.

On a School Improvement Team at a different high school, I talked with a young woman who gave me advice about teaching. "Don't talk us to death, " she said. Disheveled, and dirty, she told me, "My teachers don't think I can learn, but I can." She pulled out of her backpack a crumpled pink Certificate of Achievement from her English teacher. "She says I got stories to tell."

Many of my students in Adolescent Literature plan to become teachers. They need to read PUSH before they look out over a class, which includes children like Precious: children beaten, abused, neglected, hungry, or homeless. They should know the difference between surliness and despair before they misread one for the other. They will have to learn the terrible truths of their students' lives.

Mary Baron is a Professor of English at University of North Florida, and is the Director of JAXWRITE, a chapter of the National Writing Project.

Work Cited

Sapphire. PUSH: A Novel . New York: Knopf, 1996.