Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Books Week

I've noticed that several bookbloggers on my list of regular reads are talking about Banned Books Week this week, so I assume someone somewhere has so named this week. Whenever I hear a brouhaha about banned books it reminds me of a "kiddie lit" (literature for children) class I took in college. The instructor struck me as the basic socially liberal college professor who did not have and probably never would have children of her own. She devoted at least one class period to discussing the evils of censorship. Shortly thereafter she was, to make a point, telling us a story about some friends of hers. The father was an art professor at the college, Mom was a SAHM before that term was coined (1981 or so) and the child was about five or six. Mom was in the school library and noticed a set of career books for young children--something along the lines of "You Can Be a _______" with different books for different careers. Of course, since they were for very young children the books were illustrated. The problem with this set was that all the doctors, lawyers, business executives and the like were men, whereas the nurses, secretaries and waitresses were women. My instructor noted with obvious approval, speaking about the mom "She got those removed from the school library".

At that point, I asked "Isn't that censorship?" and after thinking about it for a second, like it had never occurred to her, she had to admit that it was. Unfortunately the class was not filled with students who liked to think and argue so the discussion never went any further.

Obviously no library can contain every book. Someone has to decide whether to purchase book A or book B, and once the library owns a book someone has to decide whether it has outlived its usefulness. No teacher can require that students read every book printed; she or he has to decide which book(s) the class will read.

What is censorship? What is selection? Little Black Sambo was called "inappropriate" in my kiddie lit book. I don't know how many school libraries still carry it; though given that statement I was surprised to find that my local public library does have a large number of copies throughout the system. If I write a children's book about the evils of mixing with people of other races and the obvious inferiority of those of African descent, or about how horrible a person Mary's mother is because she is divorced, or how Steve has two dads, and that means his dads are horrible sinners (but that Steve still needs to love them) what is the chance that my book is going to end up in the average public library? What if I write a book about how awful the neighbors are to Tawanda and Jim who just moved in, all because she is Black and he is White? How about a book about how Susie is better off now that her mother, Mary, had the courage to leave that awful husband of hers, or about how Steve's family is different because he has two dads and no mom, but that in some ways all families are alike, because they are all made of people who love you. Somehow I think I'd find more libraries to buy the second set of books than the first, yet the ideas promoted in the first set are ideas held by at least a segment of our society.

There always seems to be an uproar when parents ask that books be removed from school libraries or from class reading lists. Those opposed to removing the book decry censorship; after all, the books were selected for a reason. As a parent (a parent BTW who prefers to guide her kids toward certain books rather than forbidding them to read others) it is my job to raise my kids. It is my job to form their faith and morals. Part of that is trying for form a culture that supports those morals. A teacher who uses and is positive about a book that supports lifestyles I consider immoral is undermining my authority--it doesn't matter whether I promote racial harmony and equality and the book you are teaching glorifies segregation and White Supremacy or whether I support segregation and White supremacy and you are teaching the kids that integration is a moral good.

All too often I see those who want to limit access to certain books, or remove books from required reading lists, characterized as intellectually limited and/or overprotective. Before you rush to judge such people, consider how you would react if your children were exposed to or required to study a book that put a positive spin on something you found morally repugnant? If "Heather Has Two Mommies" is ok, is "Heather's Mom is Sexually Immmoral" ?


  1. Oh my gosh I forgot all about "Banned Book Week", thank you so much the reminder!

  2. Is it really nice ...i don't think so..

  3. Honestly..I love the banned books...


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