Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week: Another Opinion

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 
Immoral" ?


  1. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Often, these books that are challenged and banned are books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, etc.

    But in answer to the question about positive spins on things you find morally repugnant---there is a difference between banning a book for others and asking that your own kids not read it. It's your discretion what your kids read; but it is not your discretion what my kids read---or what I read. Banning books is a way of controlling what others think and have access to. No one has that right.

    1. But what is "banning"? Was the mom referenced above "banning" a book? Am I banning a book if I object to its use in the classroom? Lots of folks have gone to court (and won) to ban the use of a very old, very well-known, very respected book (The Bible) in public school classrooms. That mom I told you about probably would be aghast if I suggested she was advocating censorship, but she was sure trying to control the books to which kids at that school had access.

      I personally have no problem with the books you listed and while there may be some who try mightily to get them removed from a school library, I think more protests about those books come about when the books are assigned reading. When you assign a book to my child you are controlling what ideas are allowed to access his/her brain. Yes, those ideas could get there without your help, but when you assign the book, discuss the book or otherwise make my child (or me) read it, you are exerting control. Who gives you the right to do that?

      I'm not advocating taking parental votes on every book in every library, but I do think that schools are subordinate to parents and that parents have the right and responsibility to form their children's outlook on life.

  2. Anonymous5:15 PM

    Banned books are exactly that---banned. Books that are challenged and/or removed from libraries. There's a very real difference between what is taught in a classroom and what is available in a public library----school or otherwise. A book's availability does not equal its presence in the classroom and vice versa.

    As for teaching---having a teaching degree and a job as an English and/or reading teacher is what qualifies a person to decide on assigned reading. That has no bearing on what students have access to in a library or what adults have access to in a library. No one has the right to tell me what I can't access in a library save the limitations of the library's funds. No one has a right to tell my child what he can't read, either, save those of us who are raising him. It *is* censure to insist that we not have access to books that others don't approve of.

    See the ALA for more info on banned books:

  3. If you have that strong an objection to something your kid is assigned to read in school, then I think you have the right to limit the exposure of *your* kid - alternative classes, alternative reading assignments, all the way up to pulling your kid from the school - but not the right to dictate what the *other* kids in class are exposed to.

    Right now, my high school kid's English class has one book the entire class reads - I think it might be The Giver, but I'm not 100% sure - and another they get to choose. He chose One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Having read that book [a long time ago!!] I get that some parents might object to it, but I don't believe they have the right to have it removed from the list.

    I agree that the schools should be subordinate to parents - but that's a plurality and shouldn't be dictated by one or a few.


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