Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The silence of banning books

This happened in 1991. After all these years, I can hardly believe it came to pass, but it did--book-banning really happened at our school. It made me know then that the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. I said then that we had to choose our battles--we still do. I wish I was better at choosing them. I wish I'd fought this one harder.




“Banning books gives us silence when we need speech. It closes our ears when we need to listen. It makes us blind when we need sight.” ― Stephen Chbosky

My son came home from school the other day and told me that someone had submitted a list to the powers that be at his school, requesting that books named on that list be eliminated from the school library. Apparently, the person who made the list did not want his or her child reading those books.

That's fine by me, but don't tell my child he can't. Or the girl down the road that she can't. Or all the other kids in the school that they can't.

Books in school libraries are chosen by people who know children, like children, and want what is best for children. Their choices are not always perfect, but they are made with the people in mind who are going to be reading the books. If they chose with the idea that they were going to please everyone, their choices would be a lot easier.

But the library's shelves would be bare.

The Bible would be gone. Mark Twain would be gone. Judy Blume would be gone. Nathaniel Hawthorne would be gone. Dr. Seuss, Margaret Mitchell, and, of course, Stephen King would not be allowed through school doors. Because they all offend someone, sometime, somehow.

I personally can't stand Stephen King's books. He cares the bejesus out of me and keeps me awake at night. So I don't read them. But I have kid who does, and he finds things in Stephen King's writing that I can't find and don't want to take the time to look for simply because I don't like being scared. (Note in 2017: In 2001, Stephen King wrote my favorite book on writing of all time, called On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft--go figure.) 

A young lady named Christy Martin recently had a "Student View" published in the Peru Daily Tribune that made a lot of sense to me. It concerned the labeling and banning of certain records, most notably those by the group 2 Live Crew. The statistics quoted in the article supported informative labeling, but "banned the ban."

Books, like records, are often "insulting, repulsive, offensive, sexist, and utterly distasteful," as Miss Martin said, but it is never up to one person or one special interest group or one church congregation to decide for everyone. Let them be labeled like movies and records, if necessary, but don't try to ban them.

It is most certainly within parents' rights to demand that their children not be required to read material they do not approve of and it is the school's responsibility to honor these demands, but let it stop there.

My children all read Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War in school. I read it when they did, all three times, and never did learn to like it, but they did. At least one parent I know requested that his children read an alternative selection and his request was honored. It was enough.

I told my kids I didn't want anything by 2 Live Crew in the house, just as my mom never let me play the Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie" at home. I found out that a 2 Live Crew tape has been in my son's room for a couple of years now, just as "Louie, Louie" became one of my favorites. I can't help but wonder, if I'd never said a word pro or con, if my kids weren't smart enough to decide about 2 Live Crew on their own, and I can't help but wonder if Mom shouldn't have listened to the Kingsmen and to me before banning "Louie, Louie" from the house, thereby practically forcing me to embrace it as a rock and roll legend to be forever loved and defended.

But it is my house, and if I find 2 Live Crew offensive, it is okay for me to ban it--or at least try to. If my mother thought "Louie, Louie" was a dirty song, it was all right for her to ban that in her house, too.

But not in your house. That's your business. And not in the school attended by my children. That's my business.

2 comments:

  1. I recently read that a Virginia school removed To Kill A Mockingbird because it was racially insensitive. Idiots! A book that speaks out clearly against racial discrimination and injustice. I tried to donate issues of Cowboys and Indians to the local VA hospital; they turned the magazines down because the title was "inappropriate", a publication that celebrates Native actors, artists and musicians. PC based purely on ignorance.

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    1. We had banned books week at the library where I work. It was appalling! Got some people interested, though.

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