Saturday, July 25, 2020

Banning Books? Not in My House... by Liz Flaherty #WordWranglers

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.

Added in 2020. It got done at that time. The book in question was banned because one mother didn't want it there. And, oh, my gosh, there are people who would ban everything in libraries now if given the chance. Because there was a lot of ugliness in history, just as there is now. Because writing was done using the morals, ethics, and mores of the time and sometimes they stunk. Because people today are sometimes hurt by what was written then. 

I think they would be more hurt by hiding the existence of the way things were then; banning the existence of those books would give way to denial of those flaws.

It would also be throwing out the good with the bad. One of my favorite authors for teenage girls was Janet Lambert, from Crawfordsville, Indiana. I read every word she ever wrote and loved them all. I learned many things from them. Good things. But in those books, I don't recall there ever being a black person who wasn't a servant. I don't believe she would write that way today--at least, I hope she wouldn't--but reading them not only taught me good things, it made me pay attention to others that weren't so good.

Paying attention is important.

I'm not saying all books are good. I'm saying there are no limits to what you can learn if you read. And if you pay attention. What others read isn't your business, but there's no other way for you to argue points than if you're fully armed with facts and knowledge of both sides of a situation. 

Like so many times now, I don't have a neat, tied-in-a-bow ending here. Just read. Learn. Inform. And while you're at it, have a great week. Be safe. Be nice to somebody.


  1. Reading helps develop the mind and the imagination. I believe I am a more open-minded and empathetic person because I was a voracious reader as a kid. The best thing parents can do is cultivate a love of reading in their children. No story should ever be banned. In fact, books with problematic themes can become great learning tools that open up vast possibilities for conversation.

  2. Amen! My husband and I are both retired teachers. He taught Language Arts for 40 years. Books are the tools that give us the ability to see things from another's perspective, to learn new ideas, and to grow.

    1. What you said there, about seeing things from another's perspective, is one of the most important things that can be learned, and there's no better place than in the pages of a book. Thank you!

  3. My sister was assigned a book to read in middle school that my mom read and did NOT want my sister to read--pretty graphic. She asked the teacher to assign a different book for the book report and the teacher said it was that book or an F. The book was pretty raunchy. I agree that books shouldn't be banned, but I think parents have some rights, too. There should be respect on both sides.

    1. I absolutely agree. I’m surprised at the teacher.