“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
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.
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 don’t read Stephen King’s books. He scares the bejesus out of me and keeps me awake at night. So I don’t read them. But I have a 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.
Added in 2022. By introducing House Bill 1134 into discussion at the Indiana General Assembly, the State Legislature is leaning even heavily than usual into banning books that might be uncomfortable for some from the classroom, into demanding more from its teachers than can ever be delivered, into doing full-on destruction to public education. I don't know enough, frankly, to argue all the points within the bill or the demands it is making, but teachers do. Principals do. As I said up there--and surely I'm not the first person to say it--paying attention is important. Contact your representative and request an unbiased and easily understood explanation his or her vote.
Like so many times now, I don’t have a neat, tied-in-a-bow ending here. Just read. Learn. Listen. Pay attention. Inform. Have a great week. Be safe. Be nice to somebody.