Book Banning: Seriously?

An article on the front page of USA Today caught my husband’s eye while he was standing in line to pay for coffee last week.  Apparently he made a spectacle of himself because he laughed so uncontrollably that he spit the coffee all over himself and the person in front of him.  Practically got himself kicked right out of King Quick. It all started when he kept reading after the headline.   

Schools once again face bind over censorship vs. book lists (USA Today, August 19, 2011) says the front page article by Natalie DiBlasio.  The sub header states “Pressure from parents, boards a rite of fall season.” The articles opens by informing us that, “U.S. schools have banned more than 20 books and faced more than 50 other challenges this year, the American Library Association reports, and many more are expected this fall…” 

The author quotes the founder of the website, who denies that banning is involved when a book is removed by a school.  “They’re just following their selection policies,” says Dan Kleinman.  However Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, argues that, “Districts are dependent on budgets, and politically motivated school boards try to determine what we read, what we think and what we teach. “

Ms. DiBlasio’s article reports that Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, and Twenty Boy Summer were removed from Republic High School in Republic, MO, and quotes Roberta Combs, President of the Christian Coalition of America, as remarking, “That’s not what our kids should be reading and learning.”  I presume she was speaking of “sexually explicit content, offensive language and violence,” reported by library association spokesperson Jennifer Peterson as the reason for most bannings, which I take it we are not supposed to call bannings but “challenges.”  I have no idea, now that I think of it, how I have recovered from the trauma of reading The Scarlet Letter in high school.  Good grief.  I used to think it was because I didn’t find it riveting back then.  I now realize that the rise in teenage pregnancy must be a result of the failure of many districts to challenge that American classic quickly enough.  Disappointing to say the least.  It’s a really good thing I had those ridiculous braces on my teeth, couldn’t make cheerleading to save my soul, and was too geeky or I’d probably have ended up in a home for unwed mothers because I may not have found it riveting, but I did understand the novel just fine.

It wasn’t the recent removal of Arthur Conan Doyle’s (Sherlock Holmes mystery) A Study In Scarlet from a sixth grade reading list in Albemarle County School District in Virginia because some parents felt that Mormons were portrayed in a negative way that made my husband break into coffee-snorting hilarity.  No, that like the rest made perfect sense.  After all, he’s the academic dean of a college.  He understands that it’s important we don’t teach critical thinking skills to kids.  I mean, they might learn to read something and discuss it, be introduced to narrative point of view, for example, and cultural context.  They might learn to analyze what they read, and reach an informed opinion.  They might even eventually learn about scientific method, and ways to evaluate credibility.  They might someday question authority.  The notion of a thinking citizenry is terrifying.     

No, what cracked him up and almost got him kicked out was the end of the article.   It seems that Channelview, Texas (!)  had a big problem with a book for elementary school kids by George Beard, Harold Hutchins and Dav Pilkey.  The offending book is entitled The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby.  “(It was) removed from grade schools when a set of parents complained when their six year old was suspended for calling a classmate poo-poo head.”

Seriously?  “Poo-poo head?”  My husband lost a mouthful of coffee in King Quick and then cackled until noon that day.  It was hilarious; his wife reads the New York Times and those would be the very nicest words she says for weeks about ninety-five percent of the characters featured there.  Her vocabulary doesn’t usually reach those heights of kindness, though.  (He couldn’t wait to call from his office to read me the article.  I know he was hoping I was at the at the computer surrounded by paper notes and drinking coffee.) 

But when we considered it, we could see why this book banning (excuse me, book challenge) is the right approach.  I mean, what if some well-intentioned parent or teacher had sat down and talked to the child about why it might not be okay to call someone a name in school, and even taught two squabbling children how to work things out?  Bad idea.  Definitely blame the book.  Entirely appropriate.  I looked up that dangerous book on Amazon, and saw that it had come from the same terrorists responsible for Captain Underpants!  An alarming number of thoughtless parents had given this book a five star rating, too, noting that a child of theirs who’d never wanted to read were in love with  it.  It’s crucial that we get rid of subversive books masking as humor that make kids love to read and clamor for more!  If kids want to read, it becomes more difficult to control what they read as they get older.  Consider the potential disaster:  they might get their hands on something that’s not on the “approved” list.  They might think.  Should we even allow books in schools at all? 


6 Responses to Book Banning: Seriously?

  1. Eliminate all but the bible, that only has murder, sex, masss killings, lots of in breeding. Rules to live by for sure. That would solve the banning. Make everything these folks are objecting to look mild!

  2. Lynne Hugo, brava. That was entertaining.

    Now here’s some entertainment for you. Who said:

    On rare occasion, we have situations where a piece of material is not what it appears to be on the surface and the material is totally inappropriate for a school library. In that case, yes, it is appropriate to remove materials. If it doesn’t fit your material selection policy, get it out of there.

    • Thanks for your point of view, Dan. I appreciate your response. I still prefer an approach that doesn’t censor what children and adolescents may read but rather offers constant opportunities for discussion, using these “teachable moments” to model analysis and critical thinking skills. In other words, let’s teach students how to form opinion regarding the content and merit of what they read, to question its implications. In my opinion as an author and an educator, it’s a better way for our schools and parents to prepare students for adult life.

  3. I think while we’re at it, let’s return to the practice of censoring Shakespeare. After all, the Bard’s plays reek of human sexuality, and all “things rank and gross in nature. . ..” If we expose young minds to Hamlet, they’ll certainly become obsessed with what their parents are doing behind closed doors, and could develop a tendency to associate procreation with maggots. Gaining a thorough understanding of Shakespeare’s day and age may bring them to the belief that it is better for men to dress as women when treading the boards. ‘Tis far better that young women not put their maidenheads at risk by reading the lovelorn longings of poor Romeo. Those tomes are much safer left on the shelf under lock and key, at least until after they’ve become pregnant. Some wags believe that to read Shakespeare is to understand man, his fears, deficiencies and simple beauty. Codswallop, I say.

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