October 2, 2009

A Parting Thought on Banned Books Week

As this whole topic of banning books has had its time in the blogosphere's limelight--whatever that's worth--I've caught myself wondering about the validity of keeping books out of reach from the rest of the world. While I am quite to content to dismiss the whole notion of banning books as the exercise of an ignoramus, I have to admit that not all of the displeasure stems from pure idiocy. Believe it or not, there are reasonable and thoughtful arguments posed to keep sensitive material out of the reach of children.

For some, a book involving some adult subject matter has no place in the hands of a small child, or even an older child. I can accept the idea that a parent wouldn't want their child exposed to a book involving a rape scene or a gruesome murder, though I'm not inclined to automatically side with that parent. Frankly, I'm the kind of guy who needs to get a real sense of what book is being made available to what child. I mean, reading the Bible at an early age exposes a kid to some very gruesome subject matter. Are we so quick to snatch a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the same kid?

Looking back on my own childhood I always thought growing up in a rural community, where country music wasn't just a preference but a lifestyle, had me surrounded by a very buttoned-down conservative atmosphere. And that was certainly the case in some instances--homophobia is still a chronic condition for a lot of folks--but when it came to books in schools, I don't remember any dustups about any reading material in elementary school, junior high, or highschool. In school, we read To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men, Fifth Business, The Crucible, and other books that have faced the ire of disgruntled parents elsewhere. In my neck of the woods though, we recognized them for what they were: good reads.

There is another side of that coin, though. I'm referring to nonfiction, particularly text books. I am very thankful to have grown up in an area that was absent of controversy over the Theory of Evolution. As an olive branch to those less embracing of Darwin's work, my 12th grade Biology class did have a two-day presentation on Creationism as an "alternate theory" to Evolution. I'm not sure on the background of how that came to pass, but I do recall that while one of my friends gave his presentation on Creationism, our biology teacher stood in the corner silently fuming. To think I could have been born somewhere that taught only some form of religious doctrine as science, rather than actual science, I cringe. I also recoil at the thought of children in the world being taught the Holocaust never happened.

When it comes to the nonfiction in our schools, there absolutely needs to be a more discerning eye on the text than that of literary fiction. Text books need facts ... story books, not so much. And while I'd be against a book with false claims being used to teach our kids and mislead readers in school, I wonder if I would be on the bandwagon to have the book banned entirely. I like free speech, and I'm more than willing to put up with the crazies and the bigots if it means I get my say too. I can't imagine a book by a proud racist or willful ignoramus subverting readers, as those kinds of books tend to appeal to the like-minded--flies to cowpies, as they say. Unless a person is of an astonishingly weak mindset, a book about gay penguins won't turn them "queer" any more than a book with a racial slur will convince them to join the Klan.

A few people might bring their common sense to the table when complaining about a specific book, but far too often it's the peanut gallery with the soapbox and the megaphone.

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