Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How Is a Book Like a Potato Chip?

I think this Agape Press article, "Poison in our Libraries," does a pretty good job of inadvertantly exposing the real issue behind many book bannings. I was struck by one paragraph in particular:
Laurie Taylor is the mother of two school age children. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Like most parents, she cares about her kids' education. So, when she discovered the school library had a sexually explicit book, It's Perfectly Normal, aimed at elementary age students, she did what any concerned parent would do: she went to the administration and asked that it be removed, along with two other books with similar themes.
Maybe it's just me, but disliking a book and immediately trying to then get it removed from a library does not strike me as what "any" concerned parent would do. Talk with the teacher and the librarian? Sure. Forbid his or her own child from reading the book? Maybe. But to immediately try to ban a book from a library because you don't like the content? To me, this woman doesn't sound like a "good parent," but rather, a fanatic, especially coupled with the fact that she then tried to get "dozens" more books banned.

Speaking of which, I thought another part of the article was interesting too:
At first, school system leaders seemed to agree with Taylor, and placed the books in a "parent library" section with other books geared more to parents than to children. But when Taylor found dozens more books with sexually explicit content, and asked that they not be made available to students without parental approval, the school reneged. It overturned its earlier decision and voted to leave all of the books on the shelves with unrestricted access by the students.
In other words, it sounds like the school tried to appease this woman, only to discover that when it comes to book banners, books are often like potato chips: one is never enough. If the library agrees to ban or restrict this book, well, then why not this book too? And this book, and this book, and so on and so on. But as I've blogged before, who gets to decide what goes in a library? If every parent gets a veto over every book, libraries would be effectively bare, and they would certainly be stripped of absolutely anything that might be interesting or relevant to a large number of students.

For the record, I should point out that the industry reviews of the book that started this hoopla, It's Perfectly Normal, unananimously say that it is age-appropriate, and a good choice for school libraries. But they also point out that it is frank in its approach to sexual education, and it is non-judgemental, especially on topics such as homosexuality.

In short, this openness, and the library's giving access to age-appropriate information, is the real issue here, not anything to do with "poison".

6 Comments:

Blogger Rosemary Graham said...

Great post, Brent. The article you link to is yet another re-hash of what we've seen elsewhere. It ends with links to the websites which led to the recent challenges in Illinois and Florida, those treasure troves of naughty bits compiled by the PABBIS (Parents Against Bad Books in Schools) and Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools.

The strangest part of the article to me is the author's claim that librarians are preventing parents from knowing what their children are reading: "librarians do everything possible to obscure the reading habits of students -- who are required by law to attend school -- from any attempt by parents to learn what their children are reading. This is done by virtue of a computerized system for tracking books in circulation that automatically erases all data concerning who checked out what books immediately upon the books being returned to the library. Unless a parent actually finds her child reading an objectionable book, that parent has no way of discovering what the child has been reading."

Huh? This conservative author wants Big Brother--in the form of public libraries' computers--to keep tabs on his child's reading for him.

Oh, and while visiting the GOPUSA website where the article was posted, I accidentally clicked a banner ad at the top of the page, and was brought to a lovely, helpful on-line gambling site.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Not a school in my city! Well, at least the board overturned it. I love how any book that even mentions sexuality is immediately challenged by parents, like mine, would prefer their children to grow up ignorant and sheltered--only to be smacked in the face with these issues that will inevitably arise in their person lives. As a parent I would think a book, rather than experience, would be a perfect teaching tool to aid in their growth.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Melinda said...

It ain't about teaching, it's about protecting. Supposedly. I was on Amazon yesterday picking up a book for my kid on ancient history, one used by a lot of homeschoolers. Wow, you should have seen the reviews. Secular parents loved the book. Christian parents were giving it only one or two stars because the book talked about Christ only in the context of his civilization, and they didn't like that the book also mentioned Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucious, whose name I can't spell. Which kind of floored me because the book was about ancient history, not the Son of Man.

I mean, if they're worried about a book about ancient history not following their way of thought, then a library must present a special sort of challenge to them.

You want kids to read in order to prepare them for stuff you haven't thought about preparing them for. (There's a good article about bibliotheraphy in last month's Horn Book http://www.hbook.com/publications/magazine/articles/may06_knoth.asp that'll show you what I'm talking about.) If kids get their info from a good source, then they're going to get it from the other kids, who are bright, but sometimes they get their facts wrong ... with bad results.

12:59 PM  
Blogger steller said...

another attempt of purification as if you can protect your children from the evils of the world through censorship.. it's just the same with online dating via websites like webdate.com,they say it is dangerous as if randomly meeting someone new in bars and other places is not dangerous... it's actually safer if you ask me..

7:39 PM  
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