Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reading Banned Books



I am so proud of my daughter! She’s just awesome! Yesterday at school, in her English (now called “Language Arts”) class they were talking about censorship, and the banning of books. She told me that she was surprised at how many of her friends and classmates believe that schools and libraries should ban books that have “objectionable” content. As she said “Sex and stuff in them.”
So I asked her, “What do you think?”
She said, “I don’t think they should ban any book, you just shouldn’t read the bad ones.”
I tell you, I could not have been more happy if I’d have won the publisher’s clearinghouse while saving a family of ducks from a burning barn.
I said, “ You’re right, did you know that Dr. Suess has a book on the list of banned books?”
“What? Why?” She asked… almost screamed.
“Yep,” I said, “Back in the 80’s, some school thought that The Lorax went against their local values.”
It was actually 1989 in Northern California, they said that it preached against the logging industry, a major industry in that area, and so like all good Nazi’s they banned it.
So, then I explained that Huckleberry Finn, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Little House on the Prairie, James and the Giant Peach, Where’s Waldo … even the Bible have all been banned, in the United States, at one time or another, in one place or another. Strangest of all happened in 1992 when a school (Venado Middle School) in Irvine, California censored Fahrenheit 451, a book about the dangers of censorship, by blacking out all of the “objectionable” words (as if Ray Bradbury uses a whole lot of ‘em). It took action on the part of parents and the media to get this one set right.
Now look, I’m not one of those people that believes that Penthouse Magazine belongs in our public libraries because of an absolute freedom of the press. They have their place… that place is at the bottom of a dumpster (in my opinion) rather than on a library shelf… but they have a place non-the-less. Because of the first amendment, I will not infringe, or have others infringe, upon the rights of people to publish whatever they feel is worthwhile. I’ll just have to teach my children to seek out books that are beautiful, lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy.
And that, my friends, is the only true and good form of censorship. It begins at our own front door and encompasses the walls of our homes. Let no government, large or small, tell you what you can or cannot read, to do so is to place shackles on your mind.
I am very proud to say that many of the books on the banned book lists of the American Library Association are on my book shelves at home, and that my daughter and I have read many of them, because many, many of them have great and worthwhile messages despite having “that word” in them.
Finally, I wish to add a quote from one of my favorite authors:
"And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles. So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries."
-Kurt Vonnegut in A Man Without a Country
I don't think that A Man Without a Country has been banned anywhere yet, but it does have "that word" in it. ;)

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