This week ( September 25 - October 1, 2010) is Banned Book Week. Banning books is censorship. Author Ellen Hopkins was "uninvited" to a teen book festival in a small town in Texas this past summer, because her trilogy of books on drugs was "unacceptable reading" for teens. Author Sarah Ockler's book, Twenty Boy Summer, has been challenged, not necessarily for content, but because the title sounds "promiscuous," and may be pulled from a high school library. In Stockton, Missouri, Sherman Alexie's book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian was removed from the high schools because of jokes about masturbation and some swear words. Are you kidding me? High school boys never swear? They don't know what masturbation is? From what planet are the adults who removed this book? On the other hand, perhaps this book was removed because of its clear and unbiased look at racism, a facet of the American culture that this society would much prefer to ignore.
What is the removal of these books teaching our kids? Isn't it teaching them that it is perfectly okay to judge something on the basis of appearance rather than on the facts? ( Twenty Boy Summer.) Isn't it teaching them to learn about drugs and sex and violence either from strangers who may entice them into this culture, or by actually entering it on their own? (Crack.) Isn't it teaching them to be embarrassed about a natural part of growing up, and to ignore things you don't understand and hope they will go away? (Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.)
Is that what you want for your kids or for yourself? Some narrow minded, usually fanatically inclined, person to tell you and them that they have the right, and your best interests at heart when they say that you must think, talk, act, and believe as they do? Someone who insists that he or she has the absolute right to make all of your decisions for you in every facet of your life, no matter how personal it might be? Oh, and if you resist this person, he will simply work harder to ignite the righteous indigation of people who DO believe as he does, so this small, bigoted group of people can rant and rave, scream, threaten, and carry on until their wishes are carried out, no matter how you feel.
Don't for one minute think that censorship is confined to books alone. It is not. Censorship is espoused by religious and political fanatics, by people who want to dictate what movies can be made, what art can be exhibited, what stories can be told, what people can be allowed to live in peace, what values, morals and ethics can be taught to our children, and in fact...what FREEDOMS can be allowed in our society.
Censorship can ( and has ) lead to the outrageously heinous acts of the attempted extermination of an entire society...the American Indians in our Western culture, the Jews in Poland and Eastern Europe in the 1940's...or the enslavement of a culture, such as the blacks kidnapped and brought to the US in the 18th and 19th centures.
Censorship spawns the idea that there is only one right way to do things, and that right way is only what one person or one group of people say it is. By giving birth to THAT idea, we...or mainly our kids...learn that it's okay to bully someone smaller or weaker or different than you...which in turn leads to the above ideas that it's okay to exterminate or enslave an entire culture.
So what do you do about censorship? You talk to each other and most of all, you talk to your kids. When it comes to books, for younger children you can buy or check out at the library only what you want them to read. But when they are old enough to want to have a say in what they read, then you talk to them. You tell them what is appropriate for their age and reading/comprehension level, and you guide them in that direction. When they are old enough to pick out their own reading material, and want to read something you may not approve of, you have a conversation about it...what the book is about, why you're not too pleased with it, bring in the values and morals that you've taught your kids...BUT DON'T REFUSE TO LET THEM READ IT, REGARDLESS OF WHAT IT IS. Parental censorship is no better than public censorship. Let them read the book, but with the understanding that you WILL have a conversation about it afterwards. Have them tell you what they liked and didn't like, what they understood, what they may have been confused about, and what the book meant to them in terms of what is happening in their own lives, both at home, in school and with their friends.
Nothing can take the place of conversation, open, objective, unemotional ( as much as possible), and completely devoid of a moralistic attitude on your part. Remember that children learn from books, even as teens, and the ideas and attitudes they learn do not have to be "wrong" or derogatory or even scary. Take the negative out of the situation by having a discussion of the book, the characters, the plot, and how the characters acted and reacted within the plot. Make it a part of real life, if possible, by comparing that book to something that may have happened in your own lives, in those of friends or family, or even something that happened in the media. Kids learn from all of these incidents, so make them as positive a learning experience as possible. Don't let fear and uncertainly become the end result of reading a book.
But the same axiom applies to all the other phases of life that the hatemongers of the world subscribe to...art, music, TV, movies, cultural/religious/ethnic diversity, values, ideas/thoughts/attitudes...in other words, FREEDOM. Remember that it's not the books or the movies and so on that we need to fear, it is the lunatics, the people who truly believe that they have to right to monitor and/or control everyone else's life, in terms of their right to the freedoms guaranteed us by the US Constitution. The people who think they have the right to censor and even destroy any one of those freedoms...this element of society is what we have to fear...not the words on a written page.
that's a wrap.