Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Banning books, or just good parenting?

I'm happy to tell you that the good people at MercatorNet have once again allowed me to write an article for them! My topic dealt with the American Library Association's "Banned and Challenged Books Week," and the little-mentioned fact that most of the "challenges" to books come about because parents find some book laced with profanity, sexual filth, and gratuitous violence on the classroom or school library shelves, and raise objections to its being there.

Here's an excerpt from my piece:

Now, if the vast majority of challenges to books involve parents, centre around books available in schools, and deal with such issues as sexual explicitness, offensive language, or the unsuitability of the books for a specific age group, then I think we're no longer talking about book-banning or censorship. I think we're talking about parenting.
The attitude of the ALA is that a parent only has the right to censor or control what his own children read. He doesn't have the right to request the removal from the school library or classroom shelf those books which he finds obscene or dangerous to morality, because someone else might prefer for his children to read those books. The school alone has the final say in what books are appropriate for the children under its care to read, and if a child reads at school a book or books which his parents absolutely forbid at home--well, then, perhaps the parents' values are too narrow and restrictive to begin with.
Here's the dilemma for parents, though--there was a time when we could trust schools and libraries to support, for the most part, the same values we ourselves held, and to abide by community standards of morality and decency. There was a time when it would have been just as unthinkable to the librarian or the school teacher as to a parent that a book for children would have contained the following things:

  • --Graphic language about sex, drinking, drugs; laced with profanity and written in "chat speak" (TTYL by Lauren Myracle)
  • --Violence, implied sex, anti-religious and anti-Christian messages throughout; God is literally killed (His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman)
  • --Prostitution, witchcraft, voodoo, devil worship (Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya)
  • --Homosexuality, drugs, suicide, sex, nudity (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky)
  • --Sex, drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, profanity, smoking (Gossip Girl series by Cecily von Ziegesar)
These are some of the objectionable content found in just five of the ten most frequently challenged books for 2008. Given that most challengers are parents and most challenges involve books in school libraries or school classrooms, I'd be much more worried about society if books like these were never questioned at all.

Please do go and read it! I'd be especially grateful if any of you felt inclined to leave comments at the MercatorNet site (though as always comments are welcome here, too).

Thanks so much!


Kindred Spirit said...

Great post! Thank you for the alert; the ALA has long been a bastion of liberalism, and libraries are all the worse for it. Parents must be vigilant and must protect their children. Bad books are just that--bad; and parents need to keep them away from their homes.

Magister Christianus said...

I still do not understand why, if this is to be the position of public libraries, that they do not stock Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. If they are not responsible to their communities, but to an idealogy that says anything goes, then why not go for the gold? Why not allow the web surfing for porn, with the ability to print (for a charge, of course)? Why not include manuals on how to build a bomb with just what is found under the kitchen sink? The simple fact is that libraries impose limits on the materials and services they provide, if only out of financial necessity. No library can purchase every piece of print material in existence. So why do they purchase certain works and not others? Why do they provide certain services and not others? There is a standard being applied in order to make decisions. Sadly, it is not the standard of community wishes, nor is it often the standard of genuine scholarship or literary merit.

freddy said...

Wonderful insight! I've been looking for a way for a long time to explain the difference between "banning" and "taking filth out of the reach of impressionable kids because I'm a responsible adult." Parenting! Exactly!

Scott W. said...

I still do not understand why, if this is to be the position of public libraries, that they do not stock Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. If they are not responsible to their communities, but to an idealogy that says anything goes, then why not go for the gold? Why not allow the web surfing for porn, with the ability to print (for a charge, of course)?

Great minds think alike. I've asked the same question of libraries, tv, movies, music videos. My first reaction is that if they did, it would wake parents out of their slumber and they'd go on offense, and heads would roll. Better to subtley undermine children's proper formation. The boiling frog thing. I'll grant that most authors that don't rub their hands together going, "muahaha! watch as I corrupt Truth, Beauty and Goodness!", but there are enough examples of perverse progressives explicitly saying they are going to get our children to take it seriously.

P.S. While the boiling-frog folklore makes for a great rhetorical device, it's baloney. :)

SafeLibraries said...

Erin, fantastic article! I have blogged on it here:

"It's Not Censorship, It's Parenting! -- Best Explanation Ever for What's Wrong With the American Library Association and its Effect on Public School Libraries."

And what you said is so true. In some cases, I have links to back it up. For example, when you say, "To put it bluntly, the ALA puts itself in the position of defending lousy, substandard, second-rate writing...," I could point you to an article where the ALA admits exactly that. See, for example, "Racy Reading; Gossip Girl Series is Latest Installment in Provocative Teen Fiction, and It's As Popular As It Is Controversial," by Linda Shrieves, Orlando Sentinel, 6 Aug 2005. Quoting now, where the "she" is the ALA leader of YALSA:

She's happy to see teen girls reading. Eventually, girls who are reading Gossip Girls will move on to better books, she says.

"Unless you read stuff that's perhaps not the most literary, you'll never understand what good works are," says Holley. "But when you get them hooked on reading, then you can lead them so many other places, as far as books go."

Besides, she says, what's the worst thing that can happen? "Nobody complains about the adult women who read Harlequin romances."

Red Cardigan said...

SafeLibraries, thanks so much! That quote from the ALA leader is so telling--thanks for sharing it here. We really do have a problem, when adults think that children reading trash is acceptable because some adults will choose to read trash when they're older. Good grief.

Charlotte said...

Here in Wisconsin, there was a major uproar this year in the city of West Bend concerning filth in the children's section of the library. The books (plural) in question pictured literal, homosexual sex acts. It was all over the news, people fighting, the whole enchilada. End result: the books STAYED. My husband is a librarian and was horrified to find all of his co-workers joining the Facebook cause page supporting the West Bend library in its mission to keep these disgusting books in the children's library. Yes, the library world is a liberal, leftist world gone mad.