30 September 2010

Banned Books Week: Won't somebody think of the children?

Note: This week I am breaking my no-politics policy by talking about Banned Books Week, and what it entails, and why it is important. I beg your indulgence and thank you for it.

This is the American Library's list of the 100 most challenged books of the past decade.

Go have a look at it. I'll be here when you get back.

(Time passes. A fly crawls up the wall. Galaxies are born and die. The reader returns.)

So . . . did you notice what I noticed? What nearly everybody notices after a few seconds of perusing the list? Did you see how many of the titles listed there were books for children and young adults? You understand what that means, don't you? Out there, somewhere, are people who think they know how to raise your child better than you do. Out there, somewhere, are busybodies and little tin gods of their own tiny universes who think that in a democracy whose foremost precept is one of free and uncensored speech, that some things written for children should not be seen by children.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier has been challenged and banned for nudity and sexual explicitness, for offensive language, and for teaching anti-authoritarianism.

When you control the books that are read, you control the language. When you control language, you control thought. Nothing is more dangerous to the rigid control of authoritarian tyranny than unfettered expression, whether through the spoken word, the written word, or the printed word. And the earlier you can clamp down on the unfettered thought, the better.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak has been challenged and banned because the character Mickey loses his pants during a fall. This nudity is considered immoral and, by some, pornographic.

The best way to instill an idea in the mind is during childhood. When you teach a child that his or her body is sinful and immoral -- even though Genesis states that we are all created by God in God's image -- then that child is likely to believe it all of his or her life . . . especially if no dissenting voice is allowed to be heard. Likewise, if a child is taught to believe that it is always wrong to question authority, then that child will grow up far more malleable -- far more likely to follow, and far less willing to lead or to rebel . . . even should rebellion be the only just thing to do. Imagine what would have happened had the Founding Fathers been taught ridigly all their lives never to question or rebel against authority.

A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich by Alice Childress has been challenged and banned because of its graphic descriptions of drug use, its mention of Black nationalism, and its portrayal of the life of a heroin addict. It has been called Un-American.

Another reason to control thought through the control of language is to prevent important issues to be confronted. If children never learn about the horrors of drug abuse or the truths of lives lived in poverty, or under the heel of authoritarianism, then they will be less likely to care about such things, or about people who live with such things and under such conditions, when they get older. They may lack sympathy and empathy. they may become cruel and uncaring. ignorance can be as much a lack of human empathy as it can a lack of knowledge.

One of the most common reasons given for challenging Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl is that it is "too depressing" for young adults who are reading it.

The wish to protect our children from all harm and all bad feeling is a laudable, even noble, but ultimately fruitless goal. For in doing so we can run the risk of leaving them more vulnerable to those things, not less. Just as the over-use of antibiotics have led to more powerful and harder to fight strains of bacteria, the refusal to confront certain "difficult" or "dangerous" or "depressing" ideas and concepts merely allows those ideas to fester and grow in their darknesses, unseen. When Jews speak of the Holocaust they frequently say, "Never again!" -- but if the subject of the Holocaust is  "too depressing" to address, to read about, or to think about, then it becomes that much easier for it, or something like it, to happen again. And perhaps those children who were told that the fate of Anne Frank was "too depressing" will grow up thinking only happy thoughts -- but at the expense of ever confronting the darkness waiting outside their doors. 

It is only through light that the darkness is banished. If we refuse to shed light, to illuminate, to teach, then the darkness will do nothing but grow, and we who in our ignorance have tried to protect for the best intentioned of reasons, will find out instead that our good intentions have paved us a road to hell.

It is of course up to each of us, as individuals, to decide how best to shed that light. But the least effective means of doing so is to break every lamp in every village and town. Yet that is just what some would have us do. Whether they will get away with it is not their decision, but ours. 

What decision will you make?


Thank you again for your indulgence. I have one more post to make on this subject this week, and I'm not sure how I'm going to approach it yet. As always, we'll see what I do when I get there. Also, sorry for the later-than-usual post, but life with a two-year-old who wants to play with his trucks and can't understand what Daddy does with the clickety-click keyboard all evening. 

See you tomorrow.

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