I see more and more people coming out protesting the banning of books. As an author and writer, I say, I agree. I certainly don’t want my books banned…the three that there floating in the public sphere (soon to be a 4th). Further, as a student of history, I am quite aware of the attempt to mold and shape minds in a specific direction with book bans, as well as the restriction of free speech, and the dangers therein.
The upheaval about book banning is coming from all quarters and aimed at the policies of Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, among others. I find it interesting that so many pile on the “don’t ban books” bandwagon without fully understanding what is actually being banned. It was similar to the purported “Don’t Say Gay” law FL enacted, when, in fact, there was nothing in the bill at all about not saying the word “gay”. It was a bill that largely protects (here is the actual text of the bill) parent’s rights about what their children are taught, told and exposed to. There is not a single word about not saying the word “gay”. Further, the bill does prohibit “certain grade levels” from being exposed to talk on sexual orientation or gender identity. Those grades? Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Hyperbole and hysteria, not to mention biased reporting contributed greatly to the misrepresentation of the bill.
When it comes to book banning in schools, there has also been great consternation, and rightfully so. Schools are places wherein students are to be educated, exposure to new and different ideas paramount to such education. Even conflicting idea from our own, say, the merits of a controlled economy versus a free market economy, should be open to debate and study, attempts to limit said study by banning the discussion of one side or the other to be quashed. Honest academic inquiry and its protection must be protected.
Healthy debate, one in which parties are willing to have their minds changed by a preponderance of the evidence has been a staple in Western society for eons, dating back to the ancient Greeks and even before. Johann von Eck and Martin Luther engaged in epic debates about religion, and the Lincoln/Douglass debates are still taught in American history classes. Debate is necessary, debate is needed, debate is what we thrive on, with books of all types being the source for such great debate.
At what point does the presentation of certain books to certain age children become less about the freedom to read what one wishes to read versus simply inappropriate materials for those of a sensitive age? Even films are given ratings so as to shield certain ages from their content. There is age appropriate language usage, age appropriate dress (although this is becoming more and more a gray area), as well as age appropriate reading material. One would not presume to predispose a child of grade school age to the book 50 Shades of Gray, just as one would not expose a child to a XXX rated film…it’s simply not appropriate.
Why, then, is it appropriate to allow small children to read about and view illustrations about oral sex, gay sex, and expose them to adult style entertainment when they are but children? Would anyone in my reading audience expose their primary age child to a porn site deliberately? Why, then, is it acceptable for the same child to be exposed to children’s books dealing with topics, graphically, on sexual subjects at such tender ages?
Search YouTube…you’ll find clips of these board meetings wherein parents read directly from the books described, with board members turning off microphones because of “inappropriate content” being read. If that’s the case, why are grade school children allowed to take the book off the shelf? There seems to be a disconnect between banning books for their content and ensuring certain books are not in the hands of children too young to be exposed to such information or content. It also seems, in the quest to be inclusive and empathetic, many have lost the notion of appropriateness.
The great novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, written by Erich Maria Remarque, was about his experiences during the First World War, and was banned worldwide as it was deemed “anti-war”, as was the film with the same title in 1925. The Catholic Church produced the Index of Prohibited Books in the 17th century, banning books they deemed as dangerous to the faith, books which included The Encyclopedia, a compendium of philosophical idea written by Denis Diderot during the Enlightenment.*
I don’t think banning Gender Queer and others like it, books rife with sexually explicit diagrams and pictures for primary grade children is the same thing. Should one wish to read such content as an adult, you would find no quarrel here. Putting that book in front of a small child is not the same thing, and certainly not appropriate for public education.
Come to think of it, as society has moves further and further from the tumult of the 1960’s, we’re losing all notions of what’s appropriate and what isn’t in many ways. As one friend of mine continually tells me via meme…”Nothing Matters”.
I recently picked up a copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, in my quest to improve as a writer of fiction. I knew what the story was about, but despite my initial hesitation, purchased it anyway. While the book is well written, as one would expect, it certainly challenged my sensitivity on the topic, and as girl-dad, found the subject matter quite distasteful. I stopped reading half way through. Should Lolita be banned? Certainly not, but as an adult, I am quite able to make my own choices and capable enough to know what my taste is, as well as not to be influenced by what I read. Primary age children are capable of that level of reasoning, especially since they are programmed to listen to the teacher. The power a teacher has is enormous, made even more so by parents who blindly trust said teachers to teach basic skills, implicit trust part of the bargain. Reading books of a sexually explicit nature is not a basic skill.
Some attempt to equate sexually explicit books to studying history and seeing Michelangelo’s David in the nude. This is a reach, at best, for there is clearly a difference between a sculpture of the human form, and a book which presents male to male oral sex as a cartoon to children. Attempting to equate the two is a reach at best, and a deliberate attempt to be foolish.
One other consideration.
There has arisen a group of people known as “sensitivity monitors,” people whose only job is to take books already written and scour them for what they deem as inappropriate language, removing from already published literature terms they find disturbing or “harmful”, such as what happened to Roald Dahl’s books, or more recently, Agatha Christie’s books. These books, written at a certain time contained what the censors…let’s call them what they are…censors…deemed inappropriate and were subsequently re-written, with the “harmful” content removed.
Is this not another form of book banning? Certainly, it is censorship of the highest order* Most disturbingly, this censorship was done by a self-declared organization who took it upon themselves to do such work, supported by publishers who, more than anything, wish to avoid being tarred and feathered as not being sensitive enough.
One need not look too far in history to understand the problem here. During the French Revolution, the Committee of Public Safety did much the same thing…purging any remnant of Christianity from books, lectures, and even the calendar itself (known as the Republican Calendar…no relation to the Republican Party), not to mention publicly executing those deemed to be enemies of the Revolution.
Mein Kampf is still available in print, in the original version, but Roald Dahl’s and Agatha Christie’s books are deemed too controversial and need to be censored. I am given to think if the roles were reversed, and some of the books like Gender Queer, et. al were censored, there would be a significant backlash against such censorship of content.
The central point of all this is: Books, especially in a free society, should not be banned, including the books mentioned here, but we must rediscover the notion of age appropriateness for the presentation of such books and the ideas contained therein. High school age students are in a different place mentally than a kindergarten to 3rd grade child, just as an 8th grade student is different from a 4th grade student. There is a chasm of difference between a high school senior and a freshmen, just as there is a significant difference between one who is 25 and one who is 18. That gap narrows as age increases, but anyone being truthful understands what is presented here.
Hyperbole aside, it is time we address the notion of age appropriate materials, thoughtfully done, defenestrating the politics of the matter post-haste. To do anything less is a detriment to the youngest among us.
*Czarina Catherine the Great (r. 1762-1796) published The Encyclopedia unabridged, much to the consternation of the Church.
**It would seem Roald Dahls books will continue to be published with the original content as well as the originals due to public outcry