Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Parental Discretion vs. Censorship?

As many of you know it's Banned Books Week, a week-long event celebrating our great nation's freedom to publish and read and a reminder of the perils of constraining the free exchange of thought. The website Banned Books Week even has an interactive map of the books that have been challenged and banned in the last couple of years.

Banned Books Week has not been without controversy as the Wall Street Journal published a chiding editorial about the celebration, noting that very few books have actually been banned in the last couple of years, which in the opinion of the editorial shows that the ALA has far more power over what kids read than the parents who (almost unanimously unsuccessfully) challenge books.

While I don't particularly agree with much of the editorial, I do think it raises some interesting points for discussion.

Censorship and book-banning was certainly an important issue pre-Internet, when libraries and bookstores (if you were lucky enough to have both) were the only places where books could really be acquired. But these days the Internet has made any book readily available. Is the issue of censorship as pressing as it used to be, when the banning of HUCK FINN at a library meant a kid really couldn't read it? Is the editorial correct that if censorship means actually suppressing a book's availability, it is moot in the Internet age?

And perhaps more importantly, where is the line between parental and public discretion vs. censorship? Should public libraries stock everything and let patrons decide what is inappropriate? What about books that, say, incite prejudice or that the majority of a community feels is inappropriate for children?

Who should decide?

Lots of questions!






141 comments:

mightymur@gmail.com (Mur Lafferty) said...

Saying that censoring a book in a school or library is moot now that we have the Internet is like saying racism is moot since we have an African American in the White House. Can resourceful kids still get the book? Sure. Does censorship attempts still do harm? Definitely.

Censorship sends a message about trust, that people do not trust us to read books and not become delinquent, or forever tainted, or harmed. It also says they don't trust us to raise our kids properly - Do they really think Huck Finn saying the N word will cause my kid to start saying it, when we-the real people in her life- teach her to respect everyone?

Fawn Neun said...

I'd honestly like to have the last say about what my kids can and cannot read. I'd rather have the library stock everything and leave it up to me. I'm downright permissive when it comes to literature, I want the freedom to remain that way. History is full of violence and hate crimes, we still should learn about it. Sometimes the moral majority thinks Venus Rising from the Sea is obscene. Not for them to say when it comes to educating my children.

And yes, probably pretty pointless in the internet age, unless you have a bastion of parental controls and widgets and supervised access, etc.

C.D. Reimer said...

When I going to junior high school in 1984, Mad Magazine had a cover of Alfred standing in front of a snow back, looking back over his shoulder, and "1984" was in yellow on the snow. My classmates and I spent an entire year pestering the librarian to see the copy, and, when the vice principal took it away, we demanded an explanation as to why the cover was so offensive. We never got a straight answer. ;)

Yamile said...

I have the ultimate say in what my kids read. They're still very young, and hopefully when they're old enough to get whatever books they want, they will use good judgement and choose things that will edify them. When I was young I read whatever I lay my hands on; my parents had no clue what I read and what I was interested in. But at the same time it bothers me when people won't even give a book the benefit of doubt because someone gave it a bad review (ie: Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code, etc)
Censorship curtails the liberty to read whatever a person wants.
But, I don't want my little kids to be bombarded by pornography and violence. I control what comes into my house.

bethanyintexas said...

I agree that parents should definitely be having a say in what their kids read, but I also think that if a particular book goes against a school's policy then it makes sense for the school not to want the book.

There's so many ways to acquire books these days. It's not like if someone really wants a book that they couldn't get it. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's been my experience. (Unless the book is out of print and even then you can find some of those things on amazon.com and sometimes on ebay or other sites).

Sometimes both sides go too far (whether for a book or against a book).

Shaun Hutchinson said...

The problem I have with censorship is that (to me) it's really more about parents expecting others (libraries, book stores etc) to do their job for them. Growing up, my mother's motto was that when there wasn't money for anything else, there was always money for books. The caveat was that she did her best to know what I was reading. Of course I snuck some books in there that I wanted to read without her knowledge, but for the most part, she kept the books out of my hands that she thought were a little too mature for me.

And I think that's the line we should draw. One person's trash is another's treasure, but treasure seekers won't have anything to find if censors put everything they hate out with the trash.

Parents NEED to be more present in their children's book. I know parents are busy, but they can't shirk their responsibilities and then expect others to do it for them. That's not fair to their kids of the kids they could possibly deny a great book.

Ink said...

My parental discretion means I have the discretion to decide what my kids read - not decide what's available for someone else's children. I won't tell them what their children can and can't read, and I'd be happy if they offered me the same respect.

I might concede a parental permission required for certain books if kids are taking them out by themselves. I think that's a more realistic debate, anyway.

joelle said...

For every book that people get worked up about, there are dozens on the shelf that no one even knows about that could incite riots if anyone read them. That's why trying to control what goes on the shelf is laughable.

I lived in a small town in the buckle of the Bible Belt and they had Chris Crutcher on their shelf. I read Laurie Halse Anderson, Julie Anne Peters, and more "books of a questionable nature." Why were they allowed? Because this small town, no network library subscribed to a leasing service and every six months they sent back their YA and got a new box of them. No adults were reading these books except probably me. Certainly not the librarians. And yet, there were people in this town irate over Harry Potter...sacrilege!

As far as parental discretion vs. censorship goes - to me, it's parental discretion when they keep their own kids from reading something and censorship when they try to keep me from reading something.

Anonymous said...

Just the word, "inappropriate" makes my skin crawl.

Am I the only one who remembers that the late (yet? hoping, still, not yet soon enough), never great, Nancy Reagan was responsible for giving this dreadful (the vulgar synonym being, piss elegant) its currency.

Semiotic revulsion aside, the value of "appropriate" has been wholly negated by the decentralized net. The fact is, with barely any industry or effort, one can see a whole range of horrifying images on the net. Those images far exceed whatever images words might convey.

So, the fact that book "banning" still exists really underscores the power of books / the word. I find the power and horror implicit in Anne Frank's Diary - she is, essentially, a little girl who is being hunted - far more disturbing, even today, than Judy Bloome or Stephanie Meyers. Banning/censorship tends to glom onto the most obvious books, too: I doubt these self-appointed moralists would even know a Clarice Lispector from a Helene CIxious, or Michel Foulcault. And that trio is far more "radical" than whatever sort of soft-core, vampire porn that gets philistines up in arms.

It's curious, too, in a recent NYTimes Magazine article about gay kids coming out in middle school, Gay-Straight Alliances have flourished on school campus' largely because of a religious (conservative) driven effort to insure groups (like theirs) could assemble. When I got to that part in the article, I LOL & thought, 'be careful what you wish for ... '

MattDel said...

I agree with Mur. Censorship still denies access to books, no matter what age you're in.

It doesn't deny all access like it used to, but it does make it harder to find the book that you want to read. Some random person having a knee-jerk reaction to something they're uncomfortable with should not have the power to censor any form of the written word. Instead, here's a thought ... pay attention to your children and what they're reading (preaching to the choir, yes I know).

I have that same opinion with all media though, having worked for a newspaper for a few years. You the parent always have a choice -- turn off the tv, block the website, put the book back when your kid picks it up.

/rant

Joel Q said...

I totally agree with freedom of speach, even if it means porn and other bad stuff is available. Because it means everything is available.

A library should consider its community (which is paying for it) when suppling books. It can always get books from another library, that it doesn't want to keep in stock.

Or libraries could also keep certain books off the main shelves that might be offensive to the majority of the community.

But parents should know what their kids are filling their minds with, books, music, TV, movies and internet.

Lydia Sharp said...

I think public facilities such as schools and libraries have every right to do what they feel is beneficial for the community as a whole. It's still up to the parents to make decisions for/with the children as individuals.

If a child is not allowed to read a certain book at school, so be it. I'm not going to fight it. He/she can read the book at home. The problem I do see with that, though, is that they lose out on the teacher's input as a professional (which can be golden) and discussion of the piece in a group setting with peers.

Ann Victor said...

Living in a country which once banned "Black Beauty" (South Africa) I'm against external censorship of any kind.

Freedom of choice is essential. There may be times when we make mistakes but - if we allow others to choose for us what is right and wrong - how are we ever going to become emotionally mature and responsible human beings?

CKHB said...

One of my favorite children's books is on the ALA's most-challenged list. I'm lucky to live in a liberal town that put this book in the front display where I could find it. And I'm lucky to be sufficiently well-off to afford a computer so that I can buy the book online for my daughter even if it disappears from my town.

But I fear that somewhere out there, a library or school doesn't have the energy or resources to fight every fight. Why buy this book for the kids' section if parents are objecting and they don't have enough funds to buy all the books they want anyway? Why not just move on to the next book on their wish list? And then the kids in that town will miss out on a book that I think is valuable, wonderful, and the kind of book that I actively look for when buying books for my daughter. And if I lived in that town, I might never know the book existed.

I think that censorship is wrong, and I'm thrilled that most challenges fail... but what about the ones that succeed?

Dara said...

I'm along the lines of parental discretion. Censorship to me is like the government playing Big Brother. It gets touchy because there are certainly subjects I don't want my future kids reading, but if those are banned, what's to stop them from banning other books that go against a certain political view or standpoint?

I think too it's probably pointless if they did ban them because of the Internet. Of course, that's assuming our country doesn't go the route of communitst China and block sites. But I'm praying that never happens!

I also agree with Bethany earlier in that both sides sometimes go too far.

Such tough questions!

melissa @ 1lbr said...

I think banning a book from a library is still preventing some people from getting it. Saying any book is readily available on the Internet says any person with the spare cash, a computer or other ereader can purchase it. That excludes a lot of people that a library serves.

Libraries are very far from being able to "stock everything" especially with the economy and budget cuts. It is always at the discretion of the librarian what goes into the collection. And every librarian should consider the community and population when acquiring books; if there is sufficient demand, a book should be added, whether or not someone objects to its content.

D. G. Hudson said...

Censorship in the wrong hands can be a tool for suppressing what is different. When left to government agencies, the criteria seems to get muddled by religion, lobbying, and personal preferences of the board set up to decide what is acceptable.

IMO, parental responsibility should include being aware of what your kids are reading. Don't leave that to someone else. I don't like the idea of censorship when it's based on what might occur - the fear factor.

We should all have the freedom to decide what we want to read, and not have our choices narrowed by someone else's idea of what is appropriate. I don't support censorship, but a rating for children and middle grade books might help some parents.

Controversial topic here, Nathan.

Matilda McCloud said...

I never had to censor my kids' reading material--mainly because I trusted the school, the local library, children's book publishers, book clubs, children's sections of bookstores not to stock or publish books with gratuitous violence etc. I don't think I ever came across a book that I felt I needed to censor (and I don't think it's right for parents to try to impose their views on others in public libraries, schools etc).

I did semi-censor James Bond and similar video games because the violence was so appalling in them. (I say semi-censor because my sons luckily preferred Pokemon and Super Mario Bros and were grossed out by these uber-violent games).

Mira said...

I disagree with the Wall Street article. The article takes the stance that the ALA is trying to stop people from complaining about books.

There is a very wide difference between complaining, asking for parental controls and banning. Banning stops not only your own children from reading the book, but other people's children as well.

Banning is a form of social control, which restricts information and potentially restricts freedom of thought. It's unfortunate that people in this country forget the sad consequences of social control -there is such amnesia about the very persecution that led to the formation of the U.S.

So, the ALA is right to celebrate it, I believe. It reminds us, in a time of freedom, that we need to cherish and value that freedom.

Because the pendulum swings. We have freedom of thought now, and our legal system upholds it, but how easily that could be lost, given the right factors. Certain situations incite fear and anger, which lead to things like trying to control how other people think.

That is one of the reasons NOT to ban books, of course, because an educated public is much less easy to manipulate.

Fortunately banning is close to impossible - over the long term. I don't believe there has ever been a book which was sucessfully banned - a book that disappeared forever. Internet or not, people find a way to get access to the information.

And I just realized, Nathan, that this post may be interpreted as political (although I intend it to be sociological). So I understand if you delete it - but this really is what I have to say about the topic, so I'll risk it.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Although it's true that the idea of a "banned book" seems like a thing of the past to us, please remember that for at least 75% of the world, it's still a stark reality. Even Democratic nations like Mexico experience a more sinister type of censorship-- the censorship of fear. Where newscasters and reporters frequently get gunned down for expressing their views about the Narco-trafficers.

And the censorship that occurs in the United States might be the worst of all-- we all know that the media frequently supresses stories that are contrary to its interests, financial or otherwise.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'd think it would be tough to find someone in this country FOR banning books or infringing on speech. Where it gets sketchy is "tax dollars", as in "I don't want my tax dollars spent on that trash."

I personally don't want my tax dollars spent on the TWILIGHT series. But I'm sure a lot of parents might not love BONE either, which my son loves. So my feeling is buy 'em all and let the parents decide. It'll all even out in the end.

Besides, you're asking WRITERS if we should cut sales of books, which is what banning does. I'm guessing it's pretty cut-and-dried in this crowd.

Bane of Anubis said...

Ditto what Bryan said.

Ben Sloan said...

Anything taking government money should not censor on the basis of content. Private companies, of course, can do what they want.

Except Glenn Beck books. Those should be banned everywhere.

Of course.

Stephanie Damore said...

Yep, I'm with the majority here - leave it up to parental discretion. I like how Fawn said:

I'd rather have the library stock everything and leave it up to me.

As I said on my blog yesterday, to me it's an issue of Freedom of Speech. As long the material's not slander or causing unlawful behavior, then it should be tolerated - whether you personally like what someone is saying/writing or not.

Anonymous said...

Although I am totally for a rating system to make a parent's job easier, I am totally against banning any book from a library.

Jenni said...

A book will only incite prejudice if you are prone to it to begin with, in my opinion. If you read such a book and come away from it feeling more strong in your belief about how WRONG those opinions are, it then becomes a very positive reading experience. But if you go home and hear your parents making thinly veiled intolerant remarks (and even the most well-intentioned and seemingly open-minded among us have prejudice or one kind or another) then it might be reinforced and become a negative experience.

I think it is ultimately up to parents to engage in open dialogue with their kids. Explain why things are wrong or right or "inappropriate" or whatever word you choose. Know what they read, put your own foot down if you feel you must, suggest alternatives. Whatever. Every kid is different and every kid will have a different reaction to a story or theme or suggestion. You know yours best so do what is best for them. If you set a good example and teach them respect and honesty and right and wrong, you shouldn't need to feel so insecure about what outside influences are going to do.

And, always always be honest. Don't pretend you are perfect. Admit that you are human and that other people and characters are human as well. Accepting that mistakes and bad decisions are part of reality can really helps strip the stigma. When we expect perfection, when we do silly things like banning books to try to enforce and creation perfection where it doesn't exist, we are always going to be disappointed.

Thermocline said...

I feel like I have to qualify my two cents with stating that I am against censorship.

Libraries are public institutions supported by and responsible to their local communities. It is completely understandable why a librarian might shy away from buying a book the vocal locals don’t want. Smaller libraries don’t have unlimited resources. Decisions have to be made. Maybe the choice not to deal with a particular book is the best choice out of the lousy options.

Motives get murky when people are involved. What one Convinced Soul calls “censorship,” another True Believer might call “a practical decision borne out of necessity.” Any town is better off having an open library with patchy titles than one closed because of moral principles.

Anonymous said...

I think libaries should stock books they feel contribute to the knowledge of their community.

When it comes to children's books, I don't think stocking them is the end of the world to stock books that are not appropriate for every child, so long as they are appropriate and needed for some children.

Parents who complain about books in the library are, most often, lazy parents. They don't want to have the hard conversations with their kids or confront issues that are outside their comfort zone. Kids are going to learn things. They're going to learn them from other kids, from the Internet, from other parents, older siblings. And the key is to have open communication and be willing to talk about an issue that may be outside your comfort zone. The other thing parents who complain about the books, in many cases, do is believe kids understand things on an adult level. Kids understand things on their level. But, these parents often feel like they need to introduce adult concepts because something they're uncomfortable with has been brought up. (For example, some parents of young children object to books featuring gay couples on the grounds that this is sex education; that's just insane. The topic of sex is no more featured in these books than it is in Cinderella. People just get out of their comfort zone and imbuing adult thoughts into it.)

Lastly, I think it is important for libraries to carry books, even if they're not perfect. When my niece was 7, she came home with a book from the school library, with a title something akin to "My sister's a crack addict." (I apologize, as I don't remember the exaxt title). No one in her family is a crack addict and it's really not something her parents thought she should read about. But, we're not going to fault the library for carrying the book. Because, there's some kid out there who may need that book. And that kid probably can't afford to buy it. And so my brother sat down and explained to his duaghter that this is a bad situation, but nothing she needed to worry about, and life moved on for us. And hopefully, some little girl who really did need that book, got a chance to check it out, too.

CindaChima said...

I think formal challenges are just the tip of the iceberg. I've had two school visits cancelled because my books contain (horrors) wizards. This was not reported in any formal way, and I think this sort of thing happens all the time. In one case, the president of the PTA refused to release funds for an event because she disapproved of magic.
A book that offends no one is likely not worth reading.

Michael Pickett said...

Freedom of speach doesn't mean that everyone has to listen to you. Freedom of the press doesn't mean that everyone has to read what you've written. Censorship, the kind that we should be afraid of, is the kind that comes from the government, suppressing dissenting opinion, and the like. Libraries cannot stock every book published. That would be impossible. So, a libarian or a community has the right to choose what the library will stock. They can make their decisions based on any factor they want. It could be price, it could be how pretty the covers are, or it could be subject matter and content. That isn't censorship and it won't have much of a national impact if it's done on a local level.

Kristi said...

It's my job as a parent to censor what MY children watch and read. I'll say again what I've said before - it's a slippery slope when you give your power away to another entity and think they'll do a better job of deciding what's appropriate. Every child is unique and has different needs.

What I've seen happen over and over again is someone shortening "what's right for their family" to just "what's right" and then trying to impose those beliefs on others - which often brings politics and religion into the discussion. I don't feel enough parents out there are focusing on parenting their own children - but that could be a byproduct of the number of kids I've seen in therapy. It's an easy out to let someone else decide what your children can read.

P. Grier said...

Censorship? You mean when when the government disallows a book to be published or read, and to do so means one might be severely punished? How is that an issue in the US?

What the ALA seems to target are children's books that are not shelved in schools and libraries. That, to me as a teacher, is my job-- to shelve my classroom (which has over 800 read for pleasure books in it) with books that will entice and engage the students. Since my goal is to educate, I choose the books in my classroom with that in mind. Since some topics are best left for parents to deal with, I don't shelve those books. What I allow on the shelves is at my discretion, because any of the consequences that might occur from what the books bring up, are mine to deal with, as well.

When we throw loaded words at every shadow of an instance, we weaken the word to something less than useless. Let's save the term, "censorship" for when we really find it, not for classrooms and children's libraries.

Margaret said...

I fall firmly on the side against censorship by proxy. Limiting access for everyone on the assumption that some might be disturbed by the information seems so obviously wrongheaded that I can't understand how it got legitimized.

And the Internet definitely doesn't solve this problem. I'll give a simple example:

My son is in a myths and monsters literature class in high school. He's doing his project on dryads, which are often referred to as tree nymphs. Because of the other meanings of nymphs, he cannot do the Internet research for his project at school because the word is blocked.

But specific to books, it's not just controlling access for children. Considering how many adults read YA or children's books, that's saying that one member of the community can determine the appropriate reading for all other members regardless of age and ability.

I agree with Mur about access as well. Just because some people might be able to work outside the school and public library system to gain access to a particular book doesn't mean everyone can. Going back to my son, if he didn't have Internet access at home (as some still don't), he wouldn't be able to complete his legitimate project.

Hands-on guidance (while still a form of censorship) would involve parents in what their kids are reading. Having "authorities" make those calls for them only encourages distance and a lack of involvement.

In my house, the rules are these:

* You can read anything you want to.
* If it makes you uncomfortable, you can stop reading it (unless it's for school).
* If you have any questions or concerns, we'll discuss it.

Sure, I read a lot of things that were too mature for my age as a kid. But would my life have been improved by ignorance? That's why I have my kids talk to me if something bugs them rather than preventing them from being bugged in the first place.

Andrew the author said...

Libraries largely receive funding from community or state. I’m inclined to believe that those funding bodies should have influence on what’s on the shelves.

The inference “Government funds it so it shouldn’t deny something to any of the people” seems silly to me. The government is supposed to be the enforcer of majority public’s agreed rules. If the community a governing body represents is made up of people who don’t want their middle schools stocking THE ANARCHIST COOKBOOK and DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, we shouldn’t be able keep it on the shelf because “they’re necessary viewpoints”. Unless we’re part of that community, in which case we vote however we like.

I’m against censorship: That’s how I vote and advocate in my community and on any level my tax money is paying for something. If there are enough of us who do so successful attempts of book banning will remain low.

Some people seem to think book banning is fundamentally wrong and should never be allowed. This implies some moral absolutism that is awfully reminiscent of the bigoted people who are pushing the bans in the first place.

Christine said...

To Anonymous at 10:10 a.m., the concept of banned books was around long before Nancy Reagan popularized it. And as I recall, Al and Tipper Gore had their hand in the censorship debate as well, although I think they specifically targeted music.

I am all for parental discretion, and against censorship in general. But I do have one concern about the idea of parental discretion as discussed in the comments I've read so far: just how much time do parents have to read every darned book, or view everything the kids are seeing on the internet? While the kids are very young, sure, I could keep up. But now that my oldest is a voracious 15-year old reader, there's no way I have time to read everything she does.

I'm interested in the fact that little has been mentioned about the unintended consequence of banning books, as well. That is the "forbidden fruit paradox." Banning a book makes people want to read that book.

When THE GOLDEN COMPASS movie came out, for example, the Christian right boycotted the movie because in the book, "the author is an avowed atheist and the characters killed God." I have to admit, I went into my daughter's room and got a copy of the book so I could read it and see if that was true.

Amy said...

I was a bit on the fence about the ratings system question, but this is an easy one: Parental Discretion, all the way.

The thing with books, especially those with controversial topics, is they are such wonderful launching boards for discussion. It will be SO much easier, and more effective, for me to talk with my children about a drug addict in a book and their feelings about that character rather than giving them some generic "drugs are bad" lecture. My children are young yet, so I do need to do some policing of what they read. I need to be able to censor (I prefer to use the term "postpone" since there will come a time when there's no book my children will not be mature enough to read), at times, within my own home. I need to have these "postponed" books available when the time is right for our family.

Perhaps some should read or reread Lois Lowry's The Giver. Forget about the shock factor in the book and really concentrate on this society which was created with the best of intentions. How much do we have to lose in order to live with no pain?

Sissy said...

I can tell you that books are still removed from libraries all over the place. Especially school libraries. There is a process in place for the removal of the material, but I do get told to pull things off the shelf. Yes, savvy kids, or ones with more liberal parents, will just get it from somewhere else, but it still happens.

I certainly believe that parents should make those decisions. It should not really be my job to tell you what is right for your kid and their maturity level, but day after day I have to make those kinds of decisions when purchasing books for the library. How many "f" words is too many? Can the characters just kiss, or go a little further? Can I shelve a book where two men or two women kiss? I wish I could say I don't have to deal with it, but I do. It makes my job scary sometimes.

Susan Quinn said...

You knew this was a can of worms when you opened it, right?

Right.

I had a conversation with my kids after reading the WSJ article, the upshot being that teachers and parents have an obligation to keep inappropriate material out of kids hands. 2 out of 3 kids agreed (the youngest wants more violence in his books than Mom's willing to go for).

My 5th grader's teacher's solution: Most books out on the shelf. Questionable books kept in a literal closet, which kids can check out with parental permission.

I think parents have the right, and the obligation, to make sure material is appropriate for their children, as they're the only ones that know their kids and values.

In a way this is a debate looking for a problem.

The problem is not that books are rampantly being banned from bookshelves, that vital literary resources are being kept from the children of our nation. The problem is the pervasiveness of "adult" themes (sex, violence, drugs) creeping down in children's literature and movies. While people maybe be (rightfully) aghast at the marketing candy cigarettes, or juice flavored alcoholic drinks to teens, there is not a similar level of concern about destructive behavior portrayed in media.

We don't need censorship to keep kids safe. We need responsible parents, and an assist from other gatekeepers, such as teachers and librarians. It's not censorship to say "check with your parents first".

bryngreenwood said...

I think censorship always has been and still is a class issue. For children who have ready access to the internet and the resources to order books, etc., it's probably moot. There are still children whose socio-economic status limits their access to the internet and to books that might be challenged.

word verification: pantlik (the stage before you abase yourself so far you're willing to shoelik.)

Marilyn Peake said...

I’ve been following lots of Internet discussion about banned books this past week until I finally stopped reading the flood of tweets about it on Twitter, many of which were angry rants. My impression is that the definition of "banning" has changed. I’m definitely against truly banning books in any kind of FAHRENHEIT 451 kind of way. I think that adults should be able to read any and all literature. Traditionally, libraries have always housed a wide range of literature, including controversial literature, but they’ve never been expected to house everything that anyone’s ever placed in print. Much of the recent discussion on Twitter has expressed outrage that middle school libraries aren’t willing to stock young adult books about very adult subjects and invite the authors of those books to speak with all their students, the discussion referring to this as school systems "banning" books. Since middle school children vary widely in their individual stages of development, some middle schools actually house sixth graders in a different part of the school building than eighth graders. While some middle school children engage in adult activities, others are still playing with Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes. We haven’t "banned" alcohol, but it’s still not allowed to be served in middle school lunchrooms. There’s a reason for that. Controversial young adult books are in no way, shape or form being "banned". Individual kids struggling with drug addiction and adult problems are free to purchase young adult – or even adult books – on those subjects, and parents are free to buy the books for them if they think the books will help them through their struggles. Also, while there are many wonderfully written young adult novels, some of the young adult books to which I’m referring are not great works of literature by any stretch of the imagination; they simply sell well among a large enough group of teens and young adults to make money.

To expand on my analogy regarding alcohol, I’m certainly not against drinking it. However, it bothers me that beer companies host beach parties with beer kegs for college students’ spring break, and that reality TV shows supply alcohol to young adults so that they’ll feel free to act out and make interesting TV. Just because something makes money doesn’t make it right.

Susan Quinn said...

P. Grier - I am so glad we have teachers like you! And I do think many, many teachers think this way.

Erin said...

I don't have a banned book story, but close. I wasn't allowed to watch MTV as a kid. And the first time I snuck over to a friend's house to watch it, the very first video I saw was "Jeremy" by Pearl Jam- a video in which a tortured kid shoots himself in the head, splattering his blood on the classmates who'd bullied him. ...As a kid that was still recovering from a rough first year at a new school in which I'd suffered a lot of torment from the other kids, this video hit home in a terrifying way, and I was disturbed by it for days. I probably could've saved myself a few nightmares if I'd talked to my parents about what I'd seen, but of course I didn't because I knew I'd get in trouble and the MTV ban would probably continue in my house until college. But that experience taught me that censoring the art that kids are exposed to limits chances for important conversations and lessons. ...If I ever have kids, I will never ban a book in my house, but if I feel something is controversial or could be sending bad messages, you can bet I'll be reading it along with them in order to discuss it, whether they like it or not.

Susan Quinn said...

Also, I know from local experience that complaints about books in middle and high schools are sometimes not just about books available in the library, but books that are required reading in the schools.

This is almost the inverse of the banning issue - here the government (read: schools, because the government requires you to attend) is requiring children to read material that many in the community consider objectionable.

And Marilyn Peake - you are spot on!

Anonymous said...

Yes, Marilyn, that was perfect!

Jason Kurtz said...

Book censorship occurs when one person attempts to prevent another person from making the DECISION on their own to read or view material that is deemed permissible by the Federal government. If we truly live in a society where freedom of speech is valued, everyone should have the opportunity to make decisions for themselves.

One parent should not have the opportunity to control what another parent allows his or her child to have access to. Again, this is preventing a DECISION. This is really what Banned Books Week is about, the ALA making sure that parents know their rights and those individuals that try to take those rights away are wrong.

Public libraries have a responsibility as a branch of the government and public trust to provide a variety of material for public consumption. Book “banning” occurs when some patrons attempt to have material removed from the library, preventing other patron the ability to make a DECISION for themselves. Some of those materials will be objectionable to some patrons, but when has it ever occurred in all of humanity where everyone has agreed on everything?

It may be true that book banning on a national scale is no longer a common occurrence; however I can tell the “Wall Street Journal” editorial writer from personal experience that it happens on a local level, several times a year. And if it is happening here, it is happening all over. The statistics for book challenges at the ALA is a testament in itself.

Jody Sparks said...

I want my kids to explore everything while they live with me so I can guide them about how our family's values fit into what they've read and what our responsibilities are to change anything that they come across that's unfair or cruel or just plain wrong. I just did a blog post on why I let my kids read anything.

"http://jodysparks.com/2009/09/19/im-not-the-goalie-im-the-net/"

reader said...

Today getting your book banned by local libraries gets your book a ton of publicity and not much else as far a negativity.

Please, when (if) my book gets published, someone ban it!!

Cary said...

I've consumed plenty of books of every genre and some alcohol when appropriate...or maybe borderline.

Peake just peaked. Not a perfect anology, but food for thought. Right on!

This industry will never die as long as we keep reading to and watching our kids.

Cary
www.insidethehedges.com

Laura Martone said...

Hmm... what an interesting topic. Before today, I would've said "Yahoo!" to Banned Books Week - for I have always been a fierce advocate for non-censorship - but I must admit that the Muncy article has given me pause. I especially like his Ben Franklin quote - 'cause ol' Ben was right... how can you have an intelligent discourse without dissension?

While I get irritated on a regular basis by parents and teachers who want to ban books to avoid "tainting" the little ones... I must admit that, in a free country (as America is purported to be), people should be able to voice their opinions (no matter how hateful and/or misguided and/or revisionist they might seem).

Mark Terry said...

I don't care for his editorial much for its lack of coherence and clarity, but...

Public libraries, I think, should stock what the consumers demand and what they can afford, as should bookstores. Then, in terms of children, it's the parents' responsibility to decide what is or is not appropriate for their children to read.

Which then brings me to school libraries, where it is generally accepted that the teachers and staff are "in loco parentis," that is to say, "in lieu of the parents." So they presumably make some decisions about what the professional educators, school board, and the community, deems is appropriate. Which sometimes runs into problems, because, as we know, there are a lot of crazy people out there that want to turn the clock back to, well, hell, in the U.S., some want to turn the clock back to the 1950s, or in Afghanistan where the Taliban and Al-Qaeda want to turn it back about the 1500s. I don't want either one of them running my life or choosing what I or my children can or cannot read.

Laura Martone said...

I should clarify that, while I'm fine with dissension and people expressing their small-minded opinions, I DO NOT want said small-minded opinions to affect what books are available.

As Ann Victor wrote, "Freedom of choice is essential." (No matter where you live.)

beckylevine said...

For me, parental discretion works this way. When my son was younger, I had pretty much complete control over which books he got "offered." I did NOT have control over which he liked (Sorry, Wild Things!). As he got older and read more and faster and got referrals from friends, I had a lot less control. I also could not, unless I wanted to read none of my own books, read everything he was reading to see what it was about. So...parental discretion turns into parental awareness. Which means I listen when he tells me about something (discovering Flowers for Algernon in the school textbook) and getting him a book when he asks for it (1984). And it means I talk to him about the books I'm reading, so we keep the conversation open. It does NOT mean I tell him he can't read something. That's just laughable. And what it really does NOT mean is that I EVER tell a library or a school that "their" children cannot read something.

Yes, that matters just as much today as it did then, because you never know what book will hit a kid just so, or what book they will never get a chance at that COULD have been "the book."

As much as we would like to think otherwise, there are kids without easy internet access, kids who are embarrassed to admit to their friends that they read, let alone ask for recommendations or swap books with each other. My son will be fine, because we have a there-are-never-too-many-books policy in our house. I'm not worried about him. I am worried about the kids for whom one closed door is too much.

You asked! :)

P. Grier said...

One of the things that gets to me about banned book week is that the ALA's focus has shifted from being a positive influence to encourage reading, to being bogged down with their perception of banned books. A quick look at their website shows how focused they are on this endeavor.

Another thing I see is that people would like teachers and libraries to shelve any book, but they don't see the big picture. Teachers are decision makers and a gate keepers of knowledge. We are responsible for what comes into the classroom and what information is exchanged.

Outside of the classroom, I have no active opinion on what my kids read and see. And I encourage my students to be risk takers and to think about if a book is right for them. I stock books that, when I see a student has picked it up, I talk about it with them so they can get some guidance in deciding to read it or not. If it is in my room, though, they make the decision, not me.

This isn't censorship, this is what we do as adults. We give children the tools to make good decisions. And as a teacher, I have to see the whole picture, not just what might work for one child. And I have limited funds. And I pick my battles because I have limited time and energy.

If that is censorship, then, stamp me "censor".

Annalee said...

I'm with Neil Gaiman on this one: the fact that the book is at least ostensibly for sale where a kid can buy it does not mean kids have access to it.

How many twelve-year-olds have Amazon accounts? How many can purchase challenged books out of their own pocket money? It's all well and good to say their parents can buy it for them, but that presumes that their parents have the financial wherewithal to do so. The kids who most need free and open access to literature are the ones whose parents can't give it to them.

"Parental discretion vs. censorship" is right, because censorship limits parental discretion. Just as parents have the responsibility to monitor what their kids are watching, playing, and reading, they also have the right to decide what flies and what doesn't. Saying they should only have that right if they have the resources to buy it on Amazon defeats the whole purpose of libraries to begin with.

Also, governments are run on compromise, and that makes them lousy nannies. My values are not your values, which are not the values of the fellow down the street. And that is awesome, but also fragile.

Lorrie T. said...

Not-so-dear first Anon,

It is never appropriate to hope someone is dead. Censor yourself please.

Dana Fredsti said...

"I might concede a parental permission required for certain books if kids are taking them out by themselves. I think that's a more realistic debate, anyway."

Agreeing with Ink on this. I really despise censorship.

Rick Daley said...

"Oh the times, they are a-changin'"
- Bob Dylan

Censorship is very ineffective in this day and age. Look at the recent demonstrations in Iran, brought to the world via Twitter. The Iranian government tried to censor news of the domestic disputes but failed where not long ago they would have succeeded.

Even if the libraries banded together with the booksellers (including Amazon, etc.) and enforces a degree of true censorship, there would be a black market. If there's money to be made in any sale of goods, people will find a way to do it. Now this requires the censored material to have some intrinsic value, but assuming it does, it will find its audience eventually.

That being said, I'm all for content advisories. I want to know what my kids are getting into. Then I will make the decision of whether I will allow it or not. For me it boils down to how many questions I want to answer (and on what topics).

Anonymous said...

parents are free to deny their children the book. They can excercise their parental discretion with books the same way they can with music, movies, and websites. But, it is not up to the library to decide. If something is banned, it is because the library or book stores are refusing their clientele the book and this isn't right.

Anonymous said...

the other thing, how long can a parent really decide?

I was stealing my mom's romances when I was 12. Was that inappropriate material for a 12 year old? Yeah, probably. But I didn't turn around and start having sex just because I was reading books with people doing that any more than I would have murdered someone after reading Crime and Punishment in college. My actions and beliefs are usually not guided by the books I read.
anon 1:25p

Carolyn said...

It is my responsibility--and no one else's--to rear my children. I'll decided what is appropriate and when, for each of them individually. A library, government or other public entity can't possibly focus on individuals, and the unique needs of each different person. Parents can, and should.

Rearing my children includes teaching them the wisdom to make wise choices in books, music, movies--any and all choices that affect their well-being--mentally emotionally, spiritually and physically. Sooner or later they will be adults, and will be making those choices for themselves. I want them to have the skills they need to keep themselves safe, happy and productive. I am robbed of that opportunity when a ban decides for me.

I don't expect anyone to make parenting choices for me, and I certainly wouldn't presume to make those choices for other parents.

Scott said...

In order of appearance . . .

And perhaps more importantly, where is the line between parental and public discretion vs. censorship?

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that a line exists. I always (and I date myself as I write this) go back to the television show Dallas whenever this subject comes up. I wasn't allowed to watch Dallas until I was a sophmore in high school. Why? Because Mom/Dad said I couldn't watch it, and as long as they were home, I didn't. Yes, when they went out on a Friday I snuck peeks at this forbidden show. Still, their house, their rules, and all that jazz which is parental discretion. Do I think Mom/Dad should have started a protest about the show? No. I think when the views of a certain group of people take away the choices of other people (public banning of books, for example) then there is definitely something wrong.



Should public libraries stock everything and let patrons decide what is inappropriate?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

What about books that, say, incite prejudice or that the majority of a community feels is inappropriate for children?

Yes! Yes! Yes! Everything is subjective, including what might "incite prejudice or that that majority of a community feels is inappropriate for children". My dislike for a book's content shouldn't allow the book to be banned.

Who should decide?

In the end, a parent must decide what they want or don't want their children exposed to when reading, going to the movies or watching television. At a certain point, parents are going to have to let their children make their own decisions. That decision, however, shouldn't infringe upon the rights of others to read certain books or watch certain movies or television shows.

In the end, whatever the content, to totally ban a book is censorship.

S

Q said...

I think libraries should stock what they think their communities will read, because libraries don't have endless budgets. As for parents, at a certain point they need to trust their kids' discretion about what they will read.

Terry said...

Lots of questions, yes.

As far as children are concerned, I think the more a child reads, the better prepared he or she is to face real life. Imo,hiding things from a child is going to put him or her at a disadvantage later on.

It's good to discuss books and movies with them though. That way you can guide them.

I'm with Ink on this one. It's not my place to tell someone else what their kids can or cannot read.

And then there's the whole forbidden fruit thing.

kyred said...

I would have to say that banning books is a moot point in the age of internet, and instant access. However, nothing substitutes for good parental guidance.

I think the public library should carry everything, but the school library should be discretionary. That's not to say that they should "ban" books, but kids need a lot of clear messages about what is appropriate. If they see it in context they'll understand. Will they still read stuff that's maybe inappropriate? Well, yeah. Didn't we all do what our parents told us not to? And then didn't we mostly grow into our parents values anyway?

I think that families have the most influence on children and I don't want anyone to tell my child what he can or cannot read, but I don't mind if others make suggestions to him about what may be "age appropriate."

Kimber An said...

I don't believe the public library should ban any book, because it's there for everyone.

As a parent, I do believe parents need to take responsibility for what their children read. That's not censorship. That's good parenting. A parent should be taking his or her children to the library and helping her choose books from the earliest age and forbidding certain books according to their own set of family values, but then slowly back off as they mature and find their own paths in life.

I read AUSCHWITZ as a teenager and handled it fine. Now, it'd give me nightmares. I shudder to think of my own children reading it, yet I believe all human beings ought to read it by adulthood.

Rhonda said...

By chance, just this morning I located an article on the internet about the history of libraries in America. Here is one paragraph from it, "In 1876, the U.S. centennial year, the American Library Association held a conference in Philadelphia. Roughly one hundred librarians (including 13 women) gathered "for the purpose of promoting the library interests of the country." Topics at the meeting included what sort of readers to allow into the libraries and what sort of books they should be permitted to use. This was all new. In the past, collections were pretty well defined, as were the members/readers. But with cheap paper and mass production, new books were being published at unprecedented rates, and librarians wanted to provide guidance to the masses on appropriate reading."

I find it interesting that libraries have been doing some sort of "censorship" from the beginning. I'm not a supporter of censorship per se, but I can see why someone has to make some choices about what to offer. I don't have any knowledge about how credible the web site I was reading is, but reading about the history of libraries is actually pretty interesting.

Anna Claire said...

Censorship isn't moot in the Internet age. Most books that get banned at school are required reading-type books. They're not typically books that every kid is going to rush out and read if they aren't "forced" to read them for school. These books are important, which is why they're assigned, and kids might not be exposed to them otherwise.

I think the best method (and one that was adopted at a high school where I live, when A Lesson Before Dying was challenged) is to keep the challenged book in the curriculum, but offer an alternative book/assignment for parents and kids who are offended by the challenged book.

Public libraries should stock what they want. Nobody is forcing some lame parent or her kids to read Harry Potter if they don't want to.

Parents will let their teens play super-violent video games and watch PG13 movies, but won't let them read a good piece of literature with a few curse words and a mention of boobs? Give me a break.

Jennifer K. said...

Parents have the right to decide what their kids can and can't read. They do not have the right to make that decision for anyone else.

I think school libraries should stock age appropriate books (The Gossip Girl books probably wouldn't fit at an elementary school, but they certainly would at a highschool, and a Penthouse Forum book has no place at a highschool), but Public Libraries should stock whatever they want.

If someone complains because their kids got their hands on a 'grown up' book, then perhaps they should go back to Parenting 101 to relearn that they are solely responsible for their kids actions, and if they don't want their child reading certain things, perhaps they should pay more attention.

The Storylady said...

I agree with the ALA that the parents are the primary ones to decide what a child reads. However, my local library also has a policy that I am not allowed to review what my minor child has checked out on her library card. Isn't that contradictory? If she goes to the library on her own, and can easily hide from me what she checked out, how else can I be the parent in charge?

Also, remember the "it takes a village" mantra. If the village thinks some materials are inappropriate for minor children in a school, they should be allowed to pick and choose what goes into that school.

Karen Schwabach said...

Agree with all those who say: no censorship, no way. People who object to their children reading certain books need to take it up with their children.

Personally I think children should be allowed to read anything they want but that some books that are classified as children's books probably should be classified as adult books-- which children should then be allowed to check out of the library.

And I do envy banned writers the free publicity.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

I'm racking my brains to see how I can make this relate to censorship...it's an image on wikipedia that is public domain - The North American Tapestry of Time and Terrain:

http://pubs.usgs.gov/imap/i2781/

Well, I just love the name OF the map, and the map itself...North America as a midnight rainbow...and what a fiction book title it would make...but, I did just start reading Ian McEwan's THE INNOCENT, so perhaps I'll get a pass on this one measly off-topic post... :)

PS I thought of NB's blog, because if this map was an animated video, well, you all might be enjoying it some Friday! (I think that's when videos get posted around here).

Ok I'll go away now (hi Mira & Laura the travel writer)

Wanda B.

Fawn Neun said...

Returning to the scene of the crime, I have to say as a parent I'd be beaming with pride if my kids 'snuck' books behind my back! :)

It's my job to say what my kids can and can't read, it's their job to test those boundaries. Rebellion for the sake of knowledge is a beautiful thing.

It's indicative of curiousity and intelligence and self-determination. I want the libraries to have those books! I want them to listen to the underground whispers and seek the forbidden and to learn and to thrill to the written word.

I think I'll go home right now and forbid something wonderful and slightly exotic. Hopefully, they'll sneak behind my back and read between the boards of their dull, lifeless textbooks.

Any suggestions? :)

J.J. Bennett said...

Parent disretion is everything in my mind. I hate only being able to offer certain books where I work. My librarian is against many authors, not just banned books. I personally don't think that's fair. Her opionions should not be a part in choice on the students part.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Definitely parental discretion. But with that comes the caveat that us parents READ the darn book, too -- and discuss anything that bugs them/us.

Anonymous said...

Fawn, IMO your kids will question your all of your rules, and think you might be a little mental if you ban something because for no better reason than you want them to read it.

All it takes to get my kids to read something is to say I like it, but honestly they normally tell me what to read and what not to. They have a lot more time than I do. BTW they hate it when they get a hold of something aimed at their age but isn't appropriate for them.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I work in a library, am in library school, and I'm working toward a publishing career, so when I haven't been involved in Banned Books Week activities over here, I've been reading posts about them. And the focus in most places has changed to celebrating both banned and (unsuccessfully) challenged books, of which there are still plenty.

First of all, it's impossible for any library, or even library system, to buy everything that comes out; although there are selection criteria to guide purchasing decisions, not buying everything could be looked at as a form of censorship, if one wished.

I'm not in favor of children reading extremely violent material, or books that are too mature for them to understand (although every kid varies in their maturity and comprehension, so age-specific blanket labels don't work), but I do think it's the parents' responsibility to make sure their materials are appropriate. Of course, material meant for adults will be housed in that section of the library--it's up to the parents to make sure the kids don't wander over there if they don't want them exposed to that material. (Even if a librarian were to say something, half the time the parent would chastise them for telling the kid what to do.) If there's material a parent finds objectionable in the children's section...well, freedom of speech gives them the right to complain, and the library might heed their advice and reshelve or weed the book if they deem that fit. If the library chooses to do nothing, parents certainly have the right to keep their child from reading it, but they don't have the right to dictate what is or isn't allowed for everyone else. Libraries provide a service; if that aspect disappoints too greatly, the patron is free to leave. Really, what's best though is for parents to teach their children to deal with all these Big Scary Things they're worried their kids will read about, especially since the more you forbid something, the more the child is going to want to seek it out.

But this is a huge ethical issue that is still being debated in the library community.

What about books that, say, incite prejudice or that the majority of a community feels is inappropriate for children?
We could take this back farther. Why is it the library's responsibility to suppress this book? Why was it even published in the first place?

Ink said...

Interesting discussion, particularly on the sort of conflation going on in the debate, where the task of choosing stock is being wedged in with the removal of stock. Those are very different issues, I think. You can't choose everything, and failing to choose something is not banning it. I think people have a right to voice their opinion about what books a library should provide, and librarians, teachers, etc., have the right to select (or not-select) books according to appropriateness. Limited resources makes this task inescapable.

That's quite different, however, from someone demanding a book's removal. That is, not saying that they don't want to read it, or want their children reading it... but that no one else can read it. Ever. One person's opinion should not prevent the opportunity for other people to develop their own.

I think those two scenarios are quite different, and it's dangerous to conflate the two.

My best,
Bryan

Sam Hranac said...

As a parent, I determine what my kids can see hear and read. I become less restrictive in the use of this power over time. Now that my son is almost 14, I ask him to use his own wisdom and please don't try to sneak into R movies. He's a great kid and shows good judgment (better than me at his age).

But I expect degenerate underground comics, frightening images, wrenching noises and Palin's book to be readily available to him throughout his adult life.

Parents should raise their kids. Society can help, but is not in charge of this. Adult sections of book stores are as much censorship as we need.

Paula said...

Libraries should not "censor" books. Of course each library drafts and adheres to its own collections policy, which means that some books don't make it onto the shelves. Budgets also confer restrictions on acquisitions.

But outside of collections policy constraints, neither librarians nor the communities they serve should reject books just because of their content. It's up to the individual--and in the case of children, to their parents as well--to decide whether or not to read a given book and what to think of it.

Frankly, with Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs, etc. available to everyone these days, can there be any point in censoring books? What people say on the Internet is more inflammatory--if that's what you're worried about--than what's in any book.

Courtney Johnson said...

I think like many other posters here, I firmly believe in a parent's right to be the final word in what their children read. If you don't want your children to read Harry Potter or Huck Finn or even the Bible (Nevermind that it has a lot more violence and adult topics than most any book a high school student would be assigned...) that's just fine by me. It's when those ideas are enforced on other people that I start to get all touchy.

You can't kill an idea, and what's a book but an idea put to paper?

Suzan Harden said...

Wow. I wish I had the problem of of taking away an "inappropriate" book from my son. Ironic that Nathan has this topic on the same day I blogged about my struggle to get my son reading again after a bad encounter with a teacher.

My vote - parental discretion.

Anne-Marie said...

Parental discretion all the way.

I am reading Lois Lowry's The Giver to my grade 5/6 class right now as I have for many years. It raises a lot of disturbing questions, but I have never once had a complaint from a parent regarding the book. On the contrary, I've had parents come up to borrow a copy because their kids have insisted they need to read it.

ajcastle said...

I don't like other people deciding what is okay for my kids to read and what isn't. While there are some books that go on the "banned" list that I probably wouldn't let my kids read, I would rather it be my choice.

As with a lot of things now a days it seems like those in higher up positions are dictating a lot of what is okay and what's not. My vote goes to parental discretion.

Grapeshot/Odette said...

As a kid I was a voracious reader and my parents had no clue what I read. Was some of it "inappopriate?" Assuredly. Over my head? Yup. Literary swill? Absolutely. Did one word I read, including that then shocking word in "Guadalcanal Diary" harm me in any way? Nope. I read comic books, cereal boxes and Argosy with the same concentration.

I did become a more discerning reader and left "Forever Amber" and "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle" behind.

Sissy said...

I commented earlier and just now came back to see what else had been said on the topic. Interesting theme going on here...most of us say that parents should decide what is appropriate for their child in accordance with their family's beliefs. But I have to comment and say that most of us are avid readers, writers and are carrying on a love affair with books. But the people we're talking about, the ones that want to ban books are the ones that don't love the written word, and find offense in books with different beliefs than their own. They probably haven't read Harry Potter before deciding it was evil and writing the letter to the ALA, or storming into the library and demanding it be removed.

What tends to happen to me is that a mom or dad approaches me about something objectionable in a book (that their daughter read, mostly.) I get books with post-its stuck on the pages with the bad content, or words underlined. I've had parents cry about the smut I pushed into their child's hands (uh, I have 700 kids and 12,000 books...you think I selected it for them personally?) I've had dads yell at me on the school sidewalk. One mom of a 6th grader blamed me for the fact that she finally had to tell her daughter about the birds and the bees because of the trash novel she came home with in her bookbag. I think the daughter should have been told that already, but hey, I'm not the parent.

But the kicker was one mom who asked me if she wanted me to get a group of parents together to read all the books and decide if they were appropriate. Um, no. Each parent can decide for their kid, not for everyone, but it's a heady responsibility for school librarians. The parents have the power and everyone knows it, but not everyone uses it well.

Nathan, you sure opened up a topic that is interesting. How do you agents decide what should and shouldn't be in a book? Is there anything you ever come across and think, "this is pushing the envelope of good taste?" I would be curious to hear about it from your perspective.

bibliobibuli said...

I wish we could make this an international fight. I live in Malaysia where books are banned regularly (and we face fines or imprisonment for their possession) and others seized by the Home Ministry without reason, or pulled from university or bookshop shelves. We are greatly inspired by the ALA's fight and by the insistence that all books should be accessible.

Dick Margulis said...

"Availability" is a red herring. Library budgets being what they are, the vast majority of books are not available in school or public libraries.

The fights over book banning are entirely about the conflict between two sets of values, those of the librarian (whose interest is in broadening the horizons of young minds) and those of, typically, the religious conservative parent (whose interest is in narrowing the horizons of young minds).

So the reasons for having a Banned Books Week are sound. But the conflict would disappear if a parent simply said to a librarian, "I understand that you have the right to stock your library as you see fit, but I would ask that you let me decide what my child is ready for. And to that end, please do not let my child borrow these books." That's the way adults communicate. Petitioning to ban a book so that nobody else's child can read it exemplifies the logic of a two-year-old.

Kathleen said...

my two cents: I'm not sure how the internet make Huck Finn "readily available" to all kids. Many many kids don't have access to the internet. Probably the kids who would really rely on the library to supply them with books.

Also, what kids have paypal or a credit card to order a book from Amazon or whatever? Use of the internet to obtain a book would often require parental help, which use of the library doesn't.

So, in sum, I don't agree at all that the existence of the internet in its current form makes the issue of censorship for kids less pressing.

Dawn Maria said...

As a parent, I feel we have the responsibility and right to censor what media and literature our children use. I didn't let my boys read the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS book because I didn't like the language and how stupid the adults were. They were young and more impressionable in terms of copying behavior back then than they are now at 16 & 13.

As they've grown older, I've allowed a large number of content most would censor in the areas of music, video and literature. Obviously I can't control what they see and do outside of my house (or after I'm sound asleep) but I doubt it's much.

I don't just blindly allow explicit content, we discuss and share it. When we sing along with Green Day, everyone says the F-bombs. And I'll never apologize for giving my older son a copy of THE THINGS THEY CARRIED.

Literature still provides one of the best looks into other worlds and points of view. The discussion of those topics should never end, especially in a house with children.

The Last Witness said...

I will play Devil's advocate and ask how you would feel if something you actually objected to was placed in the school library. For the sake of argument, and to make sure it's considered offensive, let's say it's a Playboy magazine for people who practice beastiality. The annual "Lassie" edition, in fact.

What do you do?

Ink said...

Dawn Maria,

The Things They Carried is one of my all-time favourite books! Heck, I even wrote a book because of that book. I figure that's pretty high praise. Hope your son liked it.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I believe in Parental Discretion.

But I'm also surprised to read about how parents of teenagers underestimate their kids. You think you can watch what they read, but you can't.

Between the ages of 13 and 18 there were a few Penthouses under my mattress. And I don't think Mom knew about them :)

WhiteOpal said...

Hello everyone.

This is an interesting question in an age of evolving technology and its embedness in teenagers today. There is never a simple answer when parenting as more influnces come from outside the home than ever before due to the ease of access to information, banned or otherwise, available to your children and their friends. As one knows if its available to friends you may as well consider it yours too.

To counter this it is best to teach your family values young,in-utero :-), instill a sense of self worth and the ability to make good choices, but acknolwedge there are many types of family values but you want your children to follow yours.

When curiosity strikes and they can't fight the urge to open a book of any kind, hopefully the young person will make the right choice for them to match their values that they develop as they grow from all the information they have at hand. They probably won’t be exactly the same as the parental values, maybe they will be even better if given a chance.

Smile, phew first blog post done!
Cheers

Marilyn Peake said...

I suddenly remembered a situation where I "censored" myself, but I would hardly call it "banning" or "censoring" my own books. Shortly after my trilogy of middle grade fantasy adventure novels – THE FISHERMAN’S SON, RETURN OF THE GOLDEN AGE, and THE CITY OF THE GOLDEN SUN – were published, I was invited into schools and after-school programs to speak. The main character, Wiley O’Mara, is a twelve-year-old boy from the beginning of the nineteenth century. His father is an alcoholic and his mother dies from disease passing through their village. When his father leaves home to go on a drinking binge, Wiley travels through a magical forest on his way to find a priest to bury his mother, and there encounters his destiny to become a great hero. My middle grade novels are meant for eight to twelve year olds and carry the message that, no matter how difficult a child’s situation, they can become a great hero. When I was asked to speak with pre-schoolers and kindergartners, I didn’t read excerpts about alcoholism or disease. Even when I spoke with middle grade children, I didn’t read excerpts aloud about sensitive issues because I wasn’t sure what each child might be going through in their lives. Instead, I read excerpts about Wiley O’Mara’s grand adventures traveling on the back of a magical dolphin to an ancient city beneath the ocean. I also talked with the children about how much fun I had doing research for my books, and I showed them amazing photographs of undersea creatures. The kids had a great time and asked me lots of questions about what it’s like to be a writer. I censored the material I presented out of courtesy to the children ... and, in the case of pre-schoolers and kindergartners, because they were so young ... but I hardly felt "censored" or deprived as a writer. It was very rewarding when some of the children told me, after my presentation, that they hope to be writers when they grow up.

Loren Eaton said...

Is it proper to say that something is banned when it is widely available for purchase and not declared a criminal possession by a local or centralized government?

Jemi Fraser said...

When I read through some of the lists of books that have been banned I was a little surprised to find several I've read aloud in my classroom. Probably more than 10 -- and I teach in an elementary school. There are some truly wonderful books on those lists!

Andrew said...

My heart tells me that banning books is a truly bad idea, in direct contravention to the First Amendment.

My head tells me that we ban what we fear.

My eyes have seen the child tormented by sadists schooled in violent pornography, and proud of it.

My hands have held the remains of a brother, shredded by an IED whose design was downloaded from the Internet.

And where do we go from here?

Anonymous said...

As the mother of 5 it is MY job to decide what is age appropriate for them to read.

My husband is an Army soldier and served his country for 21 years, so far. Freedom of speech does and should include books, even if we don't agree w/ the subject matter.

wickerman said...

They should ban Nathan's book. He watches reality TV and as such cannot be trusted to influence children... or me for that matter.

J. Jones said...

I hate all forms of censorship. I understand why people want to ban certain books. Really I do. But I am a staunch supporter of the First Amendment, and the verbiage there is exceptionally clear. It was paramount to the Founding Fathers, and is so significant that it has not been altered since its inception.

A few years back, I was watching a program about the Ku Klux Klan, I believe on Discovery. During the program, a gathering was presented during which the members of the Klan were using their hate speech in a public area. There was a crowd of people around, shouting back at them, and a line of police between the two to make sure things didn't get out of hand.

My wife asked me, "Why are those cops protecting those guys? They're saying those horrible things."

Now I don't particularly like the Klan. However, those guys weren't doing anything wrong, no matter how much I disagree with their message. They were merely having a public gathering to recruit using their message. They threatened no one, and no hostile actions were taken. Therefore, they were entitled to police protection, which was provided for them as much as for the others who gathered in opposition.

As I said, I do not agree with that message (my father is black). But it is certainly their right to say it, as long as they are not harming anyone physically. We shouldn't ban their speech any more than we should ban Huck Finn or any other story.

Amy Cochran said...

I am reminded of my school years. Through out middle school we were expected to read a number of books as part of the literary curriculum. As you may have guessed this exact debate became a hot topic within the school district. I only remember three books on that entire list: The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt, I Am The Cheese by Robert Cormier and Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. The school district approved all of the works pending parental discretion. In a bold move the school board announced that it was the responsibility of the school district to educate those children under their tutelage. However, it was the moral responsibility of the parent to determine if the content was appropriate for their child.

I agree, it is the responsibility of the parent to decide what is or is not appropriate for their child. External censorship is appalling and can easily be taken too far. What would people think of external censorship if the Bible were to be the subject of a ban because some thought it contained inappropriate material for young readers? Just a question.

Gal. Emp. Palpatine, D.L.S., Esq. said...

I think there's an important difference between a public library and a school library. I think there's an important difference between the childrens' shelf and the adults' shelf. I think there's an important difference between "banning" (or "censoring") and simply "removing". "Banning," incidentally, is not on the table here in any serious sense of the word, which makes "Banned Books Week" a bit of a sensationalistic misnomer -- something that looks good on cable news but doesn't serve civil conversation one bit.

I think this conversation would shed a lot more light and a lot less smoke on the matter if these distinctions were borne more closely in mind.

For myself, I do think school librarians -- and their supervisors -- should be empowered to remove books from the shelves (or move them to a restricted section) if parents find the material inappropriate and the school agrees. There's nothing wrong with acting as a community, applying community values, to protect children. If that means one community removes Jack Chick and another removes And Tango Makes Three from school shelves -- and it is still available at other venues -- that seems -- to me -- like the fulfillment a free society, not a betrayal of it.

Cat said...

Censorship for book is a concept that I do not understand. I am German, and after our experiences with burning books during the Third Reich there would be an outrage if our government tried to ban books.

I don't see it as a problem either. Ususally, books no one is interested in will not survive long on the shelves. All others are important - and if a kid is grown up enough to read something more challenging we should be proud of them and not hinder them. The important bit is that as a parent you need to talk with your children about what they read. You can't leave them alone when they face rape, racism, drug abuse etc. in the stories. You need to help them come to their own conclusions.

Understanding and tolerance are what parents (and gouvernments) should aim for.

Vacuum Queen said...

I just would like a "heads up" as to content before I buy a book or check it out for my oldest kid. And when he checks his own stuff out, I appreciate that the library has a "13 and older" rule on some books. That at least makes me stop in my tracks and read the back or look up info or read a random page inside. Most likely he can read it, I just want the heads up that there may be a topical issue to discuss. So, I'm more about discretion vs censorship.
The internet sure helps my cause too...I can read a review in no time. Although, my son has 3 books going on right now for different areas of school, so it's obvious that keeping up with them is tough. Some of it doesn't come home until midbook also. You just can't be as on top of it as you want to be as a parent, no matter how hard you try, so I appreciate a wee bit of help to the parents' direction. :)

Debra Moolenaar said...

If, as some statistics suggest, the average age of first sexual intercourse is 12 years AND elementary school kids are drug pushers AND they all watch the evening news, the what is it that we really think we are 'hiding' from them when we censor books?

More to that matter, historically censorship was just as big an issue for books aimed at adults as it was for kids (remember DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover was self-published in Italy to avoid US and UK censorship law).

Might it not be that censorship of all types has always had more to do with political agendas than with a genuine concern for anyone's welfare?

Debra Moolenaar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Most censorship splits into two targets; 1.Adults and/or 2. Children.

1. Adults
Anyone that cannot see both the dangers and the stupidy of censorship targeted at adults has been brainwashed!

The main argument translates as "most adults are actually children and we must protect them from themselves".
Those demanding such censorship, however, are actually stating "My way, my ideas are what count, everyone else must be forced to comply".
That they dress it up in 'feel good' terms is neither here nor there.

2. Children.
This is a much tougher debate. Anyone that has tried to explain a complex concept to a child and then listened to the way they interpret it based on their limited knowledge and experience, becomes well aware of the difficulty of such communication.

Many topics have a pre-requisite of experience and knowledge before they can sensibly be discussed.

It is also true that a depressingly large majority of child rearers have little to no comprehension of how to be a nurturing parent. This, and not the biologial age of the child, determines the danger of exposing a child to certain things.

I am, therefore, neutral on legal forms of censorship to 'protect children'.

With my children, I prefer that they are exposed to sex, violence, and many forms of bigotry and prejudice in my company. I have nurtured their trust, I know their capabilities of comprehension, and I can counter the schoolyard myths and stupidities.
I also know that censorship is now literally unenforceable. Both I and the children of inadequate parents can bypass it easily.

I'd merely suggest that putting effort into educating parents would be a far more worthwhile approach compared to attempting such censorship. Trouble is, that is neither the vote nor the feelgood complacency/lp service winner - is it.

Shannon said...

I don't think that a book can "incite prejudice". Prejudice is something learned/absorbed from the environment in which one grows; or possibly an unreasonable "conclusion" that one reaches after an experience. A child raised to not see differences between people as significant is not going to become a racist at age 13 because they read Huck Finn...

Amber said...

*insert frustrated flailing here* Some of these bans are completely absurd. The Supernaturalist, by Eoin Colfer, has nothing to do with occult (that I can derive, it was one of my favorites in middle school). Parents look at the covers and titles and assume things, or assume based on rumors, which we all know are blown out of proportion as they get passed around.

Anyways.

I find it ironic and depressing that we now live in a community where parents'll raise hellfire about what books their children read and demand the libraries and schools to ban them, but these same parents will let their children watch R-rated films. Essentially, if they're complaining about one thing, they OUGHT to be complaining about the other. It's almost as though because books are the written word, they're more dangerous.

Parents should take the interest and responsibility of censoring what their children read themselves. It's not the governments job to do that. It has better things to do.

Yeah. That's a very condensed summary of my feelings on the topic. Ranting in full is what my blog is for. :-P

M. said...

My parents never supervised what books I read, and by the time I was twelve, I'd read plenty of "adult books" that had explicit violence and sexual content. Since my parents were the kind of people who told me to cover my eyes when a makeout scene came on the TV, I'm pretty sure they would have been horrified if they had actually bothered to look at what I was reading (though strangely, violence was A-Okay, but sex was bad and I had to cover my eyes). Honestly, I don't think the exposure has harmed me in any way. Children have a strong BS meter, and books are--for the most part--a lot more honest about life than TV or parents will ever be. Did I think the sex and violence was interesting? Hell yes, but it didn't make me run to the romance/erotica shelves. All it did was give me a ton of information, so I could learn how to put that information in context.

When you limit the kinds of books children can read, you are limiting their access to information, limiting their ability to understand social situations, and limiting their development. You are implicitly saying: I don't trust you to be able to read about dangerous behavior without wanting to emulate it. Thank god my parents didn't limit my book choices they same way they did my TV, because otherwise, by the time I reached young-adulthood, I would have been burning with curiosity about all these "forbidden" topics (like my peers were) and probably prompted to make bad decisions.

The Last Witness said...

And for all the defenders of an "absolute" restriction on any kind of censorship, I wonder how many would allow their children to roam the internet freely, to any porn or hate page they freely desire.

No censorship, remember?

Oh, and Deborah, do you restrict any access to words or pictures to your children at any age?

If so, it's censorship, decided by you, the parent.

Watery Tart said...

I agree with the very first commenter wholeheartedly. While the internet age means the book is not entirely unavailable, what it DOES make censorship, is a class issue.

People with the internet and a credit card can get whatever they want. People with no credit card are limited to what is free, and people with no internet have no access at all to what is not in their local library.

I think public libraries should have EVERYTHING available. School libraries are a more difficult line to walk, but I would hedge toward 'having it' but requiring parental permission for some content (the equivalent of rated R, I guess), though honestly, by high school I think students should have access to read what they want to--exposure is what gives us critical thinking skills. People with no expousure before adulthood, may never have them.

SZ said...

Trying to censor a child is tricky even for a good parent. As a mischievious little brat in the 60s & 70s I still found ways to see what I was not supposed to. "Hidden" Playboys at a pals house was an afternoon for us kids on the block. I read the Exorcist probably earlier then a child should.

P. Grier said...

What I see many people arguing is a no-brainer. Of course parents should have control over what their kids read. Of course kids should be allowed a diverse selection of books. Does anyone really argue that?

What isn't being discussed so much is what censorship actually is. The ALA site has a list of banned and challenged books-- read the list, the books are challenged in schools, far less from libraries. Then read the reasons the book are on the list-- many of them were simply removed from required readings lists, or changed for another book, something that happens all the time.

There is a plethora of excellent books, teachers change them all the time for various reasons. But, according to the ALA, if a book has been changed because it was challenged by a parent, it now has status on the list.

So, parents, the ALA is against you challenging the books your child is assigned to read in school. They are pleased enough to disallow your power instance.

The lesson here is, have the audacity to question a book your child is told to read, and you are one of the bad people. Don't question.

The schools and libraries who serve our children are, and should be, a reflection of what the community wants. Parents should have the right to question a book that seems to be a pet project of a teacher.

Ink said...

P. Grier,

I agree with that, but I think there's a difference depending on the "challenge". It's different to say "I don't want my child reading that" (and substituting something else to read) than it is to say "I don't want any student to read that." The first, to me, is parental discretion, and the second, to me, is advocating book banning.

pambelina said...

My parents never censored what I read. They knew they had given me the tools to assess the good and the bad. Every book has value, even if it teaches by showing a bad example.

Naomi Johnson said...

Perhaps the WSJ is more complacent about the loss of liberties in the world than I. Perhaps the mainstream press no longer feels that the adamant guarding of the First Amendment is a worthy mission. But what would one expect of a Rupert Murdoch publication anyway?

I don't want to tell my kids what to read, I just want them to read. Whether it's 'Chocolate Wars,' 'Harry Potter,' comic books, or Harlequin romances or Mein Kampf - just read. The broader the scope of their reading, the more informed they become. The more informed, the better their decision-making. Guarding our children against ideas is one of the greatest disservices we can do for them.

Anonymous said...

Books shouldn't be banned per se. Perhaps something so far outside the pale should be available only after the reader passes a security check...after all, who knows? They might be terrorists or something. Why fight them here when we can fight them there? If you get my drift. And providing them (the terrorists, of course) with a book that could be harmful to us here...well, those books should be security restricted...or something. Okay, maybe banning books is a good thing...sometimes, right? For the common good, okay? Yeah. Let's just make everyone pass a security check first. That way we don't ban the books per se...just the readers.

Anonymous said...

i personally think that books should not be banned, yes parents should have the finally say in what there kids read but they do not have the right to take away what another kid's parents might want them to read

Anonymous said...

What bothers me the most are the schools that not only will not carry certain books in the libary, but order teachers to give detentions to students even seen off school grounds reading them! And, the teacher is threatened if he/she does not. (true story)

I think there is a lot of obuse in any sort of banning situation...and it is all rather sad.

Paul Neuhardt said...

I suppose I should read the other comments before I sound off. I should, but I'm not going to. Sorry if I repeat others.

Let's be practical for a moment. To say that book banning in libraries was only an issue pre-internet isn't really true, is it? How many tween and teen-agers do you know that have their own credit cards to buy books on the internet? Sure, parents can buy the books for them, and let's heap some praise on those that do.

But how many parents are there that simply can't afford to buy books whenever their children want them? A lot more than some people think. Food and shelter sometimes come first for those families, and libraries are vital for kids living in those households.

I think there are other issues of practicality here, but I won't get in to them, because...

[scraping sound of soap box being dragged out] Isn't it the job of the schools to expose our children to a wide variety of thoughts, issues and expressions beyond what they get at home? It makes my blood boil to hear "Oh, well, parents can just do it at home if they want their kids to see or hear that sort of thing." Sorry, but I thought I was paying all those taxes to fund the school so they could play their part in teaching my children?

This is just as annoying to me as those lazy parents that don't bother to encourage their kids to study or to read because "that is what schools are for." It's a cooperative effort, folks, and neither the schools nor the parents should be handicapped in teaching their kids a wide variety of material.

Yes, yes, I know: "What if a parent objects to what is being taught at school?" How about having that parent step up to the plate, work with their child and say, "Yes, there are people out there with those points of view ro who do these things, but in this family we think they are wrong to do so. Here is what we believe and why." Think of it as a real educational opportunity to work with your child and help instill your values in them through the use of a counter-example. It's a gosh-darned effective instructional method, I assure you.

[scraping sound, fading in to the distance as soap box is returned to storage] Thank you for your time, and I apologize for the rant. As someone who gained much of my love of reading from my grandmother the school librarian, I have some sensitivity regarding this subject, and I'm prone to express myself without the tact filter in place.

Janny said...

Parents should decide. Period. And schools should be attentive to what parents say...NOT the other way around.

And libraries, supported with our tax dollars, should be answerable, to a large degree, to said parents (who are coincidentally enough paying the taxes to support them).

I am wholeheartedly and unreservedly in agreement with the WSJ editorial. It's about time someone said these things out loud, about time someone acknowledged the skewed authority that librarians and other book-buyers have in attempting to browbeat and call parents names for simply wanting to keep their kids "kids" for a little longer...and about time someone said, out loud, what has always been true: there is nowhere near the "censorship" problem in this country that a small group of screaming liberal "artists" want to claim there is.

If people want to experience true censorship, let them go pretty much anywhere else in the world and attempt to get away with many of the vile things that are performed, written, and portrayed "artistically" in our country. Their "art" would not only be shut down cold, but they might well have to fear for their lives.

Enough bleating is enough. If you think the US is a "censoring" environment, you truly don't know what you're missing. :-) Only the manmade global warming nonsense is a bigger, and possibly more dangerous, myth than the idea that we have to "watch" our culture or "they'll start banning things."
Unfortunately, you feed young minds enough nonsense persistently enough, and they'll start to believe it...and they have, for far too long. Which is why this WSJ editorial was such a welcome breath of fresh air amidst the clamor.

JB

Ink said...

Janny,

Yes, censorship is far worse in other countries. But I'm not sure how that means we should ignore it in our own. We don't have much censorship here for the very reason we don't ignore it.

And you want parents to decide... but what do you mean by that? You seem to want to restrict book access. But that becomes not parents deciding, but very particular parents with very particular points of view deciding for everyone. Parents should decide - for their own children. I'd really appreciate you not deciding for mine.

I don't want books removed from my child's (or my own) hand just because someone else doesn't like it. If they don't like it they don't have to read it, or allow their children to read it. That's their right and, indeed, their responsibility as a parent. But that right and responsibility extends only to their own children - not mine. That's my right and responsibility, and I prefer when people respect that.

My best,
Bryan

Christina said...

Kids checking out of the library with certain books should have a permission slip from their parents saying it is okay to read. Mostly with the smaller children who may not even knowing it come out with a adult book instead of Nancy Drew. Parents should have a better say in what their own child is reading. The library shouldn't as much.

Anonymous said...

well i cant say almost anything cause i don't have kids but you should let kids read anything they want BUT they have to be over twelve cause that's when they become teenagers

Mike said...

Second posting on this topic.

Many of the pro-censorship arguments here remind me of a concept held dear by many religions - that of avoiding temptation. This expands into avoiding the bad things in life, trying to deny their existence.

I find that idea misguided.

Is it not by facing temptation, and ultimately denying it, that we grow stronger?
Don't we actually deal with the bad things in life by facing them and fighting them?

A bigot will spread their message, with or without their books being censored. Other's will pick up that message, with or without recourse to such books.

We can't fight that by pushing it underground. Didn't the alcohol prohibition teach us anything?

We can fight it by exposing it, providing counter reasoning, show up the fallacies and debunk the myths.
It's also very useful to know exactly who suports such bigotry, encourage them to come out into the open.

I discussed bigotry here. The same argument applies to each and every one of the subjects many wish to censor.

Maya said...

Why should a few people get to decide what everyone reads? Everything is not available for free on the internet...the library is a valuable resource for kids (or adults) that don't have a lot of money. So we can hardly assume the internet means any book is accessible to anyone.

Censorship is generally about a subset of people trying to impose their values onto the population at large. It has always caused more harm then good, and easily becomes a slippery slope to boot.

number1prof said...

Unfortunately in today's litigation-happy society, school's are quick to restrict what is available to kids because of the fear that they will get complaints from parents who tend to leap frog school administration and go straight to the loudest local TV news station. As a middle school teacher at an upper middle class school with students who are 13 - 15 years old, I must still get a signed parent permission slip to show a movie above a G rating (the "P" in "PG" means "Parental" after all). So you can imagine why our school libraries are so afraid of shelving any books that might require the same guidance.

Rowenna said...

To turn the tables, but wouldn't the opposite of censorship--requiring libraries to stock all books and bookstores to provide anything a customer requested--be just as crippling to freedom of choice as banning books?

That is to say, if the owner of a bookstore wasn't allowed to decide what books to stock or distribute and which he or she didn't support, that this limits his or her freedoms? And that a school board or municipality couldn't make different decisions based on their demographic about which books to have in the school or public library from other school boards and local governments?

Perhaps the issue of whose freedom to uphold between the library or store owner and the individual was an issue twenty years ago, but today, with anything a click away from purchase on the internet, it seems a moot point and possibly infringing on the freedoms of the points of distribution.

P. Grier said...

@ink: As a teacher, it is my responsibility to filter what goes on in my classroom. I may absolutely love a book, but decide it doesn't fit in my room. What goes on outside of my room I don't want to control. If Mom and Dad want a book or a movie available to their kid, it is none of my business.

That is why I can't see this as censorship. First, they are kids. Do we really want to have a completely hands off approach to what they read? Second, they have access to whatever their parents want them to have access to. Just not in my room.

P. Grier said...

Janny said...
Parents should decide. Period. And schools should be attentive to what parents say...NOT the other way around.

I can't agree with this one, either. Who is in charge of the classroom, the teacher or the parent? Why hire expensive, highly trained specialists if you don't trust them to know more than you?

Education is a partnership. The school and the parents can only succeed if they work together, each having a say in the direction of the curriculum. The educators bring their experience and knowledge to the table, and the parents bring their hopes and dreams for their children. School, the way America does it, is a series of compromises for all sides.

Should you want complete control over your child's education, homeschooling is really the only option.

Ink said...

P. Grier,

I agree with that. I think you have a right, as a teacher, to try and select the most appropriate books for your students. And as a parent I think I have a right to keep my kids from reading one of those selected books if I deem it appropriate. We're simply following through with our responsibilities. I fully support that. But there would be a problem if I stopped other children from reading that book. As neither their teacher or parent, that is not my responsibility. I have no right to prevent them access if they wish it (in accordance with their parent's wishes). That, to me, is something very different, censorhip on a small scale. It's not my place to make those decisions.

My best,
Bryan

Spencer Ellsworth said...

This is interesting to me. Any parent will want to keep their kids from explicit material until they're old enough to understand it. Heck, I heard Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day say that he monitors his kids' TV shows pretty closely.

I think we have a role as a society to help parents fulfill that without restricting a free flow of information.

My local library has been cashing in on the graphic novel phenomenon. Oddly enough, they stashed the adult graphic section (including HBO-type series like Ex Machina and American Virgin) right at the front of the library.

They stuck the young adult graphic novels, including all the Superman and Spider-Man stuff, in the back.

That seems to me to be a case of too much exposure. The library should carry those graphic novels, but don't put them in the front of the library so that school-age kids who come in looking for Spider-Man will walk out with Preacher.

Anonymous said...

Ve should burn all zee bookss! Ban everyzing! (Revelling in the freedom of anonymous posting)

Seriously, though: parents have to decide for their kids, and adults have to decide for themselves, that's the only way it can work in a free society. The point of banned books is to protect children from harmful things they are not prepared to deal with, so I have two ideas:

1. Stock anything and everything but put "controversial" or "explicit" materials Behind the Counter, where a librarian controls who can check those items out, and kids can't get at them without parental permission. Just like drugs at a pharmacy or guns at a sporting goods store. Not "evil", not banned, just protected from irresponsible use.

2. Let individual local librarians decide what to stock. Hopefully they will give the MAJORITY of the community what they want (remember how in this country the majority rules, and not the minority, however vocal they may be?). If the librarian is offending enough people or not getting what they do want, they should get fired/voted out of office, same as any public servant.

In my community, any librarian that introduced obscene material into a public library would be ridden out of town on a rail AND tarred/feathered. And that's exactly the way I want it, and why I live here. To each his own I say.

Mystery Robin said...

Censorship and discernment are two different things. As a parent I try to read everything my kids do, but I can't get to everything. They have more reading hours in the day than I do. I appreciate a school library saying "no, this isn't appropriate for all the kids at this school" Especially because if I disagree and want them to read it, I can easily purchase it for them.

MJ said...

Parental discretion, yes. And to address another point that's come up: A few commenters have talked about the U.S. as a country where the majority rules, or about how community standards are determined by the majority.

But our country protects the minority voice, abhorrent though it may be to others. And the majority of a community is not allowed to trample on the minority's inalienable rights.

The more we stray from these concepts, the more we weaken democracy.

Surly Jason said...

I don't trust any person, affiliation, group or government to tell me what is suitable for me. Who would you trust to control what you can learn?

L. V. Gaudet said...

As a parent of two young children, I would not object to books having a rating system similar to movies.

Warn me on the back cover if a book contains explicit material, what age range it is relevant to, if it contains possibly touchy subject matter and what kind.

As a parent I think I should be the one who decides what is appropriate or not for my kids to view, listen to, and read. And in this day, with so many activities going on, who has time to read every book first, watch every movie first, and listen to every song first, before your children do.

P. Grier said...

Ink-- I understand. But then there is the parent who wants their child to have a special curriculum if the parent does not want them to read the class book. Oy. I don't think that should be an expectation.

Marla Warren said...

As some people have already pointed out, censorship tends to be counter-productive, usually resulting in more people reading a book than otherwise would have. I remember what Teresa Bloomingdale wrote about her Catholic school days. She said the students were given one list of books that they were forbidden to read, and another list of books that they were required to read. Of course the students read all the books on the first list and ignored the ones on the second as much as possible. She wondered why a clever nun didn’t simply switch the lists.

My favorite illustration of this unintended consequence was the column “Ban It, Please” by the late great Mike Royko. Unfortunately the column is not online but it is contained in Royko’s book Like I Was Sayin’…

Royko was contacted by a reporter because some parents wanted Royko’s book Boss, a biography of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, removed from the senior class reading list and also from the school library. The parents objected to the profanity in the book.

Royko responded, “I think it’s terrific. I would like to encourage those parents to keep going and get that book banned.”

The reporter asked, “Why do you want it banned? Don’t you want people to read it?” Royko said, “Of course I do. That’s why I want it banned. There’s nothing that stimulates interest in a book as quickly as when someone tries to ban it.”

When the reporter asked about the broader issue of censorship, Royko’s response was:

“Let the American Civil Liberties Union worry about that. I’ll take the cash.”

Royko contacted the parents in charge of the attempt to ban his book, and offered them his support. He also told them he had another book on the market and he would appreciate their assistance in getting that one banned as well.

Cari said...

I'm coming late to this discussion, but... it's absolutely at the discretion of the parent. I'm a librarian. Yes, we don't have the money to stock everything, but we have the opportunity to get almost every book someone might want through interlibrary loan. If it's not available, that's one thing, but if you ask, we will try to get it. We have a collection development policy that we follow, and we do our best to stock our shelves with what the community wants. We're not going to *not* choose something because a parent has a problem with it.

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